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Navigating Supply Chain Risks: Beyond the Surface

Written by Bryan Courtright
August 31, 2023

In today’s intricate digital landscape, the supply chain risk looms larger than it appears at first glance. The concerns go far beyond the immediate security vulnerabilities highlighted in recent discussions. However, Bryan Courtright, the Vice President of Engineering at IDTec, suggests that the supply chain risk is a more significant issue than portrayed in a recent piece by FedScoop. His view extends beyond the surface-level security concerns that have been raised.

An Emerging Risk: Software Pricing’s Impact

It’s evident that the landscape of software pricing has evolved into a risk of its own. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) have become key players in government operations, but their exorbitant costs now pose a threat to missions and security. Take, for instance, the government-wide license agreements with prominent ISVs like Microsoft, VMware, Oracle, and Red Hat. These agreements, while streamlining processes, inadvertently tie the government to their costly products, limiting flexibility and introducing vulnerability.

The Alarming Disconnect: Attestations and Accountability

Attesting to the security of software components might seem reassuring, but in reality, it’s a hollow promise. The government lacks the technical prowess to independently verify the accuracy of these claims. Blindly trusting these attestations is a risky gamble. It’s high time we recognize the adversarial nature of our relationship with hardware and software companies. These entities, driven by financial incentives, can’t prioritize government interests over their own. This is further compounded by the government’s inability to swiftly abandon failing projects or vendors.

A Path to Reclamation: Rethinking Vendor Relationships

To regain control, the government must adopt a more pragmatic approach to its relationships with ISVs. We propose a shift away from conventional agreements based on titles and quantities to a holistic evaluation of total spend per company. Unlimited enterprise agreements that encompass a wide range of products and quantities, accompanied by top-tier support, are the way forward.

Geopolitical Implications: Secure Development and Penalties

Ensuring software security requires a multifold approach. Companies selling to the government must maintain their development operations within trusted, cleared developers in friendly nations. Moreover, stringent penalties for wrongdoers are essential. Holding both companies and their leadership accountable, both financially and criminally, will incentivize a stronger commitment to security.

Redefining the Role of Small Businesses

The supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Small businesses, while valuable contributors, can inadvertently exacerbate vulnerabilities. Their limited capacity to construct secure supply chains leaves room for exploitation. Favoring larger companies with the resources and motivation to tackle these challenges is a strategic move.

Moving Toward a Resilient Future

Recognizing our missteps and acknowledging the evolving threats are vital steps in securing our digital ecosystem. Adapting procurement processes to address security concerns is paramount. The familiar FAR and procurement processes are known to malicious actors and must undergo radical transformation. A clear-eyed assessment of our vulnerabilities and a willingness to adapt are the keys to building a more secure and efficient future.

Confronting the intricate web of supply chain risks demands collective action. A cohesive approach, marked by transparent partnerships, stringent accountability, and adaptive strategies, will be our greatest defense against the ever-evolving landscape of digital threats.


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