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Why Businesses Need To Secure The Supply Chain And Adjacent Data Chain

From vaccines to vendor relationships, supply chain cybersecurity continues to be an ongoing issue. Cybercrime is expected to cost the global economy $6 trillion annually by 2021, which would be the world’s third-largest economy if measured as a country. However, today’s lapses in security are not always linked to the physical product supply chain, but an adjacent data chain.

This complex adjacent data supply chain has emerged as companies focus on delivering a more transparent and personalised experience with their products – and it is fertile ground for potential security failures, regardless of motive.

Effective cybersecurity strategies require an in-depth understanding of the connections and flow of information between systems, and a keen understanding that vulnerabilities can happen at multiple points of entry across the value chain, causing long-term disruption. It’s not just the consideration around the product itself.  Connections that products have to other devices and systems must also be considered. The more complex that web becomes, the greater the potential risk.

To counteract this, businesses are investing in technologies that enable proactive cybersecurity risk checks among suppliers and trading partners to help identify potential security issues before a breach can occur. This is also critical to enabling a seamless user experience across the entire supply chain.

Let’s take a closer look at where businesses should focus.

Security is only as strong as the weakest link

When securing the supply chain, businesses need to consider the disruption that a cyber-attack would cause to the suppliers and producers, as well as the end-user.  Look no further than the recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline which caused it to shut down almost 10,000km of pipeline that carry nearly half of the fuel supplies on America’s East Coast. This raised fears around spot shortages of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

This is an alarming, yet relevant example of how a breach has the potential to cause widespread disruption. If the outage were to persist for a significant amount of time, it would cause product shortfalls and ultimately impact fuel prices across America.

Another weakness in supply chain security is an increased focus on personalisation. While this is a winning strategy from a customer experience perspective, it creates more touchpoints that need to be secured. Take for example the coffee supply chain. In this instance, the adjacent supply chain outside of bean production is made up of cloud-connected smart gadgets connected to WiFi and smart apps on the consumer’s mobile device. This is where loopholes can exist, and where the dark actors can have easy access – not necessarily in the main supply chain of the product.

For example, say a large company invests in a specific brand of smart coffee machines across 20-30 office locations. Employees can use their company-issued devices – connected to their network – to queue up their coffee brew settings so they just hit ‘start’ when they arrive at the machine. This seemingly simple convenience enabled by Internet of Things just opened a slew of potential risks between the employer’s network, their network service provider, the coffee brewer brand’s network and its service provider, as well as data solution providers that capture, host and process data on behalf of any of your supply chain trading partner relationships – this is known as an adjacent data supply chain. If there’s a weak link at any point in this data supply chain, the whole chain is at risk.

Therefore, when securing the supply chain end-to-end, it’s important to look at the product, the adjacent data supply chain and potential long-term implications of a cyber attack

Digitalise the supply chain to improve security and efficiency

First, look at the product. Take into consideration the supply chain usage, vendors, as well as factory assessments for cybersecurity. Next, identify the adjacent data supply chain. This adjacent chain is usually fuelled by products integrated with personalised capabilities like in the aforementioned coffee machine example. Finally, combine both the product supply chain and the adjacent data into a supply network that can evaluate risk.

It’s clear that the days of supply chains existing only from fuel to vehicle or from bean to cup are over. To effectively mitigate risk, consider both the supply chain and its adjacent data supply chain. This will help minimise the time, costs and reputation damage related to potential security lapses. As we saw with the Colonial Pipeline example, failure to do so could have a long-lasting impact.

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