In a typical manufacturing company, a supply chain is the chain of companies that you rely on to make your product. For example, a mobile phone manufacturer buys processor chips from a supplier. That supplier needs to buy a part from another manufacturer. And that manufacturer relies on yet another company for the raw metal.

But what is the software supply chain? And how do you keep it secure? We spoke with Kim Lewandowski, co-founder and head of product at Chainguard, to explain the details.

Your software supply chain is more complex than you think

The software supply chain can be complicated. Mainly because it’s difficult to know how far it reaches. Take a simple example: If you use Salesforce to keep track of your customers, you store your customers’ data on Salesforce’s servers. Not a problem, surely? But Salesforce could have a breach. And what about the servers themselves? Those servers might run on Windows. If that has a security bug, hackers have another way in. How about the software that Salesforce uses to host its website? If that is hacked, you have yet another breach.

 

“When I think of the software supply chain, it’s all the code and all the mechanics and the processes that went into delivering that core piece of software at the end,” Kim explained. “It’s all the bits and pieces that go into making these things.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 11:28

Keeping the software supply chain secure involves checking who has keys

The important part of keeping your supply chain secure is making sure that you track down what you’re using. And checking that they’re secure and reliable. Every new third party can be a potential problem. If you don’t do your due diligence, you won’t know what risks you’re taking.

As Kim explained, a favorite analogy of hers is thinking about doing construction work on your own home.

“You have a contractor. Well, they need keys. They have subcontractors. You give the keys out to all their subcontractors. Who are they? Where are they from? What materials are they bringing into your house?” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 12:09

The more third party tools you use, the more out of control it can become

It all comes down to accountability. It can easily start spreading rapidly. One third-party tool that you use to create your software might rely on five separate third parties. And you don’t know what code they’ve got hidden under the hood. Your keys are suddenly all over the place.

The only way to keep it under control is to remind yourself to check and to do regular audits of the services you use. Kim believes it’s helpful to think of every new tool as a package coming to your home.

“How is your package getting to your house?” Kim said. “What truck is it riding on and who is driving those trucks?” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 12:44

Get the full conversation

If you’d like to learn more about the software supply chain, and how to make sure that yours is secure, you can listen to the full conversation with Kim over on our podcast.

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

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