data center security

Poor cyber hygiene haunts software supply chain

While recent supply chain security discussions have focused Chinese firms' equipment in 5G telecommunications infrastructure, vulnerabilities in the software supply chain may be just as serious, but even harder to control.

Rudimentary, easily exploitable software vulnerabilities are the most common ways bad actors get into systems and networks, according to Cheri Caddy, director of public-private partnerships at the National Security Agency,

Nearly 80% of security professionals surveyed in 2018 by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike said their organizations needed to devote more resources to their software supply chain, and 62% said the issue was being overlooked during IT spending decisions.

"We're still living in the space where we haven't lifted the lowest common denominator and we're still talking about cyber hygiene," Caddy said at an Oct. 9 event hosted by the Atlantic Council. "We have adversaries who still use the most basic, dumb attacks for the software supply chain and are highly successful."

The widespread practice of reusing old or open-source code in new products adds uncertainty about software integrity.

The Department of Commerce is attempting to address these problems by creating an evaluation tool for businesses known as a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) -- essentially a list of the different components used to create a particular application and their origins.

Allan Freidman, director of cybersecurity at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told attendees at the Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas this year that the goal of the project is "for software and [internet-of-things] vendors to share details on the underlying components, libraries and dependencies with enterprise customers."

A multi-stakeholder group led by NTIA has met four times this year to hammer out details around strategy, outreach to stakeholders and structuring the program for maximum gains. According to the latest meeting notes, the group's current challenges are effectively sharing SBOM data, identifying tools to generate and consume that data, determining whom to entrust with storage and developing templates for contract language.

Another challenge is that hardware supply chain security practices may not necessarily translate to the software space.

For instance, officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have said that when it comes to measuring the risk of certain hardware products, where they were made and what local laws they may be subject to are  important considerations. However, that's not always possible for software, where much of the development process occurs virtually across national borders.

"A lot of the rules and regulations that we've established in other areas are more difficult with software because the transmission, the country of origin challenges with software all make drawing analogies with our past practices difficult," said Brandon Graves, general counsel for law firm Davis, Wright and Tremaine.

A longer version of this article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.