We often hear about the importance of securing the software supply chain has become a top priority for organizations in the wake of major data breaches of Solarwinds, Log4j, and 3CX. The software supply chain represents all of the interconnected services and open-source packages involved in the delivery and management of software applications. Increasingly, however, organizations rely on a broader digital supply chain that includes third-party infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers for software development and delivery as well as all other core business functions.
The “SaaS supply chain,” then, refers to all of the cloud-delivered services and third-party providers involved in running a modern digital enterprise. It spans cloud and SaaS technologies that are centrally procured and governed by the IT organization as well as unmanaged services that are adopted by individual business units and employees, often referred to as “shadow IT” or “shadow SaaS.”
The modern attack surface is a SaaS attack surface
While a SaaS-centric digital supply chain has many benefits, it also exposes businesses to a range of risks and increases the overall scope of an organization’s attack surface. As such, cybersecurity and risk leaders should account for all of the organization’s cloud and SaaS applications, accounts, users, and resources in their attack surface management programs.
As a reminder, an attack surface refers to all the points of entry that an attacker can use to gain access to an organization's systems or data. This can include a variety of entry points, including software applications, networks, servers, suppliers, third-party partners, and even employees. As the SaaS supply chain becomes increasingly complex and dynamic, the attack surface of organizations expands and becomes more difficult to manage.
The risks and vulnerabilities associated with the SaaS supply chain
The common risks and vulnerabilities associated with the SaaS supply chain include insufficient or inadequate security measures, insecure APIs, lack of transparency in the supply chain, and a lack of oversight and control over third-party vendors. These vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems.
For example, an attacker may exploit an insecure API to gain access to a vendor's system, then move laterally through the supply chain to gain access to other systems and data. Alternatively, an attacker may target a third-party vendor with weak security controls, such as inadequate authentication mechanisms, to gain access to sensitive data or systems.
Increasingly, threat actors like the LAPSUS$ group are exploiting human vulnerabilities, using social engineering or extortion tactics to gain access to third-party suppliers, and then in turn, using impersonation techniques to exploit trusted relationships between vendors and clients.
These risks and vulnerabilities expose businesses to external attacks, which can result in data breaches, financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to implement effective security measures and risk management strategies to mitigate these risks and vulnerabilities and protect their sensitive data and assets.
Managing the risks and vulnerabilities in the SaaS supply chain
Managing the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the SaaS supply chain requires a proactive approach that involves identifying and mitigating potential risks. One method for mitigating these risks is through effective third-party risk management. This involves conducting due diligence on vendors, assessing their security controls, and monitoring their performance over time.
Organizations can also implement various SaaS security measures to protect themselves from supply chain attacks, including access controls, encryption, and zero trust network access. Foundational access controls, such as enabling two-factor authentication and least privilege access, are simple, yet effective ways to limit the number of people who can access sensitive data and systems across cloud and SaaS environments. Arguably, the biggest challenge of implementing these measures is ensuring that individual users are taking the appropriate steps to enable and enforce these controls across all of their cloud and SaaS accounts.
Other best practices for implementing a security strategy for the SaaS supply chain include implementing a risk-based approach, involving stakeholders from across the organization, and adopting a continuous monitoring approach to SaaS security. A risk-based approach involves identifying and prioritizing risks based on their potential impact on the organization, including third-party risk management (TPRM). Involving stakeholders from across the organization helps to ensure that security is a shared responsibility, which is increasingly important as organizations decentralize IT budgets, decision-making, and administration across individual business units. Finally, adopting a continuous security monitoring approach to SaaS security involves regularly assessing and monitoring the organization’s cloud security posture and SaaS security posture to detect and respond to potential threats.
Managing the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the SaaS supply chain requires a comprehensive approach that involves effective third-party risk management, implementation of various security measures, and adoption of best practices for implementing a security strategy. By taking a proactive approach to security, organizations can protect themselves from external attacks and ensure the safety of their sensitive data and assets.
Attack surface management and the SaaS supply chain
Understanding how the SaaS supply chain transforms the attack surface is critical to managing security risks and vulnerabilities effectively. By effectively managing an organization’s external attack surface, you’ll gain increased visibility into the organization's security posture, improved risk management, and enhanced incident response capabilities. By understanding the full extent of the attack surface, organizations can identify potential vulnerabilities and risks, prioritize their mitigation efforts, and respond quickly to potential threats.
Methods for conducting attack surface management as it relates to the SaaS supply chain include implementing automated tools for vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, conducting regular security assessments, and collaborating with vendors and other stakeholders to identify and mitigate potential risks.
Effective attack surface management is critical to managing security risks and vulnerabilities in the SaaS supply chain. By understanding the attack surface, organizations can identify potential risks and vulnerabilities, prioritize their mitigation efforts, and respond quickly to potential threats.
Third-party risk management within the SaaS supply chain
Third-party risk management is a critical aspect of managing security risks and vulnerabilities related to the SaaS supply chain. Third-party vendors, such as cloud service providers and software vendors, can introduce potential security risks and vulnerabilities into an organization's systems and data.
Understanding the risks posed by third-party vendors is essential to managing these risks effectively. Risks can include data breaches, cyberattacks, and non-compliance with security and privacy regulations. Effective management of third-party risk includes conducting due diligence on vendors, assessing their security controls and practices, and monitoring their performance over time.
The challenge many organizations face is keeping their third-party risk management programs at pace with the needs of the business. Modern organizations can no longer afford to delay the adoption of new cloud and SaaS technologies by days or weeks while a vendor security assessment is underway. Thus, security and risk managers should consider the use of technology to help automate and streamline vendor security assessments.
Additionally, security and risk leaders should work to establish a continuous third-party risk management program, especially given the dynamic nature of modern SaaS supply chains. It is no longer sufficient to capture a one-time or annual snapshot of a vendor’s software bill of materials (SBOM) or supply chain. Rather, this information should be up-to-date and accessible at any time, particularly during a SaaS data breach event when an organization must quickly determine if any of its suppliers have been impacted by an upstream SaaS data breach.
By effectively managing third-party risks within their SaaS supply chain, organizations can reduce their exposure to potential vulnerabilities and improve their overall security posture.
The future of SaaS supply chain attacks
The SaaS supply chain is continually evolving, with new trends and technologies transforming the landscape: cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These advancements bring new opportunities for innovation and growth, but also new risks and vulnerabilities that can expose businesses to external attacks.
As the SaaS supply chain continues to evolve, the external attack surface of organizations will also change. Attackers will look for new and innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain and gain access to sensitive data and systems. This could include attacks on third-party vendors, supply chain hijacking, and the exploitation of software vulnerabilities.
To prepare for these changes, businesses can take measures to strengthen their security posture and mitigate potential risks, such as implementing robust security controls and practices, conducting regular security assessments, and collaborating with vendors and other stakeholders to identify and mitigate potential risks. By staying vigilant and implementing best practices for security and risk management, organizations can reduce their exposure to external attacks and maintain a strong security posture.
Take control of your SaaS supply chain
Overall, the SaaS supply chain has a transformative impact on the external attack surface of organizations. In light of the ongoing evolution of the SaaS supply chain, it is essential for businesses to remain vigilant and take proactive steps to protect themselves from potential threats.
Nudge Security was built to help address this issue. Not only do we provide a view into the upstream dependencies of your SaaS providers, but we also provide immediate insight into the services your employees have created accounts in to dynamically identify when your own supply chain changes. Get in touch with the Nudge Security team for more information about use cases or pricing, or start a free trial to start exploring today.