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Could Your Supply Chain be the Weakest Link in Risk Management?

To address information risk in the supply chain, organizations should adopt strong, scalable and repeatable processes — obtaining assurance proportionate to the risk faced.


Supply chains are a vital component of every organization’s global business operations and the backbone of today’s global economy. However, security chiefs everywhere are concerned about how open they are to an abundance of risk factors. A range of valuable and sensitive information is often shared with suppliers and, when that information is shared, direct control is lost. This leads to an increased risk of its confidentiality, integrity or availability being compromised.

Data Protection

Security is only as strong as its weakest link. Despite organizations’ best efforts to secure intellectual property and other sensitive information, limited progress has been made in effectively managing information risk in the supply chain. Too often data breaches trace back to compromised vendor credentials to access the retailer’s internal networks and supply chain. Mapping the flow of information and keeping an eye on key access points will unquestionably remain crucial to building a more resilient information.

Take a moment and think about this: Do you know if your suppliers are protecting your company’s sensitive data as diligently as you would protect it yourself? This is one obligation you can’t outsource because, in the end, it’s your liability. By looking at the structure of your supply chains, determining what information is shared and accessing the probability and impact of potential breaches, you can balance information risk management efforts across your enterprise.

Organizations need to think about the consequences of a supplier providing accidental, but harmful, access to their corporate data. Information shared in the supply chain can include intellectual property, customer-to-employee data, commercial plans or negotiations and logistics. Caution should not be confined to manufacturing or distribution partners. It should also embrace professional services suppliers, all of whom share access, often to your most valuable assets.

To address information risk in the supply chain, organizations should adopt strong, scalable and repeatable processes — obtaining assurance proportionate to the risk faced. Supply chain information risk management should be embedded within existing procurement and vendor management processes.

Brand Management and Reputation

Supply chains are difficult to secure. They create risk that is hard to identify, complicated to quantify and costly to address. A compromise anywhere in the supply chain can have just as much impact on your business, your bottom line and your reputation as one from within the organization.

So, what can organizations do to better prepare themselves? A few examples include:

  • Collaboration and sharing in the supply chain along with collaborating through relevant industry groups and forums
  • Clarity about what good cybersecurity in their supply chain needs to look like
  • More advice and guidance by government for smaller organizations that often form a critical link in the supply chain to point out what is available in terms of support and help
  • Businesses making use of one stop shop for security policies and guidelines that provide practical insight about what to do and how to do it when it comes to securing information across the supply chain

There’s a great necessity to track everything that is happening in the supply chain as even the smallest supplier or the slightest hiccup can have a dangerous impact on your business. Brand management and brand reputation are subject to the supply chain and, therefore, are constantly at stake.

Be Prepared And Stay Resilient

The time to make supply chain security enhancements a priority is now. A well-structured supply chain information risk assessment approach can provide a detailed, step-by-step approach to portion an otherwise daunting project into manageable components. This method should be information-driven and not supplier-centric, so it is scalable and repeatable across the enterprise.

The unfortunate reality of today’s complex global marketplace is that not every security compromise can be prevented beforehand. But being proactive now also means you and your suppliers will be better able to react rapidly and intelligently when something does happen. In extreme but entirely possible scenarios, this readiness and resiliency might dictate competitiveness, share price or even the survival of your business.

About the Author

Steve Durbin is Managing Director of the Information Security Forum (ISF). His main areas of focus include the emerging security threat landscape, cybersecurity, BYOD, the cloud, supply chain security and social media across both the corporate and personal environments. Previously, he was senior vice president at Gartner.