By Zac Amos, Features Editor,

Supply chain cyber attacks are on the rise, and industry professionals must work to protect their critical systems. Zero trust may be the solution since it’s one of the most effective ways of securing an organization against bad actors. Here’s how companies can use it to their advantage.

What is zero trust?

A zero-trust model restricts access and internal movement to protect an organization fully. It operates on the idea that threat mitigation requires strict limitations. Users and devices must confirm their identity to access data, systems or applications. The catch is that verification happens on an ongoing basis.

It utilizes the principle of least privilege, meaning it gives minimum access permissions only when necessary. For instance, workers must re-validate their identity whenever they access a system — even if their job requires them to do it daily. The model’s continuous verification and authorization processes aim to establish complete protection.

How can zero trust secure a supply chain?

A zero trust architecture can secure supply chains by removing organizations’ implicit faith in device and employee security. The constant re-validation keeps attackers from compromising systems. They have a much lower chance of getting in because they must get around complex verification and authorization tools.

The number of cyber crimes has increased by 300% since the pandemic. The supply chain is essential — making it incredibly valuable for cyber criminals. Organizations should utilize a zero trust architecture to protect themselves from increased risk.

Consider the case of 3CX, where individuals were able to infiltrate and compromise its service, affecting thousands of customers. The global business communications company experienced a supply chain attack in 2022 due to a stolen code signing certificate.

Hackers created a backdoor in a worker’s device because they could initially pose as legitimate. They then proceeded to move through the network, infecting the official app with data-mining malware.

Zero trust could have prevented this situation, as it limits the capabilities of employees and third-party vendors to decrease available attack surfaces. For example, identity governance would have restricted their systems and data use, preventing the backdoor from being effective.

Additionally, zero trust can track network traffic and decide whether to permit or deny access requests. It establishes checkpoints at perimeters and determines which user has the credentials to proceed. While approaches vary, each one focuses on preventive action.

Tips for implementing zero trust

Professionals can protect their supply chain operations by properly implementing zero trust architecture.

1. Account for all users

Accounting for every potential user is the first thing an organization should do to be sure its zero trust architecture is comprehensive. It ensures people are who they say they are by noting and categorizing users based on their potential access.

An organization should identify every person to determine the level of access they need. They can analyze their responsibilities and perform individual risk assessments to make the process more accurate. This method protects data and systems because only those who need approval get it.

For example, a third-party vendor doesn’t need the same capabilities as a project manager. Furthermore, those with heightened permissions should have limitations on use. Allowing them only to view files or use systems when necessary is much more secure than giving them constant access.

2. Automate security

Organizations should consider automating their zero trust security tools because manual verification and authentication can be incredibly time-consuming. Time management is essential in supply chain operations.

For example, software-as-a-service is a repeating subscription model for software licensing that utilizes the cloud. Integrating it into zero trust architecture allows for automatic patching and updates. It streamlines identification confirmation, freeing the cyber security team’s time for more pressing matters.

Timely patches are critical because they typically mitigate massive security flaws. Threat actors could access a company’s systems with a single backdoor attack. Consider the MOVEit supply chain ransomware that stole the information of millions because of a single vulnerability.

3. Take inventory of each asset

Most companies have various software and hardware to manage their supply chains because it is a notoriously complex process. They must consider everything — establishing zero trust architecture is only possible with comprehensive knowledge of attack vectors. It allows security professionals to determine privilege levels and extent. Although it would ideally cover everything, prioritizing may be necessary.

4. Create policies

Even though zero trust relies heavily on security tools, policies are just as important. For example, management can require workers to use multi-factor authentication or biometric confirmation to validate their identities. They could also restrict data access to specific times to detect unusual activity better. Supply chains have many moving parts, meaning widespread adoption is an easy way to increase security.

5. Include vendors

It’s crucial to establish zero trust methods for external parties. According to one survey, cyber criminals breached over half of organizations through third-party vendors. Their various security weaknesses have caused supply chain cyber attacks in the past. They may accidentally leak files, keep information in vulnerable systems or use unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Organizations should inventory their third-party services, platforms and applications and determine how to limit their permissions. They could encrypt the data they store with their cloud service provider. Zero trust could improve plenty of potential areas of concern.

Consider code signing certificates. Third-party vendors are typically unaware of their dependencies, which can lead to cyber attacks. Threat actors can steal or compromise these dependencies. Afterward, threat actors can upload malware. While this description is a simplification, it emphasizes the threat potential and the threat to the supply chain.

Secure the supply chain with zero trust

A zero trust model authorizes select users and devices to enhance security significantly. Organizations can improve their process and protect their supply chain with careful planning, comprehensive solutions integration and automation.

For more cyber security insights from Rehack Features Editor Zac Amos, please click here. Lastly, subscribe to the newsletter for executive-level interviews, analyses, reports and more each week. Subscribe here.