Businesses are being bombarded with warnings from a variety of sources regarding supply chain risk management – ranging from media organizations like Forbes, to analyst firms like Gartner, and even to the White House, which notes that “foreign governments and criminal syndicates are regularly seeking ways to compromise our digital infrastructure” through supply chain attacks.
However, actual advice for managing supply chain risks is harder to come by. Figuring out where risks lie and working to detect them is an exercise that often falls to individual businesses – which often struggle to put supply chain risk management into practice, given the fact that few organizations were closely focused on supply chain risks until just a couple of years ago, when incidents like the SolarWinds breach brought supply chain risks to the fore.
1. Optimize Supply Chain Visibility
The single most effective step businesses can take to manage supply chain risks is to achieve visibility into their supply chains. You can’t mitigate the risks you can’t see, and if you wait for the risks to impact your own IT environment, it’s too late to prevent them from causing a disruption.
That’s why you need visibility not only into where your software comes from, but also which checks and protections your software suppliers have in place. Believe it or not, vulnerabilities will come from your least expected vendors, and more often than not, your smaller vendors. When you identify vendors who fail to manage risks, you can remove them from your supply chain in order to protect your own organization. This is where continuous monitoring steps in and becomes invaluable to your team by getting ahead of issues before remediation steps are even needed.
When it comes to supply chain visibility, the more information you have, the better. It’s often impossible to gain complete, definitive visibility into supply chain risks because the “probability and severity of many risks is difficult to ascertain,” as Tucker Bailey, McKinsey Partner notes. But the more information you have about who your suppliers are, how they build out their supply chain and which practices they follow to mitigate security risks, the greater your ability to find and respond to the most serious supply chain vulnerabilities
2. Build Supply Chain Risk Management Into Onboarding
While continuous visibility into the supply chain is one step toward identifying risks, it’s also important to establish a rigorous process for vetting vendors when you onboard them into your supply chain. Identify which specific security controls you expect vendors to have in place, then implement a process that assesses how well they adhere to those practices.
There is always a risk that vendors who meet your requirements during onboarding will become insecure over time, which is why you need to monitor continuously for new supply chain risks. The most common onboarding process would be to do an initial risk scan of the vendor and setting a score. However, the better and more effective method is to set a periodic scan that includes an action plan.
But even with all these processes, it doesn’t mean you should skimp on vendor validation at onboarding time. Rooting out risky vendors before they even join your supply chain is more effective than identifying risks after the fact.
3. Plan For Supply Chain Changes
Actually removing risky vendors from a supply chain is hard to do if you depend on those vendors and have no alternatives.
That’s why it’s important to ensure that your supply chain is dynamic enough to accommodate sudden changes in vendors. Always have backup suppliers in mind to who you can turn to if you need to stop using one vendor due to cyber security risks.
Supply chains constantly fluctuate. Vendors that seem rock-solid one day may be in the news the next because they are the center of a major breach. You can’t control what your suppliers do, but you can control your ability to pivot to alternative suppliers quickly in order to mitigate supply chain risks.
4. Enforce Continuous Supply Chain Risk Management
Supply chain risk management should never be a one-and-done affair. Nor should you rely on periodic audits to find risks.
Instead, strive to monitor your supply chain continuously. Continuous monitoring means that you can identify vulnerable third-party software, as well as vendors who are no longer conforming to your security requirements, as soon as the risk emerges. That beats waiting until your next audit to identify a risk – or, worse, not identifying it at all because you vetted your suppliers initially and have no mechanism in place for determining when vendors who were once secure no longer are.
Ensure that the protections that your suppliers claim to have in place actually work. For example, as Jay Shaw explained during a recent LSEG event, don’t just take someone’s word for it that backups are in place. Instead, say “you’re going to get a phone call, And that phone call is going to say, ‘Bam, we’re now down, so do the backup plan. We want to see how long it takes you and how well it works.”
It might not be practical to vet every vendor in that way, but for high-stakes suppliers, it’s important to know that promises align with realities when it comes to supply chain security protections.
5. Automate Supply Chain Risk Management With Cyber Solutions
For most businesses, the rigorous, continuous supply chain monitoring and risk management practices described above are impossible to implement manually. They would require too much time, and too much effort on the part of employees who already have overfilled plates.
That’s why it’s critical to leverage cyber solutions that automate supply chain risk management. They can identify multiple types of threat within third-party software – including malware, phishing risks, ransomware and beyond – without requiring manual vetting. And they can do this continuously so that you’re aware immediately when a new risk arises.
Automated cyber solutions have the added benefit of reducing the risk of human error. Your supply chain management tools will operate consistently and reliably, enforcing the same assessment policies over each and every vendor. Humans typically don’t achieve that level of consistency, which means that manual supply chain assessment increases the chances that risks will fall through the cracks.
How Findings can help
As a fully automated platform for identifying and managing risks across your supply chain, Findings makes it easy to put supply chain risk management practices into operation. Findings delivers centralized, continuous visibility into supply chains across any industry, enabling businesses to find and respond to risks before they turn into cyber security incidents.