EDITORIAL | July 17, 2019

Supply Chain Risks Go Beyond Cyber: Focus on Operational Resilience

In this first, of a two-part blog series on supply chain, I’ll discuss the security and operational risk in today’s supply chain.

In the past 20 years, we’ve seen the globalization of the supply chain and a significant movement to disperse supply chains outside national borders. With this globalization comes many supply chain risks — risks that go beyond just cyber attacks and demonstrate a need for stronger operational resilience.

Most organizations want to take advantage of tariff treaties and overall cost savings by outsourcing the manufacturing and production of their goods, resulting in greater operational efficiencies. However, much of this supply chain globalization has actually made our supply chain longer, much more complex and less resilient. Nowadays, a product may have to go through multiple countries before it’s complete, offering more opportunities for things to go wrong from a supply chain risk perspective.

In the last two years alone, the global supply chain has experienced major disruptions from natural disasters, weather-related events and factory fires that have put organizations out of business. One of the most notable supply chain disruptions occurred in the 2000s when the production of hard disk drives produced in Thailand was gravely impacted by significant flooding in the country. The flooding impacted the whole logistics chain including the hardware manufacturers, component suppliers, the transportation of the devices, as well as the manufacturing plants and facilities involved in the hard drive development.

Puerto Rico is home to more than 40 drug manufacturing companies so when Hurricane Maria’s tragic landfall in 2017 caused power outages, loss of life and utter devastation, it also disrupted the island’s biggest export: pharmaceutical and medical devices. Even a year after the hurricane, there were still supply chain disruptions involving a major manufacturing plant supplying IV saline bags to U.S. hospitals.

Another, more direct supply chain risk involves the delivery of sub-standard or altered components — this is when the supplier is seeking enhanced profit by delivering low-cost goods. There are many examples of this over the years including the 2010 Vision Tech scandal where the company was charged with selling 59,000 counterfeit microchips to U.S. Navy.  Driven by profit-seeking behavior, in 2018, the owner of PRB Logics Corporation was arrested and charged with selling counterfeit computer parts. They were repainted and remarked with counterfeit logos and PRB took it a step further to defraud the purchaser of the equipment by falsifying test results when the buyer wanted verification that the components were delivered as specified.

While it’s difficult to predict when disasters, hurricanes or flooding may occur, or to know for certain if a device has been tampered with, there are several steps organizations can take to improve their supply chain management and overall operational resiliency, including:

  1. Don’t just select one risk to manage. Take a holistic view of your entire supply chain and try to identify the weakest links.
  2. Consider all potential disruptions and ways you can build and design your supply chain to keep it operational in the face of any foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges. If the suppliers with whom you deal directly are required to have a supply chain program and they expect the same of their suppliers, this will create a far more resilient supply chain of higher integrity.
  3. Don’t use substandard or modified/altered components and parts to save money. This can result in major issues with supply chain integrity and data integrity down the road.
  4. Trust and verify. Know what’s in your firmware and ensure there are no counterfeit hardware components. You need to verify what you cannot trust, including components from a third-party. You need to trust what you cannot verify. Even if you trust a vendor, there’s always the possibility of a compromise further up the supply chain.
  5. Understand high-order effects within your supply chain. A first-order effect directly impacts that device, whereas a second-order effect is simply the consequence of the first effect of an event.