Glossary: What is Software Supply Chain Security and How Does It Work?

What is Software Supply Chain Security and How Does It Work?

Enterprises rely on accelerated development processes to grow their business. For developers, this means a growing reliance on open-source libraries and other components. For DevOps, this means using CI/CD and automation for rapid, agile and standardized development. For CISOs and AppSec teams, this means they need to include software supply chain security in their security strategy. Software supply chain security refers to the practices and tools that can ensure development processes are secure, so no malicious code or vulnerabilities are introduced to the enterprise source code. In this blog post, we’ll show you how you can implement SSCS and strengthen your defenses against supply chain attacks. By following these practices, you can drive business innovation and ensure developers are free to code and build products that bring business value.

What is SSCS (Software Supply Chain Security)?

Software supply chain security is the set of practices, tools and technologies that ensure the integrity, security and reliability of the enterprise’s software development processes. This includes securing third-party libraries, open-source components, development platforms and even the infrastructure on which software is developed and deployed.

Why is Software Supply Chain Security Important?

Modern development relies on multiple components: open-source libraries, commercial artifacts, distribution networks and more. These supply chain components can introduce vulnerabilities or malicious code, which can lead to data breaches and attacks on the enterprise. One of the most notorious examples of such an attack is the SolarWinds Orion breach, where attackers were able to infiltrate numerous high-profile networks by attacking their third party supplier. However, the SolarWinds attack was not unique. Attackers are constantly trying to infiltrate systems through the supply chain, be it through open-source, compromising developers’ laptops and more. With software supply chain security, enterprises protect against threats and risks, ensure high quality software delivery to end users and maintain their competitive advantage in the market.

Software Supply Chain Security as Part of the Development Lifecycle

The SSCS approach involves applying security measures and practices at every stage of the software development process, from design and development to distribution and maintenance. This helps protect against vulnerabilities and threats that could compromise the software supply chain. Incorporating security into the development lifecycle involves several key practices:
  • Security by Design - Embedding security considerations into the software design phase to ensure that the architecture is robust against potential threats.
  • Third-party and Open-source Component Management - Managing and auditing third-party components, like open-source libraries and package repositories, to ensure they are up-to-date and free from known vulnerabilities.
  • Secure Coding Practices - Implementing standards and guidelines for secure coding to minimize the introduction of vulnerabilities in the development phase.
  • Development Process Protection - Securing code integration, build and delivery processes from unauthorized changes or tampering.
  • CI/CD Security - Integrating security tools and practices into the CI/CD pipeline to automatically detect and address vulnerabilities during software deployment.
  • Incident Response and Patch Management - Developing a clear process for responding to security incidents and efficiently managing patches and updates to address vulnerabilities.

How Does Software Supply Chain Security Work?

Software supply chain security means employing strategies and practices to secure code repositories, ensure the integrity of third-party libraries and dependencies, including open-source and protecting code integration and delivery processes. Example activities include:
  • Verifying the sources of third-party components and libraries, including open sources
  • Monitoring third-party components and libraries for vulnerabilities
  • Running code reviews
  • Running SAST and DAST tools to detect vulnerabilities.
  • Analyzing open-source packages in use to ensure they are free of malicious code 
  • Employing digital signatures and secure distribution channels on the build environment
  • Ensuring patch management is performing in a timely manner
  • Preparing incident response plans
  • Monitoring for new vulnerabilities in enterprise source code
  • Developing and maintaining an up-to-date SBOM
  • Adhering to SLSA requirements

Benefits of Software Supply Chain Security

Security leaders may feel fatigue from the need to add supply chain security to their bag of worries. Here’s how software supply chain security can turn the security team into a business enabler:
  • Enhanced Security Posture - Fortifying the software development and deployment process against unauthorized access, tampering and malicious attacks significantly mitigates the risk of vulnerabilities being introduced at any stage.This leads to a stronger overall security posture.
  • Compliance and Regulatory Adherence - Many industries are subject to strict regulatory requirements regarding data protection, privacy and security. Implementing comprehensive software supply chain security helps organizations comply with these regulations, avoiding potential legal and financial penalties and building trust with customers and partners.
  • Business Risk Management and Reduction - By identifying and assessing risks throughout the supply chain, organizations can implement targeted security controls to mitigate them. This minimizes the potential impact on business operations, reputation and financial health.
  • Increased Trust and Confidence - By ensuring that software and its components are secure from the outset, organizations can build and maintain trust with their customers, partners and stakeholders.
  • Cost Efficiency - Addressing security issues early in the software development process is typically more cost-effective than remedying them after deployment. A secure supply chain reduces the likelihood of security incidents that can result in costly fixes, downtime, ransomware, legal fines and reputational damage.
  • Competitive Advantage - In an increasingly competitive market, demonstrating a commitment to security is a differentiator. Organizations that prioritize software supply chain security can leverage this as part of their value proposition, appealing to security-conscious customers and partners.

Concerns for Software Supply Chain Security Adoption

When implementing software supply chain security practices, it’s important to take into account the following potential pitfalls:
  • Supply Chain Complexity - Modern software supply chains involve multiple layers of dependencies, making it difficult to secure every component effectively. This complexity also makes incident response more challenging, as tracing the source of a vulnerability can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Choose a security tool that provides visibility and be sure to maintain an SBOM.
  • Compliance and Regulatory Challenges - Regulatory requirements and standards (e.g., GDPR, HIPAA, NIST) can be challenging to adhere to. But non-compliance can not result in legal penalties and expose software to additional risks.
  • Third-Party Dependencies - Developers rely heavily on open-source components and third-party suppliers and vendors. However, these players can introduce risks that are beyond your direct control. Choose tools to monitor them for vulnerabilities and threats before they reach the enterprise source code.
  • Outdated Components - The use of outdated or unsupported software components is a significant risk. These elements may contain known vulnerabilities that have been patched in newer versions but remain exploitable in older ones. Make patch management a top priority.

Software Supply Chain Security Best Practices

For your convenience, here is a list of best practices to implement. Some of these practices have been mentioned throughout the article.
  • Implement Security throughout the SDLC - Integrate security practices at every stage of software development. This includes conducting threat modeling to identify potential security weaknesses early in the development process, applying secure coding practices to mitigate vulnerabilities, monitoring open-source libraries in use for exploitable vulnerabilities and performing regular security testing (such as static and dynamic analysis) to detect and resolve security issues before software release.
  • Use Dependable Sources for Third-party Components - Only utilize libraries and components from reputable sources, ensuring they are well-maintained and have a good security track record. Employ tools that can help in verifying the authenticity and integrity of these components to avoid including potentially malicious code in your software supply chain. Continue monitoring these components for newly-introduced vulnerabilities.
  • Maintain an SBOM - What is SBOM security? Keep a comprehensive inventory of all components, libraries and modules your software relies on. This inventory should be regularly updated and reviewed to ensure that all components are up to date and do not introduce known vulnerabilities into your software ecosystem.
  • Employ Automated Tools for Continuous Monitoring - Use automated tools to continuously monitor and scan for vulnerabilities in your software and its dependencies. These tools can help identify newly discovered vulnerabilities in real-time, allowing for remediation before they can be exploited.
  • Practice Immutable Builds - Immutable builds ensure that once a software artifact is created, it cannot be altered. This practice helps ensure that any change requires a new build, making it easier to track changes and prevent unauthorized modifications.
  • Secure Your Build Environment - Ensure that the environment where software is built is secured and access-controlled. Limit access to build servers and CI systems to authorized personnel only and use encryption and strong authentication mechanisms to protect sensitive information.
  • Implement Robust Access Control and Audit Trails - Apply the principle of least privilege across your development and operational environments. Ensure that access to software repositories, build tools and deployment environments is tightly controlled and monitored. Include comprehensive audit trails for tracking changes and investigating incidents.
  • Conduct Regular Security Audits and Compliance Checks - Regularly audit your software supply chain for compliance with security standards and best practices like the SLSA framework. This includes reviewing the security posture of third-party components, assessing the effectiveness of security controls and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Educate and Train Your Team - Raise awareness and provide training to your development and operations teams on the importance of software supply chain security and best practices. Educating team members about common threats, such as phishing attacks or dependency confusion, can help in creating a culture of security mindfulness.

How Checkmarx Helps Secure the Software Supply Chain

Checkmarx provides visibility into the supply chain, helping enterprises secure from software supply chain threats, including open-source components. With Checkmarx, organizations can meet SLSA compliance and gain confidence in their software supply chain. Checkmarx Supply Chain Security Engine provides capabilities like:
  • Removing hard-coded passwords from the software supply chain through evaluation of developer communication.
  • Automated SBOM creation
  • Historical SBOM creation
  • Repo health - automated assessment and scoring of components and processes in software projects.
  • Malicious packages detection based on more than 1 million packages scanned with actionable remediation guidance
  • Container image scanning for identifying vulnerable code
  • Runtime insights correlation to identify exploitable vulnerabilities in running container images
Try Checkmarx today.
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