Biden’s Supply Chain Intentions Depend on Cybersecurity
In recent years, the United States’ supply chain network has faced an onslaught of cyberattacks. The attacks have left the global superpower a shaking nation with a whole portfolio of challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities exposed to the masses. From the attack to the that breached companies like Apple, Microsoft, Uber, and Tesla, to the most recent , it’s evident that, in an increasingly digital age, cybercriminals fear no traditional governmental powers, and supply chain networks need to hunker down on cybersecurity.
Looking back at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, western nations found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the novel Coronavirus; not due to lack of knowledge or medical inability but because supply chains were in a chokehold and supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers weren’t being manufactured fast enough.
The Executive Order (EO) of US supply chains to figure out exactly where the vulnerabilities and risks are, to help institutions and organisations manage any future disruption caused by COVID-like events.
The EO focuses on six primary sectors:
- Communications and information technology
- Defence industrial base (DIB)
- Energy and power
- Public health
The listed sectors, as you might expect, are increasingly dependent on digital products and services to maintain daily operations, which increases their vulnerability to potential attacks ─ so they need cybersecurity. In fact, cybersecurity should be front-and-centre as a critical facet of the EO if the federal government truly intends to create a more robust and resilient supply chain in the face of rising criminal adversity.
Digitisation Dangers The Nation
When it comes to a globally interconnected supply chain, the ambitions of Biden’s administration are potentially a little far-fetched and off-the-mark, in reality. I say that because an overwhelming number of industry-leading organisations ─ even in the tech realm ─ still do not feel confident in their ability to deal with the vulnerabilities in their supply chain. Most of which come not from internal operations but from externals ones in the form of third parties and suppliers that they collaborate with.
According to the dated but increasingly relevant Marsh Microsoft introduction, “cyber risk has moved beyond data breaches and privacy concerns to sophisticated schemes that can disrupt entire businesses, industries, supply chains, and nations, costing the economy billions of dollars and affecting companies in every sector. The hard truth organisations must face is that cyber risk can be mitigated, managed, and recovered from, but it cannot be eliminated.”
Taking a look at the survey results reveals a telling tale: that third-party providers and supply chain operations external to an organisation are most likely to be the victim of cyberattacks and potential infiltration.
The survey found a wide discrepancy in many organisations’ view of the cyber risk faced by supply chain partners, compared to the level of perceived risk they themselves pose:
This variance is consistent across industry sectors and geographic regions, and the largest organisations exhibited the largest dissonance: 61% of companies with revenues of US$5bn or more suggested that their supply chain partners pose a risk, whereas only 19% say they themselves pose a risk to the third-parties involved:
Low Confidence in 3rd-Party Risk Mitigation Capabilities
The above paints a pretty poor picture of the overall supply chain security ─ a disconnect between large organisations and their suppliers, which could be driven by companies’ low confidence in their ability to mitigate cyber risks posed by their commercial partners. The number of companies that considered themselves “highly confident” in that area is few and far between, with only 5-15% of respondents feeling prepared to deal with the cyber risks caused by certain types of third-party providers.
So due to the very obvious lack of knowledge, it’s clear that supply chain professionals and organisations, as well as the Biden administration, should call upon their cybersecurity industry peers ─ ─ to take the fight to black hat cybercriminals.
How Cybersecurity Professionals Can Help
According to Padraic O’Reilly, CPO and Co-Founder of CyberSaint, the success of Biden’s Executive Order is heavily dependent on its stakeholders taking note of lessons from cybersecurity’s supply chain risk management initiatives, including:
- Identifying the main weaknesses along the chain of production before determining which ones can be fixed cost-effectively. Then, compare that with the cost of the potential impact ─ discover where the holes are and what’s worth prioritising.
- Thinking about the supply chain as a cybersecurity practitioner does. Cyber-risk is all about making sense of multiple data sources, and supply chain risk is the same. Don’t think about the supply chain as a single entity; rather, consider it as many entities that produce data ripe for deep risk analysis.
- Standardisation across the globally interconnected supply chain is hard, and communication is key. Cyber experts are hot on the topic, as managing risk is exactly what they do. Vulnerabilities and risk is the language that they speak in. They’ve been dealing with supply chain security for years before disruptions at the scale of COVID-19 came about.
Cross-sector collaboration with a strong focus on communication across hierarchical levels is at the very core of the cybersecurity function. If Biden hopes to see his supply chain initiative reign triumphant, his administration must ensure that efforts are coordinated across agencies, public entities, and the private sector industry. The administration must also carefully consider the potential impact of increased regulation that should be put in place following the year-long project ─ it could make or break the initiative across various sectors.
According to O’Reilly:
“The best choice is to rely on standards, measurement, and cross-industry collaboration to make this happen. Other supply chain standards, such as the (CMMC), can serve as models for a data-driven approach.
Without these considerations, we risk a lot of duplicative time, effort, and analysis, only to fail to mitigate cyber-risks and possibly result in yet another supply chain attack. We hope stakeholders will engage the information security community to bolster this project. Leveraging existing analysis by the information security community will matter to its success.”
Adapting To The Unknown
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to the US supply chain, we mostly haven’t got a clue. It’s a massively interconnected network that represents an ecosystem ─ one with risks coming from all angles and multiple points of failure. It’d be almost impossible to figure out all of the potential risks, as Biden’s initiative intends, so, according to O’Reilly, it’d be beneficial to focus not on sniffing out every single supply chain vulnerability but on advanced persistent threat (APT) incentives:
- What are the low-hanging targets?
- What do criminals want?
- What are they capable of?
“Doing some scenario modelling and talking in probabilities could lead to more informed decisions regarding mitigating risk. NIST 800-30 and the are examples of risk-quantification methods that aim to translate cybersecurity risk into dollars and cents. Understanding supply chain risk requires measurement, strong governance, input from security experts, information sharing, and advances in cyber and IT risk-management software. Instead of logging an APT's activity, start getting a fact pattern about where they may be going”, O’Reilly adds.
So the final point to the Biden administration and organisations that are working on is clear: cybersecurity professionals have an advantage over their peers because they already live to standardise data; they view risk through a lense of complexity and costliness of failure, and if the two parties can collaborate effectively, there’s a chance that security professionals can finally understand the full extent of the supply chain ecosystem and, with any luck, secure it from future attacks.
Biden establishes Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force
The US government is to establish a new body with the express purpose of addressing imbalances and other supply chain concerns highlighted in a review of the sector, ordered by President Joe Biden shortly after his inauguration.
The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will “focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident,” the White House said. The division will be headed up by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture, and will focus on housing construction, transportation, agriculture and food, and semiconductors - a drastic shortage of which has hit some of the US economy’s biggest industries in consumer technology and vehicle manufacturing.
“The Task Force will bring the full capacity of the federal government to address near-term supply/demand mismatches. It will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions - large and small, public or private - that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints,” the White House said.
In late February, President Biden ordered a 100 day review of the supply chain across the key areas of medicine, raw materials and agriculture, the findings of which were released this week. While the COVID-19 health crisis had a deleterious effect on the nation’s supply chain, the published assessment of findings says the root cause runs much deeper. The review concludes that “decades of underinvestment”, alongside public policy choices that favour quarterly results and short-term solutions, have left the system “fragile”.
In response, the administration aims to address four key issues head on, strengthening its position in health and medicine, sustainable and alternative energy, critical mineral mining and processing, and computer chips.
Support domestic production of critical medicines
- A syndicate of public and private entities will jointly work towards manufacturing and onshoring of essential medical suppliers, beginning with a list of 50-100 “critical drugs” defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The consortium will be led by the Department of Health and Human Services, which will commit an initial $60m towards the development of a “novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API”.
- The aim is to increase domestic production and reduce the reliance upon global supply chains, particularly with regards to medications in short supply.
Secure an end-to-end domestic supply chain for advanced batteries
- The Department of Energy will publish a ‘National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries’, beginning a 10 year plan to "develop a domestic lithium battery supply chain that combats the climate crisis by creating good-paying clean energy jobs across America”.
- The effort will leverage billions in funding “to finance key strategic areas of development and fill deficits in the domestic supply chain capacity”.
Invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals
- An interdepartmental group will be established by the Department of Interior to identify sites where critical minerals can be produced and processed within US borders. It will collaborate with businesses, states, tribal nations and stockholders to “expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States”.
- The group will also identify where regulations may need to be updated to ensure new mining and processing “meets strong standards”.
Partner with industry, allies, and partners to address semiconductor shortages
- The Department of Commerce will increase its partnership with industry to support further investment in R&D and production of semiconductor chips. The White House says its aim will be to “facilitate information flow between semiconductor producers and suppliers and end-users”, improving transparency and data sharing.
- Enhanced relationships with foreign allies, including Japan and South Korea will also be strengthened with the express proposed of increasing chip output, promoting further investment in the sector and “to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations”.