Who’s Accessing Your Network Through Your Digital Supply Chain?

Situational awareness is a hot buzzword currently making its way through the cybersecurity community. But what exactly does situational awareness entail, and how is it related to future-proofing your businesses operations? 

While there are many formal definitions for situational awareness, it basically boils down to this: companies need to understand the environment in which they operate, the impact that the environment has on their operational capabilities, and what the company can do to respond to these environmental factors. Within cybersecurity specifically, this means having a thorough understanding of your own IT infrastructure, the types of attacks that are commonly taking place, and your company’s ability to protect its infrastructure from those threats.

Given the lightning-fast speed of today’s cyberattacks, understanding your operating environment is more crucial than ever. If you don’t understand the threat landscape before an attack, it will be too late to learn about it after an attack has taken place.

Understanding Potential Threats in Your Digital Supply Chain

For decades, businesses have been using virtual fortresses to protect their data and systems. Using tools like firewalls, multi-factor authentication, and zero trust frameworks — all overseen by dedicated cybersecurity teams — companies have created digital castles to protect their most sensitive data.

However, as the SolarWinds attack has shown, even the most well constructed fortresses still have entrances. And if you’re not guarding these entrances properly, hackers can walk right through them. Your software supply chain creates an abundance of third-party risks to your network security  — and your network is only as strong as its weakest link. When your organization shares its data and network access with third-party vendors to provide additional services, that party’s security (or lack thereof) presents a potential vulnerability. This is where situational awareness comes into play.  

Using Situational Awareness to Protect Your Organization From Supply Chain Threats

In order to defend against supply chain threats, you need to understand not only how your own network is vulnerable, but what your suppliers’ vulnerabilities are as well. You need to understand how those vulnerabilities are being exploited by hackers, and the range of options available to you and your suppliers for a response.

Vendor risk management depends on an ever-evolving set of tools to paint a clear picture of what’s going on in your supply chain. Your company should start by identifying who your vendors are, and what, specifically, they provide you with. You’ll then want to develop security standards that are specific to your organization, and initiate a compliance program for vendors with access to your data or networks. As part of this program, questionnaires present a helpful method of assessment. That being said, questionnaires are only as helpful as the information people choose to share. So as the old expression goes, make sure to “trust, but verify.” Continuous monitoring tools are one way to verify compliance, as are penetration tests that actively seek to defeat a vendor’s cyber defenses. But ultimately, each firm should have a tailored approach based on its own needs — there is no single solution to this complex problem. Fortunately, experts like RiskRecon can support companies who have made the decision to take Vendor Risk Management seriously.

Final Thoughts

Pursuing situational awareness will surface underlying issues and increase the visibility of your supply chain so that any vulnerabilities can be quickly and accurately addressed. And as your awareness grows, your responses will need to adapt, and your relationships with vendors will need to change. Failure adapt will result in significant vulnerabilities that attackers can — and will — exploit.

Why do companies spend money on third-party risk assessment? Watch our full-length Spotlight on Cybersecurity to find out why!

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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