Organizations are often reliant on third-party suppliers to manage particular business functions, such as IT infrastructure. While enabling third-party suppliers to connect to your network does have its benefits, it inherently introduces security risk – namely, vulnerability to supply chain attacks. In these types of attacks, adversaries infiltrate third-party suppliers and exploit their trusted access to gain access to your environment. Once in, they conduct all sorts of malicious activities from data theft and extortion to ransomware. Sophos offers a combination of security technologies and services to help mitigate the risks from such supply chain attacks.

Types of supply chain attacks

Several high-profile data breach events highlight that supply chain remains a major weak link in the cybersecurity chain of organizations.

In late 2020, it was discovered that the supply chain of IT management firm SolarWinds was compromised and adversaries were able to insert malicious code into SolarWinds’ infrastructure monitoring and management platform, Orion. This code was unwittingly sent out to almost 18,000 customers. Read Sophos’ in-depth analysis of how the Sunburst malware variant evaded defenses here.

Let’s look at the common strategies deployed in some of the most significant supply chain attacks:


Phishing emails are the most commonly used attack vector in supply chain attacks. Attackers target trusted third parties with phishing emails to compromise and gain access to their networks, and then use them as a springboard to infiltrate their clients’ systems.

software update

In more sophisticated attacks, hackers infiltrate the infrastructure of a software company or distributor and insert malicious code into software update packages. The third party then distributes these updates to their clients, unknowingly infecting them in the process.


As use of the cloud, Docker, and agile development methodologies grows, so does the use of off-the-shelf components to shorten the development lifecycle. Malicious actors have begun to booby trap some commonly used containers, libraries, and other resources, hoping to get bundled into your end-product.

Guidelines for defending against supply chain attacks

The complexity and nature of supply chain attacks make it difficult for technology alone to defend against them. Following best practice guidelines will help you minimize your risk from supply chain attacks.

  • Shift from a reactive to a proactive approach to cybersecurity
  • Monitor for early signs of compromise
  • Take an audit of your supply chain to identify the weak links
  • Assess your suppliers' and business partners' security posture
  • Constantly review your own IT security operations hygiene

Sophos solutions minimize the risk of supply chain attacks

Supply chain attacks are difficult to detect as they can come from any part of your supply chain. Organizations should not expect to completely eliminate supply chain risks – they must look at minimizing these risks. Sophos provides security technologies and services to help mitigate the risk of supply chain attacks.


Sophos Intercept X with EDR

Provides comprehensive defense in depth against threats that get in via third party suppliers using AI, exploit prevention, behavioral protection, anti-ransomware and more. Plus, powerful EDR functionality enables you to automatically identify suspicious activity, prioritize threat indicators, and quickly search for potential threats across your endpoint and servers.

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Sophos Managed Threat Response (MTR)

Delivers expert threat hunting and remediation as a fully-managed service. Sophos specialists work around the clock to proactively hunt for, validate, and remediate potential supply chain threats and incidents on your behalf.

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Sophos Zero-trust Network Access

Safeguards against supply chain attacks that rely on supplier access to your systems via very granular access controls. This cloud-delivered solution validates user identity as well as device health and compliance before granting access to resources. It authenticates requests from trusted partners, irrespective of the location.

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