Supply Chain Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Guide

A cyberattack is an attempt by hackers or cybercriminals to access computer systems or networks, usually to steal, alter, destroy or expose information. Cyberattacks can target victims ranging from individual online users to enterprises and governments. One particular type of cyberattack, the supply chain attack, has become more prevalent in recent years.

When targeting information systems, a hacker usually tries to access valuable and sensitive company resources, such as customer data, payment details, or intellectual property (IP). The hacker can then either destroy the stolen data or use it to ransom the business. They also might sell it or leak it to the internet. When it comes to supply chains, cyber criminals often take this a step further, endangering not only the data, but the truck drivers and the goods they’re transporting.

Why Cybersecurity Is Important for Supply Chain Businesses

Supply chain disruptions and attacks are an ever-growing threat as more companies fall victim to high-profile cyberattacks. Hackers dramatically increase their attack impact by attacking, compromising and exploiting trust relationships between supply chains and customer networks.

Hackers can use malicious code or malware attacks to target code repositories and open-source libraries. A successful cyberattack can compromise all applications using the affected libraries. Many supply chain management systems use several libraries, so dependencies may be several layers deep.

Protecting supply chains impacts more than the businesses themselves. Cyberattacks on fleet vehicles can often prevent drivers from completing their deliveries or result in the theft or destruction of goods. This can impact vendors and the consumers who rely on these goods to live their lives. In the case of hazardous or dangerous materials, the results can be even more devastating.

An effective supply chain security solution can protect organizations, allowing them to identify and remediate any exploitable backdoors or vulnerabilities inserted by hackers.

What Are the Most Common Cybersecurity Risks/Threats?

Many supply chain risks and cybersecurity threats are identifiable and preventable with the right cyber supply chain risk management software. Common cyber threats that supply chains face today include:

Malware Attacks

Malware is a prolific and consistent problem for many freight and trucking companies. When cybercriminals infect supply chain systems with unwanted software or programs, they can deny cargo companies access to programs, steal information, delete files or spread into other systems, causing more damage. With so many fleet operations using telematics data these days, a ransomware attack can target both data and the trucks themselves.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing scams send messages or emails to end users, using addresses that appear legitimate and requesting sensitive data such as passwords. Unsuspecting individuals may click on links, accidentally giving away sensitive data.

Supply Chain Attacks

These cyberattacks target third-party vendors who offer software or services critical to the supply chain. Cybercriminals inject malicious code into applications that infect all users using an app or program, crippling critical physical components.

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MITM)

In MITM attacks, cybercriminals intercept communication between unsuspecting parties to spy on the victims and steal personal information. Most email service providers and chat systems now use end-to-end encryption to prevent bad actors from tampering with data.

DoS and DDoS Attacks

A denial-of-service (DoS) attack overwhelms the supply chain's resources, preventing it from responding to legitimate service requests. Hackers also use distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to disrupt the normal traffic of targeted servers, networks or systems by overwhelming the target with a flood of internet traffic. Both attacks prevent supply chains from functioning properly and can lead to a complete shutdown if not identified and stopped promptly.

Supply Chain Cybersecurity Best Practices

We recommend following these tips to protect data from different types of cyberattacks:

Secure Your Telematic Devices

Many people think to protect their internal IT systems, but securing the trucks themselves is often overlooked. Fleet managers rely on telematic tracking and diagnostic systems to monitor vehicle performance and efficiency. This remote monitoring, however, comes with a high degree of risk.

Vet your telematics service provider (TSP) thoroughly. Make sure the protocols in place are specifically designed to protect against fleet hacking.

Engage in Routine Penetration Testing

If you want to discover where you’re most vulnerable, penetration testing can provide valuable information. When working with pentesting professionals, make sure you give them full access to your internal systems and allow them the time needed to test your security. Limiting this test defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place.

Use Strong and Varied Passwords

Using the same password across multiple platforms and accounts may seem easier, but it makes accounts insecure and more vulnerable to attacks. Instead, we recommend using unique passwords for each account. This practice protects the other accounts if one password is compromised.

It is also vital to have strong passwords for all accounts. Create alphanumeric passwords with special characters that are more difficult to compromise.

Backup Important Data

Important and sensitive data can be lost or damaged in a data breach, crippling the supply chain system. We recommend businesses prepare and backup sensitive data frequently on the cloud or via an off-site local storage device. A data backup mitigates the loss from cyber risks, allowing the business to stay afloat while repairing and fortifying any compromised systems.

Set Up Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Generally, websites and programs require only a user ID and password to sign into accounts. Two-factor authentication adds extra security layers to your standard online verification methods. With 2FA, the user receives a prompt to enter more than two credentials when logging in to sensitive programs or websites, keeping accounts more secure.

Keep Systems Updated

Always keep all company software, browsers, firewalls and operating systems up-to-date. Updating systems regularly prevents hackers from exploiting them and defends them against cyber risks and supply chain attacks.

How to Educate Yourself on Cybersecurity

Cyberthreats in the supply chain industry have grown more targeted and sophisticated over the years. These types of attacks are still relatively new to the industry, and it isn’t as though there’s a degree in supply chain cybersecurity. The best way to educate yourself is to find authorities on the subject and absorb as much information as you can.

Thanks to the multitude of online learning resources at NMFTA, supply chain businesses can learn the basics of identifying threats and implementing cybersecurity best practices. NMFTA places special emphasis on educating industry professionals on these risks through comprehensive research. Each year, NMFTA organizes the trucking industry's only cybersecurity conference which focuses on cybersecurity and other digital advancements in the supply chain industry. Make plans to attend as this is a great first step to educating yourself on the cyberthreats out there.

Protecting the supply chain is more important now than ever before. Get the tools you need to be prepared for anything.


Want to attend a conference to talk all things cybersecurity with your peers? Don't miss NMFTA's Cybersecurity Conference, set for this October, in Cleveland, OH: