Few manufacturers would disagree with the view that the Internet of Things, big data integration and other advances in technology are boosting productivity, streamlining supply and distribution channels, and improving product support. But the WannaCry ransomware attack unleashed on businesses, governments and hospitals across the globe last month and the most recent attack this week delivered a sobering reminder that those digital-driven innovations carry very real risk.
That’s especially true for supply chains. Competition and efficiency demands increasingly compel manufacturers to enlist third-party vendors to produce components for an end product, meaning proprietary information and specification data is sent digitally across the globe, ready for cybercriminals to steal and exploit. One recent survey of 1,400+ supply chain professionals found that data security/IT incidents ranked as the most critical risk to supply chains.
Cyber attacks are likely to grow in frequency and severity, according to our recent Flash Report discussing the WannaCry ransomware event. In the report, we highlighted the need for companies to not only adopt a cyber defense, but also to continuously evaluate and improve it to protect against evolving threats. We noted, again, that many organizations continue to ignore cybersecurity – or at best are inadequately addressing it.
Opaque Supply Chains
It makes sense that businesses that are underprepared in their own cyber defenses have even less insight into the cybersecurity of their suppliers. But clearly they should. According to a 2016 presentation given by cyber supply chain risk management specialist Jon Boyens, a program manager with the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), 80 percent of all information breaches occur within the supply chain, and almost 60 percent of companies do not have processes for assessing the cyber security of their vendors. Similarly, more than seven out of 10 organizations lack full visibility into their supply chains.
Even more alarming, NIST anticipated that cyber attacks and data breaches would cause nearly half of the manufacturing supply chain disruptions in the next couple of years. Such incidents are costly. NIST estimated that 55 percent of the disruptions incur more than $25 million in damages per incident. In addition, supply chain breaches that steal or alter data could result in substandard products, the loss of intellectual property, and backdoor access into the manufacturer’s systems, all of which could further tarnish an organization’s brand and diminish its value.
Samsung’s recent bout with the flawed batteries that sparked fires in its Galaxy Note 7 phones illustrates the potential damage to a company’s reputation and bottom line. Samsung ultimately identified specifications provided to its suppliers as the culprit, but not before the company took a $5.3 billion hit to earnings and lost consumer trust. How much worse would it have been if a cyber criminal altered the specifications intentionally?
The good news is that manufacturers can mitigate supply chain risks by ensuring that their third-party vendors are pursuing similar cybersecurity efforts as their own. Here are a few fundamental questions that we recommend focusing on when assessing supply chain IT risk:
- Does the supplier’s culture promote cybersecurity and ransomware awareness throughout the organization? What kind of training are its employees receiving to recognize and address threats?
- What cyber defenses are in place, and are they sufficient to counter the latest malware threats? Is the supplier up to date on indicators of compromise for recent attacks?
- How frequently does the supplier conduct cyber risk assessments? Is the regimen sufficient to keep up with the rapidly evolving threats, and does it include defenses to block operational disruptions? Does the supplier consider the risks in its own supply chain (e.g., Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers)?
- Does the supplier have an effective response plan? How often is it updated, and how often does the organization conduct threat simulations as part of its cybersecurity training?
Sound Agreements Needed
Manufacturers and suppliers seeking to reduce supply chain risk also should review contracts to ensure compliance. Items for each party to consider include:
- Are the supplier’s cybersecurity obligations spelled out clearly in the contract, and does the language extend to the supplier’s subcontractors?
- Does the contract include assurances that the supplier has the infrastructure to uphold its end of the contract?
- Who are the executives or managers executing the contract for the supplier? Are they the most appropriate personnel in regards to understanding cybersecurity threats and the supplier’s ability to meet its obligations?
As cyber threats continue to escalate, it is important for manufacturers to gain visibility into their supply chains in order to assess their overall risk-mitigation and response capabilities. The ideas outlined here represent basic but critical actions organizations should be implementing as they strive to secure the increasing amount of sensitive data shared in the production and sourcing processes.