Jan 22, 2021

What are Joe Biden’s plans for US supply chain reform?

Rhys Thomas
3 min
The 46th President promises sweeping longterm changes in support of the US supply chain and a swift u-turn in Trump’s COVID-19 response
The 46th President promises sweeping longterm changes in support of the US supply chain and a swift u-turn in Trump’s COVID-19 response...

Joe Biden was this week sworn in as the 46th President of the United States in a socially distanced, fully-masked ceremony marking the start of the post-Trump era.

Just hours after entering office, Biden set to work reversing many of his predecessor’s policies, including the Trump administration’s handling of climate change and immigration. There will be many more changes to follow, including a promised overhaul in the administration’s approach to the US supply chain. Leading up to the election and eventual triumph over his GOP rival, Biden pledged to back the US supply chain and enact sweeping changes to “ensure that the US does not face shortages of the critical products America needs in times of crisis”. 

Stability, capacity and growth

In a document titled “The Biden Plan to Rebuild US Supply Chains and Ensure The US Does Not Face Future Shortages of Critical Equipment” - a gossamer-thin jab at Trump’s failed COVID-19 policies - Biden laid out three pillars that will underpin his supply chain reform. They are:

Use the full power of the federal government to rebuild US domestic manufacturing capacity of our supply chains for critical products

Implement a comprehensive approach to ensure the US has the critical supplies it needs for future crises and its national security

Work with allies to protect their supply chains and to open new markets to US exports

Primarily, Biden aims to shield the US supply chain from risk and reverse an import-first system that could leave the nation vulnerable in the longterm. 

“While medical supplies and equipment are our most pressing and urgent needs, US supply chain risks are not limited to these items. The US needs to close supply chain vulnerabilities across a range of critical products on which the U.S. is dangerously dependent on foreign suppliers,” the document says. 

Supply chain overhaul will be top of Biden’s agenda in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 21 January, the President signed an executive order to "urgently a nd effectively" address shortfalls in COVID-19 response and engage multiple federal agencies in a 180 day project to develop a “strategy to design, build, and sustain a long-term capability in the United States to manufacture supplies for future pandemics and biological threats”. 

Through the Defense Production Act (DPA), Biden is also expected to increase jobs in domestic manufacturing of ‘critical products’, particularly those pertaining to COVID-19 response. His commitment promises to “use the full power of the Federal Government to rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity in our critical supply chains”. 

Biden’s longterm vision

Beyond the immediate supply chain requirements to tackle the pandemic, Biden has also pledged to undertake “an ongoing, comprehensive government-wide process to monitor supply chain vulnerabilities, designate vitals products where the US needs to address supply chain vulnerabilities, and immediately close identified gaps”.

The process will include close collaboration with the private sector to avoid red tape and unnecessary government spend. 

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Jun 21, 2021

Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity

Elise Leise
3 min
The SolarWinds and Codecov cyberattacks reminded companies that software security poses a critical risk. How do we mitigate it?

As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas. 


High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks 

According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’. 


Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months: 


  • SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack. 
  • Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors. 
  • Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration. 


As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework


What Are Their Recommendations? 

Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security. 


Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version: 


  • NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
  • Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state. 


If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed. 


How Do The Proposals Differ? 

As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’. 


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