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Electronic Supply Chain Security

Folks, it's  been a while since my last blog post. Almost a year I guess. Please accept my apologies. I've been somewhat busy with my university work and last few stages of CIMA. Today's post is an extract from a review paper I compiled sometime back as part of one of my university subjects. Hope you will find it useful. Be safe. Enjoy!


   Abstract: Supply chain management is a ubiquitous topic that has evolved greatly over time. Developments in technology added a new dimension and extended traditional supply chains to electronic supply chains. Although this is a critical aspect of several global businesses today, one major threat continuous to hinder the performance of e-supply chains. Security is this dark cloud that looms over e-supply chains worldwide.

Index Terms:Electronic supply chains, security


Electronic Supply Chain Management or E-Supply Chain Management is the buzzword among global businesses today. In e-supply chain management, managing security risks takes the top priority. Security risk is an inherent issue that comes along with electronic channels. However the competitive nature of global markets has meant that even a trivial mistake in security is intolerable. Therefore overcoming this inherent issue is an essential requirement.
However, companies continue to face severe security threats in their e-supply chains. This study explores the security threats faced by companies, various kinds of theoretical and practical solutions that already exist, limitations of existing solutions and possible ways of overcoming the current issues.
I was motivated to explore the buzz created by e-supply chain security issues using the network security knowledge and supply chain management knowledge I have gathered through my studies over the last few years as an undergraduate at Faculty of Information Technology.
This paper discusses the background of e-supply chains, research conducted in this field, major security issues, common industry solutions and proposed solution.


I. Supply Chains and Supply Chain Management

A supply chain in simple terms can be described as a combination of value chains which together provide the final product or service to the customers to satisfy their needs and wants. A classic supply chain consists of suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, end customers and other service providers.

   Supply chain management is a concept that involves the co-ordination of operations from the supplier of raw materials at one end of the supply chain all the way down to the consumer at the other end [7].

II. E-Supply Chains and E-Supply Chain Management

A supply chain is called an e-supply chain when it is electronically managed, typically with web-based software. According to Williams, Esper, & Ozment (2002), e-supply chain management refers to the management of a supply chain that is built via electronic linkages and structurally based on technology-enabled relationships.

III. E-Supply Chain Security

E-supply chain information security can be identified as soft security and hard security [5]. Hard aspect indicates tangible vulnerabilities, such as physical thefts (facilities, equipment, and personnel) or physical damages and terrorism. Soft aspect refers to intangible vulnerabilities which in the above definition is considered as information theft.


Supply chain management is an area that has a great history behind it. But in early days, it was seen as a supporting function by many organizations. In 1990s with the technology boom, electronic supply chains became a strategic aspect of several organizations. Ever since then, security has been the major concern where several theoretical models have been introduced by researchers worldwide to overcome the security issues. Few of them are summarized below.

I. e-Security Framework for Supporting Efficient e-Supply Chain Management in Electronic Commerce Environment by Sungmin Kang and Seng-Phil Hing, Korea Trade Research Association [6]

This is a research conducted by the above mentioned researchers in 2005 where they introduced a security framework and architecture to deal with security concerns in e-supply chains and provide the necessary support for supply chain process. 
In this research, 2 main reasons were identified as the triggers of security issues.
·         Network security
·         Increased variety of products and decreased product life cycle
Security issues created due to these 2 main reasons were categorized into 10 different domains to suggest the security framework and architecture for providing the optimal level of support for business operations.
The e-security framework introduced by Sungmin Kang and Seng-Phil Hing consists of 5 parts.
1.       Security Strategy
2.       Security mechanism
3.       Management
4.       Policy
5.       Technology
These 5 parts or layers could be applied to e-supply chain management to provide solutions to the problems and issues identified above.

II. Information Security Issues in Global Supply Chain by Anand S. Kunnathur and Sridhar Vaithianathan [7]

Research conducted by Anand S. Kunnathur and Sridhar Vaithianathan in 2008 suggested a framework highlighting the issues that demand attention for securing inter-organizational information flows in the global supply chain management. This is a holistic framework which can be used to identify and classify a plethora of information security issues in e-supply chains and ensure none of the issues are missed.
The framework captures the main facets that demand attention into 5 sections.

 The most relevant section to this study, Emerging Technologies Issues is further divided into 7 dimensions.
   Although this model provides an effective way of identifying and classifying security issues in e-supply chains, the main limitation is that it does not provide ways to overcome these issues. That has been identified as a future research area by the authors of the study.

III. Electronic-Supply Chain Information Security: A Framework for Information by Alizera Bolhari, Shahid Beheshti University [2] 

Alizera Bolhari is an Iranian researcher who reviewed information security in e-supply chains and proposed an e-supply chain information security framework.
Virus, worm, Trojan horse, hacker, trap door, logic bomb, port scanning, spoof, DNS attack, hoax, dumpster diving, sniffing, war dialing, and DoS attack were identified as main information security threats to an e-supply chain.
Current solutions such as passwords, firewalls, VPNs, digital signature, secure socket layer (SSL), etc. are among the identified and reviewed existing solutions to security issues.
After analyzing the security issues and existing solutions and frameworks, the writer proposed his framework which describes Information Technology (IT) items in 6 areas which need to be checked with Information Systems (IS) factors if applied in e-supply chain network. The proposed framework is included in the figure below.


Business organizations that operate a global or local e-supply chain are affected by several security threats. Among all different types of threats, 4 common security issues can be identified as follows.

I. Virus

Many scientists have debated over the exact definition of a virus. But in simple terms, virus is a computer program that leads to detrimental effects, such as corrupting the systems or destroying data. It can be broken down into 3 functional areas called, replication, concealment and bomb [3].
·         Replication
A virus hides in one legal file which can be macro, executable file or master boot record. Once the infected file is executed or opened, the virus copies itself to the computer and attach the copies to other original legal files in the computer.
·         Concealment
A virus conceals itself by hiding in fake code sections or polymorphic virus can mute itself by changing its own code.
·         Bomb
Bomb refers to a trigger where the virus can be configured to activate under certain conditions. This condition can be a logical condition or a statement or a time bomb where it will activate at a certain specified date and time.
Worms, Trojan horses and logic bombs have fundamental technical differences to viruses. However in terms of the objective and mode of operation, they have many similarities to viruses.

II. Hacker

Hacking in simple terms can be described as the act of gaining unauthorized access to a computer. A hacker needs a deep understanding about computers and computer networks [3]. There are 2 main types of hacking depending on the motivation or the intent of the hacker.
White hat hacking is where the hacker has a positive motive. This is commonly referred to as ethical hacking as well. In white hat hacking, hacker might break into a system and inform the owners about the vulnerabilities in the system. This can be done either with or without the permission of the owners of the system. But in any case, the intent of the hacker is not to exploit the system. In e-supply chains, white hat hacking is not seen as a major theat. In fact, it has been a common methodology used to identify vulnerabilities in e-supply chain systems.
Black hat hacking is the flip side of white hat hacking where the hacker’s intent is malicious. The hacker gains access to a system without the authorization of the owners and exploits the system and information for his/her own advantage or on request of a third party. This is seen as a major threat to e-supply chain management.    

III. Flooding

In a network, flooding is the forwarding by a router of a packet from any node to every other node attached to the router except the node from which the packet arrived. Flooding is a way to distribute routing information updates quickly to every node in a large network.
However flooding becomes a major issue when an excessive amount of unwanted data is sent [1]. This results in disruption of data availability. This is a common incident in e-supply chains. Although it is deemed unethical, companies use flooding to block the systems of other companies to obtain competitive advantage. This can lead to significant delays which is detrimental in modern business environment.  

IV. DNS Attack

Domain Name Service (DNS) attack refers to a manipulation of the domain name registry to redirect a URL [4]. There are 3 main types of DNS attacks.
The first type of DNS attack is called a cache poisoning attack. This can happen after an attacker is successful in injecting malicious DNS data into the recursive DNS servers that are operated by many ISPs. The second type of DNS attack happens when attackers take over one or more authoritative DNS servers for a domain. The third type of DNS attack is the most problematic to undo. It happens when an attacker compromised the registration of the domain itself, and then uses that access to alter the DNS servers assigned to it.


As reviewed in the literature survey above, several researchers have proposed various frameworks to overcome e-supply chain security issues. However in reality, hardly any company uses these frameworks as they are considered to be academic research and highly theoretical. Companies use a more flexible and simple methodology which allows them to respond to security risks in a more robust manner. Generally companies use 4 types of controls to overcome e-supply chain security issues.

I. General Controls

General controls refer to controls that apply to the entire e-supply chain system of the company. This includes recruiting reliable and skilled employees, giving appropriate training, supervision, segregation of duties, use of user IDs and passwords, two-factor authentications and physical access controls such as locks and back up storage.

II. Application Controls

These controls refer to controls that apply to specific e-supply chain software application. Specific applications can be supplier management systems, inventory management systems, finance and accounting systems, sales and marketing systems, labor and machine scheduling systems, customer relationship management systems, etc.

III. Software Controls

The argument behind software controls is that, if software applications are original and purchased from an authorized and reputed seller, the risk created by such software applications is minimal. But in practice, software piracy is a common issue where companies use pirate versions due to their cheapness in cost. However this not only exposes them to security threats, it also amounts to breach of the law.

IV. Network Controls

This is where companies have taken specific actions to overcome the risks created by distributed or network computing. Some of the common network controls include firewalls, data encryption, authorization, anti-virus software, etc.    
When analyzing these controls that are being used to overcome the security threats created by e-supply chains, the main concern is that almost all of these solutions are applied at the operational level of the organization. In a world where e-supply chains are considered as a top notch strategic element, ideally the security risks should also be handled at the strategic level especially given its potential to destroy an entire company.    


Everyone believes that e-supply chain security matters should be handled at the strategic level. Therefore firstly it is important to understand what is actually meant by “handling at the strategic level”.
Every company has a mission, vision, goals and objectives which eventually transpire into the corporate strategy. Supply chain security matters should also be a critical part of the corporate strategy handled by the top level employees of the organization if it were to be called, “handled at the strategic level”.   
Any framework proposed should be simple, realistic and practical for it to be used by businesses in the real world. Following steps can be used as a preliminary guide to formulate the e-supply chain security strategy.
·         Appoint a steering committee comprising of people representing different functions and different management levels of the organization.
·         Conduct a situational analysis to analyze the existing security issues faced by the company and the other players in the industry.
·         Thorough study of the corporate objectives and strategy of the organization.
·         Development of objectives for the e-supply chain security strategy in line with the analyzed corporate strategy and objectives.
·         Formulation of the detail plan of action to overcome the identified security threats with the participation of all the members.
·         Submission of the formulated strategy (in the form of a report) to the board of directors and obtaining their feedback.
·         Review and refine the developed strategy based on the feedback received.
·         Implementation of the strategy backed up by enterprise wide communication and education.
·         Monitoring and controlling to ensure the strategy is implemented in practice.  


E-supply chain security is a main problem in global supply chains which needs to be addressed quickly. Several research studies have proposed operational and strategic frameworks to overcome the security issues. However the problem still remains due to the complex and theoretical nature of the solutions provided where companies in practice handle supply chain security issues at the operational level. The suggested approach is a very simplistic yet a holistic, flexible and practical way of handling e-supply chain security issues at the strategic level. 
This review paper reviews e-supply chain and e-supply security, existing frameworks, main security threats, current industry practices used to overcome the risks and proposes a simple approach based on which e-supply chain security strategy could be formulated.
[1] Bhaiji, Yusuf, (2008), Network Security Technologies and Solutions (CCIE Professional Development Series), Cisco Press; 1 edition.
[2] Bolhari A (2009), Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran, Electronic-Supply Chain Information Security: A Framework for Information.
[3] Brenton, Chris, Hunt, Cameron, (2001), Active Defense — A Comprehensive Guide to Network Security, SYBEX Inc., CA.
[4] Canavan, John E. (2001), Fundamentals of Network Security, Artech House Publishers; 1st edition.
[5] Grainger A, (2007), Supply Chain Security: Adding To a complex Operational and Institutional Environment.
[6] Kang S, Hong S P, (2005), e-Security Framework for Supporting Efficient e-Supply Chain Management in Electronic Commerce Environment. 
[7] Kunnathur A S, Vaithianathan S, (2008), Information Security Issues in Global Supply Chain.          



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