An In-Depth Guide to Software Supply Chain Security

Sat, February 24, 2024 - 5 min read


The concept of Software Supply Chain encompasses the tools, libraries, and processes integral to the development, construction, and dissemination of software artifacts. As implied by its nomenclature, Software Supply Chain Security is dedicated to fortifying the Software Supply Chain against potential security threats. This endeavor aligns with the shift-left approach, emphasizing the early integration of security considerations within the software development life cycle. The adoption of the shift-left methodology enhances the security posture of developed applications and contributes to cost savings.

The Importance of Software Supply Chain Security

The perpetual struggle between software engineers fortifying their applications and hackers seeking to compromise systems is an enduring narrative. The compromise of the Software Supply Chain presents a particularly enticing target for hackers, as it offers the opportunity to execute a myriad of attacks through a single exploit within the Software Supply Chain. For instance, malevolent actors can clandestinely insert malware into applications during the build phase, concealing the malicious code within the application before distributing it to other entities, such as companies or consumers. This strategy enables the potential takeover of servers or the unauthorized acquisition of sensitive data.

Famous security gap events from the past

A very famous example highlighting the significance of Software Supply Chain Security is the Log4Shell zero-day vulnerability discovered in the widely employed open-source Java logging framework Log4j in late 2021. This vulnerability provided attackers with the capability to execute remote code on affected servers. Assessing whether a zero-day exploit affects a software development company’s systems necessitates a comprehensive overview of all applications utilizing a vulnerable version of the Log4j library. Nearly impossible with manual tasks and documentation for all third-party libraries integrated into the developed application of your company. Notably, the significance of this matter has heightened in recent years, as evidenced by its ascent from the 9th to the 6th position in the OWASP Top 10 list under the category of “Vulnerable and Outdated Components” between 2017 and 2021.

Another well known case is the SolarWinds hack of 2020, wherein hackers infiltrated the build process of the SolarWinds software application Orion and injected malicious code. Orion, a widely utilized IT- and network management application in the United States, unwittingly introduced a security vulnerability into the IT systems of companies that installed the compromised Orion update. The malevolent code, known as SUNBURST, contained a backdoor that granted hackers the ability to execute commands, retrieve data, and analyze traffic on all servers with the installed application.

What it takes to security your Software Supply Chain

Achieving robust Software Supply Chain Security necessitates addressing various critical topics, which are elucidated in this section. For applications such as single-page web applications, backend APIs, or mobile apps, the following imperative tasks must be undertaken:

  1. Scan Dependencies for Known Vulnerabilities: It is imperative to maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible overview of all third-party dependencies utilized within applications. Utilizing databases like the National Vulnerability Database is crucial for identifying known vulnerabilities in both direct and transitive dependencies. Given the considerable number of dependencies in complex applications, effective management relies on robust tool support.

  2. Automated Dependency Updates: Regularly updating dependencies is fundamental to mitigating the risk associated with known vulnerabilities. Automated tools are indispensable, particularly when managing numerous applications, as manual upkeep becomes impractical.

  3. Open-Source Dependency Quality Scanning: When incorporating new open-source libraries, factors beyond functionality and licensing merit consideration. Criteria such as maintenance activity, contributor count, popularity, and resolution speed for critical issues contribute to quality scores. Libraries with suboptimal quality scores often present a heightened risk of security vulnerabilities.

  4. Scan Dependency Licenses: Given the diverse array of open-source licenses, scrutiny of dependencies is vital to ensure compliance. Failure to adhere to license terms may not introduce security vulnerabilities but can result in significant legal ramifications. Establishing monitoring mechanisms for utilized licenses is advisable.

  5. Secret Detection: Identifying and addressing secrets, such as passwords and API keys, embedded in application code or configuration files is crucial. Automated scanning aids in the detection of leaked secrets, particularly in modern cloud-native setups utilizing Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

  6. Generate Software Bills of Materials (SBOM): Adopting the practice of generating and storing SBOMs for each application build enhances documentation and facilitates subsequent vulnerability or license issue assessments. The CycloneDX format is recommended for standardizing SBOMs.

Furthermore, if you deploy cloud native environments based on Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), you need to pay attention to the following tasks:

  1. Scan for Misconfigurations: Given that IaC definitions encompass security configurations, such as firewall rules and open ports, validating these definitions for misconfigurations is critical to preventing vulnerabilities in the cloud-based system.

  2. Secret Detection in IaC: Ensuring the absence of leaked secrets, like passwords and API keys, within IaC definitions is paramount to averting unauthorized access or data breaches.

Moreover, several overarching security considerations require attention:

  1. Access Control: Secure version control repositories, software artifact stores, and CI/CD systems to prevent unauthorized manipulation of source code, configuration files, or build servers.

  2. Artifact Manager Configuration: Verify that software artifacts are exclusively loaded from trusted sources. Organizations hosting internal libraries must ensure that package managers on build servers and development computers refrain from attempting to load libraries from public artifact stores, mitigating the risk of Dependency Confusion Attacks.


In conclusion, the multifaceted landscape of Software Supply Chain Security demands a comprehensive approach to mitigate potential threats and vulnerabilities. The meticulous examination of dependencies, coupled with vigilant tracking and automated updates, forms the bedrock for securing applications across diverse domains such as single-page web applications, backend APIs, and mobile apps. License compliance and the scrutiny of open-source library quality further underscore the importance of a rigorous Software Supply Chain Security regimen.

In navigating the intricate landscape of Software Supply Chain Security, a proactive stance, fortified by automated tools and adherence to industry best practices, becomes paramount. By integrating these practices into the development lifecycle, organizations can fortify their software against evolving threats, ensuring the resilience and security of their digital assets.

To find out how you can secure your software supply chain with open source tools without spending one dollar, checkout the following article How to secure your Continuous Integration Pipeline to improve Software Supply Chain Security.