10 Supply Chain Risk Management Best Practices

NIST Interagency Report Aims to Mitigate Vulnerabilities
10 Supply Chain Risk Management Best Practices

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued a new report to help organizations mitigate supply chain risks.

See Also: 2015 Breach Preparedness and Response Study: The Results

The issuance of NIST Interagency Report 7622, Notional Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems, comes at a time when a congressional panel cautioned against using equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom equipment makers Huawei and ZTE because their components might have been altered to allow the Chinese government to spy on Western governments and businesses [see House Panel: 2 Chinese Firms Pose IT Security Risks].

"This issue of supply-chain integrity affects all of us even if you weren't using Hauwei or ZTE equipment," Gartner Fellow Neil MacDonald says [see How Secure are the IT Wares You Buy?]. "This is not an issue for Chinese companies; this is an issue for any technology company worldwide."

NIST says the 10 supply chain risk management practices can be applied simultaneously to an information system or the elements of an information system. The practices are:

  1. Uniquely identify supply chain elements, processes and actors. Knowing who and what is in an enterprise's supply chain is critical to gain visibility into what is happening within it, as well as monitoring and identifying high-risk events and activities. Without reasonable visibility and traceability into the supply chain, it is impossible to understand and therefore manage risk and to reduce the likelihood of an adverse event.
  2. Limit access and exposure within the supply chain. Elements that traverse the supply chain are subject to access by a variety of actors. It is critical to limit such access to only as much as necessary for those actors to perform their roles and to monitor that access for supply chain impact.
  3. Establish and maintain the provenance of elements, processes, tools and data. All system elements originate somewhere and may be changed throughout their existence. The record of element origin along with the history of, the changes to and the record of who made those changes is called "provenance." Acquirers, integrators and suppliers should maintain the provenance of elements under their control to understand where the elements have been, the change history and who might have had an opportunity to change them.
  4. Share information within strict limits. Acquirers, integrators and suppliers need to share data and information. Content to be shared among acquirers, integrators and suppliers may include information about the use of elements, users, acquirer, integrator or supplier organizations as well as information regarding issues that have been identified or raised regarding specific elements. Information should be protected according to mutually agreed-upon practices.
  5. Perform supply chain risk management awareness and training. A strong supply chain risk mitigation strategy cannot be put in place without significant attention given to training personnel on supply chain policy, procedures and applicable management, operational and technical controls and practices. NIST SP 800-50, Building an Information Technology Security Awareness and Training Program, provides guidelines for establishing and maintaining a comprehensive awareness and training program.
  6. Use defensive design for systems, elements and processes. The use of design concepts is a common approach to delivering robustness in security, quality, safety, diversity and many other disciplines that can aid in achieving supply chain risk management. Design techniques apply to supply chain elements, element processes, information, systems and organizational processes throughout the system. Element processes include creation, testing, manufacturing, delivery and sustainment of the element throughout its life. Organizational and business processes include issuing requirements for acquiring, supplying and using supply chain elements.
  7. Perform continuous integrator review. Continuous integrator review is an essential practice used to determine that defensive measures have been deployed. Its purpose is to validate compliance with requirements, establish that the system behaves in a predictable manner under stress and detect and classify weaknesses and vulnerabilities of elements, processes, systems and any associated metadata.
  8. Strengthen delivery mechanisms. Delivery, including inventory management, is an essential function within the supply chain, which has a great potential for being compromised. In today's environment, delivery can be physical such as hardware or logical such as software modules and patches.
  9. Assure sustainment activities and processes. The sustainment process begins when a system becomes operational and ends when it enters the disposal process. This includes system maintenance, upgrade, patching, parts replacement and other activities that keep the system operational. Any change to the system or process can introduce opportunities for subversion throughout the supply chain.
  10. Manage disposal and final disposition activities throughout the system or element life cycle. Elements, information and data can be disposed of at any time across the system and element life cycle. For example, disposal can occur during research and development, design, prototyping or operations/maintenance and include methods such as disk cleaning, removal of cryptographic keys and partial reuse of components.

NIST says the recommendations in the interagency report are for information systems categorized at the FIPS 199 high-impact level. But NIST says agencies and other agencies can choose to apply the recommended practices to specific systems with a lower impact level, based on the tailoring guidance provided in the draft of NIST Special Publication 800-53 Revision 4: Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity & InfoRiskToday

Chabrow, who oversees ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday, is a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business. He's the former top editor at the award-winning business journal CIO Insight and a long-time editor and writer at InformationWeek.

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