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Fortifying the Chain: Gaining Visibility into Third-Party Risk

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This well-worn phrase rings especially true when it comes to cybersecurity. As organizations increasingly rely on a complex web of suppliers and third-party vendors to conduct business, their potential attack surface for cyber threats widens. The more links in the proverbial chain, the higher the potential risk for critical vulnerabilities that could compromise the security of entire organization and its partners.

The Risk of Doing Business in an Interconnected World

Let’s think of the modern business as a fortress. Within its walls, a security team like yours knows how to ensure that everything remains secure and under control. But what about the external entities that you rely on? The third-party vendors, the suppliers, the software providers, or the recent acquisitions—each one can inadvertently become a Trojan horse, a gateway for cybercriminals to infiltrate your stronghold. From ransomware attacks to data breaches, the implications of such vulnerabilities can be catastrophic, leading to financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences.

However, the complexity of these third-party ecosystems can make it a daunting task to monitor and manage these risks effectively. That’s why having full visibility into your attack surface, and gaining insights into potential third-party risk and compliance, is so important.  Every link in your chain needs to be as robust and secure as your own defenses.

A Warning from the Trenches

To understand the gravity and immediacy of the cybersecurity threats facing today’s organizations, we need only look at the 2020 SolarWinds attack, an event that shook the very foundations of global cyber defense strategies. In this sophisticated cyber espionage campaign, malicious actors compromised the software supply chain of SolarWinds, a major provider of network management tools. By inserting malicious code into the company’s software updates, the attackers managed to infiltrate the networks of thousands of SolarWinds’ customers, including government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

This incident highlights a sobering reality: attackers are increasingly targeting the supply chain as a backdoor into otherwise secure systems. The ramifications of such attacks are profound, leading to sensitive data breaches, espionage, and a significant erosion of trust in digital infrastructure. The SolarWinds attack is a stark illustration of the cascading effects a single point of vulnerability can have across an organization’s entire digital ecosystem.

You can take a look back at the Censys Research Team’s own reporting on the impact of the Solar Winds attack here.

A Wake-Up Call from Change Healthcare

The recent cyberattack on Change Healthcare, a key player within the UnitedHealth Group, serves as another example of the wide-ranging implications an attack on a single organization can have across an entire industry. This attack, perpetrated by the ransomware group known as ALPHV or BlackCat, led to significant disruptions across the healthcare payment system, affecting millions of Americans who rely on Change Healthcare’s platform for healthcare insurance services. The attackers deployed ransomware that immediately rendered critical systems and data unavailable.

The scope of the impact was vast, with disruptions reported in the ability of physicians and hospitals to bill, manage, and issue prescriptions and healthcare procedures. Pharmacies faced challenges in obtaining information needed to fill prescriptions, and individuals experienced difficulties in making health claims and obtaining prescriptions​​. Though Change Healthcare’s parent company, UnitedHealth Group, says that its broader systems were not affected by the attack, the HHS Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response did advise that Change Healthcare customers and partners take additional steps to secure their networks. The attack underscores the interdependence of the healthcare industry and the pressing need to better “fortify its chain.”

At a high level, that means healthcare organizations need to prioritize securing their networks against threats, implementing preventive measures, and ensuring that contingency plans are in place for rapid response to cyber incidents. The HHS’s recent Healthcare and Public Health Cybersecurity Performance Goals, which are designed to “help healthcare organizations prioritize implementation of high-impact cybersecurity practices,” offer important guidance on this front.

Managing Cybersecurity Risk is Non-Negotiable

As these examples and others show us, managing cybersecurity risk across the third-party ecosystem is a necessity. A single vulnerability in a third-party vendor’s system can serve as a backdoor to your own, putting not just your organization but also your customers’ data at risk. This interconnectedness means that the security of your organization is not entirely in your hands; it’s also in the hands of third-party partners.

Regulatory pressures also underscore the importance of cybersecurity diligence. With laws and regulations like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, the legal ramifications of a data breach have never been more severe. These regulations mandate strict data protection practices, and non-compliance can result in hefty fines and sanctions.

Visibility Beyond Your Horizon

To achieve greater visibility into the full attack surface and to better understand potential third-party risk, organizations and their security teams can benefit from internet intelligence platforms like Censys. Comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date internet intelligence used to empower attack surface management and threat hunting objectives give teams the visibility and context they need to understand risk.

Censys Attack Surface Management, for example, enables organizations to identify, assess, and mitigate vulnerabilities across their entire external attack surface, including those resulting from mergers and acquisitions, and those belonging to subsidiaries. Censys makes it possible to easily assess a potential new company or subsidiary’s risk, with no deployment or configuration required. With this kind of real-time visibility, security teams can discover unknown and unmanaged assets with high confidence, so that they can prioritize remediation efforts or walk away from a high-risk deal. By mapping and continuously monitoring their entire attack surface with Censys, teams can reveal hidden vulnerabilities, unsecured entry points, and potential threats.

Censys Search further allows organizations to track and monitor vendor compliance. Security teams can tap into the unmatched internet intelligence available in Censys Search to run queries on vendors, acquisitions, and other third-party suppliers. For example, a team could use Censys Search to look for vendors who have assets with weak encryption algorithms, or to verify the TLS certificates in use by potential acquisition targets.

With actionable intelligence and security insights, you can work collaboratively with your partners to address vulnerabilities, enforce security protocols, and build a unified front against cyber threats. This collective approach not only strengthens individual security postures but also enhances the overall resilience of your third-party ecosystem.

Learn more about how to manage risk and enforce compliance with Censys in our brief video tutorial.


The Bottom Line

In the battle against cyber threats, ignorance isn’t bliss—it’s a liability. As organizations navigate the complexities of doing business in an interconnected age, the importance of understanding and managing third-party risk can’t be overstated. By taking a proactive approach and striving to gain visibility into potential risks that acquisitions, subsidiaries, partners, and vendors may present, organizations can better protect their assets, maintain compliance, and fortify their chain.

Interested in learning more?

Check out our blog about managing M&A risk, or run a vendor compliance query in Censys Search!


About the Author

Rachel Hannenberg
Content Marketing Manager
As the Content Marketing Manager at Censys, Rachel Hannenberg focuses on creating content that engages and informs the Censys community. Rachel has worked in marketing content strategy for nearly a decade, including at B2B SaaS companies and in higher education.

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