Software Supply Chain Security: Best Practices & Tools for 2024

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Sr. Director of Product Marketing

Modern software development relies on a complex network of components, tools, and people, known as the software supply chain. If not properly protected, this intricate web can introduce exploitable security vulnerabilities that lead to breaches and the distribution of compromised software. But there are ways to secure your software supply chain…

In this article, we’ll explore the concept of software supply chain security, its importance, and best practices for keeping your software development process safe.

What Is A Software Supply Chain?

A software supply chain is all the code, components, libraries, dependencies, tools, processes, and people involved in developing, building, and publishing a software artifact.

Importantly, software is no longer based on code written entirely in house. It consists of an intricate network of people, components, and tools. This includes developers and DevOps; third-party vendors, components, and tools; open source projects; and third-party service providers.

For something like a car, a supply chain includes things such as:

  • Major in-house produced components like engines and transmissions
  • Third-party components like door handles, brake lights, and wiper blades
  • The manufacturing facilities, machinery, and tooling used to assemble the car
  • The workers working in the production facility

What Is Software Supply Chain Security?

Software supply chain security involves safeguarding the entire software development and deployment process against potential threats and vulnerabilities. 

Too often, organizations think only about securing the open source or third-party dependencies in their code. This approach is too narrow in scope. To truly secure the software supply chain, security teams must implement a multi-faceted approach that mitigates risks from code to cloud, including all the DevOps tools and infrastructure that make up the SDLC.

What Are Software Supply Chain Vulnerabilities?

A software supply chain vulnerability refers to weaknesses or flaws within the processes, tools, or dependencies used in developing, integrating, and delivering software. The interconnected nature of the software supply chain makes it susceptible to a wide range of vulnerabilities.

These vulnerabilities can be exploited by malicious actors and lead to a breach, which could, in turn, lead to the distribution of compromised software to downstream customers. The result? Further security incidents, data loss, and other serious consequences for both end-users and organizations.

Importantly, vulnerabilities can arise at every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), and the reliance on external vendors and contractors for software development increases the potential for an attack. That means the software supply chain is more vulnerable than you might think… 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Insecure proprietary code
  • Compromised source control systems
  • Code tampering, including the insertion of malicious code
  • Compromised build systems
  • Commercial third-party software or open source software vulnerabilities
  • Undermined code signing
  • IaC misconfigurations
  • Vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in running software

Why Are Software Supply Chain Attacks Trending?

ENISA, the European Union cybersecurity agency, reported a 4x increase in the number of organized software supply chain attacks since early 2020. And Gartner believes this trend will continue, predicting that 45% of all organizations will experience attacks on their software supply chains by 2025.

Why? Because attackers are always looking for the path of least resistance.

Since easy access is what they’re after, developers have become high-value targets. They often have over-provisioned access to their organization’s environment, and hold the keys (er, credentials) to important systems and resources. 

Once compromised, developer accounts can be leveraged to insert malicious code into applications, leak source code, steal data, install backdoors, and facilitate lateral movement within the environment. Even basic security oversights, like the absence of multi-factor authentication, further exacerbate the risk. 

Remember: it only takes one successful exploit of one of these vectors to give bad actors access to other tools as well as the production runtime environment and all its data. 

That’s where software supply chain security comes in.

What Are The Key Components Of A Secure Software Supply Chain

When it comes to answering the important question “How can I effectively secure my software supply chain?” there are dozens of components, including:

  1. Visibility and governance: Gaining visibility and enforcing consistent governance and security policies — such as least privilege, hardening authentication, and implementing branch protection rules — across all your teams, DevOps tools, and infrastructure. 
  2. Secure Coding and Review Practices: Enforcing secure coding standards and conducting thorough code reviews during the development phase minimizes vulnerabilities and reduces the risk of introducing exploitable weaknesses.
  3. Code tampering prevention: Establishing safeguards in pipelines and the development process to ensure only authorized code and components are used in your applications.
  4. CI/CD Security: Implementing secure CI/CD practices to automate code integration, testing, and deployment. This includes using secure CI/CD tools, validating code changes, and ensuring that only verified and secure code is deployed.
  5. IaC security: Scanning IaC templates to ensure they are free from misconfiguration issues before they are deployed and mistakes are amplified across numerous cloud environments.
  6. Identity and Access Management: Implementing strong identity and access management controls to ensure that only authorized individuals have access to critical systems and code repositories. This includes using multi-factor authentication and least privilege principles.
  7. Hardcoded secrets detection: Detecting and remediating any existing hardcoded secrets across many locations and using developer workflow integrations to prevent new hardcoded secrets from being introduced.
  8. Source code leakage: Identifying suspicious behavior to prevent leaks and detecting proprietary code exposure so any leaks are quickly contained.
  9. Dependency Management: Assessing and managing third-party dependencies mitigates the risk of using vulnerable or compromised libraries. Likewise, regularly updating dependencies and monitoring for security advisories are crucial.
  10. Container Security: Securing containerization processes and implementing best practices for creating, deploying, and maintaining containers securely. This involves regular security scans and addressing vulnerabilities in containerized environments.
  11. Monitoring and Logging: Implementing comprehensive monitoring and logging practices to detect and respond to security incidents promptly. This includes monitoring for unusual activities, analyzing logs, and setting up alerts for potential security threats.

It’s a lot to manage, with the average team using 49+ tools, including supply chain security software like Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Software Composition Analysis (SCA).

It’s no wonder 92% of security leaders have plans to consolidate their security stack to one platform over the next 12 months.

Why Is Software Supply Chain Security Important?

The repercussions of a software supply chain breach are far reaching. Exploiting just one weakness opens the door for threat actors to steal sensitive data, disrupt businesses, and take control of systems. Worse still, software supply chain attacks also allow threat actors to further perpetuate attacks to many more downstreams customers.

When this happens, the consequences can be significant and long-term. 

In the SolarWinds attack, for example, threat actors compromised the software build process, leading to the distribution of a malicious update. This gave attackers access to sensitive data of numerous organizations, including US government agencies and large enterprise corporations. SolarWinds faced significant fines and loss of brand reputation as a result of this attack. Litigation against SolarWinds for this breach is still ongoing.

Given the seriousness of the consequences, security professionals are investing more resources than ever to protect their software supply chains. 

Unfortunately, agile development practices and the demand for rapid deployment can sometimes be at odds with releasing secure code. So how can organizations maintain agility while improving the security of their software supply chains?

Software Supply Chain Security Best Practices

Collaboration, culture, and a willingness to adopt modern tools and approaches are all essential to a secure supply chain. Based on discussions with dozens of security leaders at ASPM Nation, we recommend the following:

1. Controlled Shift Left

Shift left refers to the practice of addressing security vulnerabilities earlier in the SDLC when they are easier and less costly to fix. The goal is to address issues sooner, before they become deeply embedded in the codebase. 

The problem with shift left is that many developers feel that vulnerabilities have been simply thrown over the fence. They are not given the correct context or data to successfully remediate issues. This unfairly places the burden of security onto developers without giving them the tools to succeed.

That’s where the concept of controlled shift left comes in.

Controlled shift left fosters collaboration between security and developer teams. While security teams remain laser focused on reducing the impact of vulnerabilities, they’re acutely aware of the impact that fixing defects has on developers. 

Under this model, security and development work together to find, rollout, and maintain solutions that provide actionable context so that developers can easily fix issues. Organizations benefit from a more resilient software supply chain without slowing developer velocity. 

2. Build A Strong Security Culture

Security is a team sport, and that’s not just a rally cry. Security teams can’t do it alone. Developers are key to creating and deploying secure code. Unfortunately, 76% of security professionals find implementing a culture of collaboration between security and developer teams challenging.

So how do you build a strong culture of security? Commitment must start at the top. Leadership must make security a priority. Leadership is then responsible for rolling out clear policies and guidelines, offering consistent and engaging training on secure coding best practices, and encouraging ownership and accountability. 

3. Take A Platform Approach

To protect your SDLC, the right software supply chain security tools are essential. But too many organizations rely on a hodge-podge of tooling that don’t even begin to cover a fraction of software supply chain attack vectors. Not only do these tools leave gaps, but the noise generated by alerts creates a new problem for security and developers: understanding what is really important in terms of risk.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: Application Security Posture Management (ASPM). ASPM is a purpose-built platform for developer security that can integrate with your existing tools or replace them altogether. 

An ASPM platform provides visibility, prioritization and remediation of vulnerabilities across the entire SDLC. With ASPM, security and development teams gain the visibility, prioritization, and remediation required to reduce the risk of a software supply chain attack.

According to Roland Cloutier (Former Global CSO at TikTok, ByteDance, ADP, and EMC), “ASPM is going to change the way we think about developing code and significantly drive up our quality capabilities across our products.”

How Cycode Helps Secure Your Entire Software Supply Chain

Cycode is an ASPM that offers complete visibility, security, and coverage across the software supply chain. Get a clear view of your risk posture and consolidate your stack using Cycode’s native security scanners, or plug into third-party security tools via our click-and-connect platform.

Created by developers to ensure controlled shift left, Cycode’s security-first, developer-friendly platform eliminates alert fatigue and simplifies prioritization and remediation for security, engineering, and DevOps teams throughout the software development lifecycle.

Want to secure your software supply chain? 

Book a demo now to learn more.