Supply chain threats

Attacks can occur at every link in a typical software supply chain, and these kinds of attacks are increasingly public, disruptive, and costly in today’s environment.

This page is an introduction to possible attacks throughout the supply chain and how SLSA can help. For a more technical discussion, see Threats & mitigations.


Supply Chain Threats

See Terminology for an explanation of the supply chain model.

SLSA’s primary focus is supply chain integrity, with a secondary focus on availability. Integrity means protection against tampering or unauthorized modification at any stage of the software lifecycle. Within SLSA, we divide integrity into source integrity vs build integrity.

Source integrity: Ensure that all changes to the source code reflect the intent of the software producer. Intent of an organization is difficult to define, so SLSA approximates this as approval from two authorized representatives.

Build integrity: Ensure that the package is built from the correct, unmodified sources and dependencies according to the build recipe defined by the software producer, and that artifacts are not modified as they pass between development stages.

Availability: Ensure that the package can continue to be built and maintained in the future, and that all code and change history is available for investigations and incident response.

Real-world examples

Many recent high-profile attacks were consequences of supply chain integrity vulnerabilities, and could have been prevented by SLSA’s framework. For example:

Integrity threat Known example How SLSA can help
A Submit unauthorized change (to source repo) SushiSwap: Contractor with repository access pushed a malicious commit redirecting cryptocurrency to themself. Two-person review could have caught the unauthorized change.
B Compromise source repo PHP: Attacker compromised PHP's self-hosted git server and injected two malicious commits. A better-protected source code platform would have been a much harder target for the attackers.
C Build from modified source (not matching source repo) Webmin: Attacker modified the build infrastructure to use source files not matching source control. A SLSA-compliant build server would have produced provenance identifying the actual sources used, allowing consumers to detect such tampering.
D Use compromised dependency (i.e. A-H, recursively) event-stream: Attacker added an innocuous dependency and then later updated the dependency to add malicious behavior. The update did not match the code submitted to GitHub (i.e. attack F). Applying SLSA recursively to all dependencies would have prevented this particular vector, because the provenance would have indicated that it either wasn't built from a proper builder or that the source did not come from GitHub.
E Compromise build process SolarWinds: Attacker compromised the build platform and installed an implant that injected malicious behavior during each build. Higher SLSA levels require stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult to compromise and gain persistence.
F Upload modified package (not matching build process) CodeCov: Attacker used leaked credentials to upload a malicious artifact to a GCS bucket, from which users download directly. Provenance of the artifact in the GCS bucket would have shown that the artifact was not built in the expected manner from the expected source repo.
G Compromise package repo Attacks on Package Mirrors: Researcher ran mirrors for several popular package repositories, which could have been used to serve malicious packages. Similar to above (F), provenance of the malicious artifacts would have shown that they were not built as expected or from the expected source repo.
H Use compromised package Browserify typosquatting: Attacker uploaded a malicious package with a similar name as the original. SLSA does not directly address this threat, but provenance linking back to source control can enable and enhance other solutions.
Availability threat Known example How SLSA can help
D Dependency becomes unavailable Mimemagic: Producer intentionally removes package or version of package from repository with no warning. Network errors or service outages may also make packages unavailable temporarily. SLSA does not directly address this threat.

A SLSA level helps give consumers confidence that software has not been tampered with and can be securely traced back to source—something that is difficult, if not impossible, to do with most software today.