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How to Improve Cybersecurity in Manufacturing

By August 8, 2022August 11th, 2022No Comments


Cybersecurity in manufacturing is a complex area that can shift significantly depending on where your business serves the market as well as your supply chain ecosystem. However, there are at least a handful of key universal requirements that all manufacturers in the modern digital age must meet in order to protect their systems and data from common cyber threats. This article will give a quick rundown on the challenges faced by the industry, how to measure your cyber risk according to your technology stack, and how to adapt to these factors to harden your network security against the top dangers out there.

Here is everything you need to know about how to improve cybersecurity in your manufacturing business:

State of the Manufacturing Industry

The global pandemic brought to a head many developments that had been creeping relatively slowly into value chains around the world, namely a sizable shift into digitized technology ecosystems. The cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, machine learning, VR, augmented reality (AR) and more were proliferating among manufacturers at a disjointed pace of adoption. Industry 4.0 was evolving beyond its conceptualization, but enterprises had an easier time making the digital migration than SMBs and the immediate value was questioned – until social distancing forced workforce distribution.

While the emerging “smart factories” are still a long way from science fiction predictions, even smaller manufacturers will leverage tools like notebook laptops and the ubiquitous smartphone, and these solutions helped maintain business continuity during pandemic lockdowns. The cloud and IoT in particular have been foundational for many of these changes, giving users the ability to connect to multiple systems and databases on the go, from any location. However, with the evolution of operational technology (OT) and IT also comes new security challenges along with an increasing sophistication among malicious actors, both of which have greatly impacted the industry.

Technology & Cyber Risk

When it comes to cybersecurity in manufacturing, technology represents one of the biggest opportunities and risks simultaneously, and unfortunately both old and new solutions can expose you if you are not prepared. Even worse, some of the most integral parts of a modern manufacturer’s technology stack can become the most critical vulnerabilities if they are not secured, including industrial control systems (ICS), Distributed Control Systems (DCS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

To manage your cyber risk and improve your security against the most prevalent threats to the manufacturing industry, you should take steps to secure your OT and IT ecosystem, including:


Cyber Threats Faced by Manufacturers

The biggest cyber threats faced by manufacturers are generally the most common dangers online, but the difference in how (and when) they impact businesses in the industries can make enough of a difference to watch out for. Additionally, many old risks to manufacturing companies have carried over into the digital age, bypassing traditional defenses and necessitating new defense methods. Here are some of the top threats to watch out for:

  • Phishing

Phishing by itself is more of a vehicle for follow-up attacks, but once a victim has been successfully “phished” it can expose them completely. Factors like siloed teams and third-party connections exacerbate the situation for manufacturers, making it much easier for an attacker that knows what they are doing to slip into your network unnoticed if you are not keeping an eye out.

  • Malware Campaigns

Malware can take many different forms and execute various functions, but all of them rely on the same collection of methodologies that start at infection (most often by social engineering) and end with compromising data. The capacity of the latter is where the manufacturing industry sees the biggest threats, as it can facilitate multiple goals (extortion, theft, sabotage, etc.).

  • Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware used mostly for cyber extortion (though it can be combined with other objectives) by encrypting files and demanding a ransom from the victim. Modern gangs have increasingly turned to “double extortion” to further incentivize victims, and manufacturers with seasonal periods are often targeted at the most critical times to force desperate decision-making.

  • IP Theft & Espionage

As the suppliers – as well as sometimes the designers – of parts and equipment, manufacturers are often the prime targets of corporate and national espionage campaigns. With the Cyber Cold War heating up across the globe, there are quite a few nations highly suspect of working with – or directly employing – hackers to steal sensitive data from US-based businesses.

  • Insider Threats

While the broad definition of an insider threats can include ignorant employees and negligent partners, the version to keep an eye out for is a committed malicious attacker who has internal access to critical systems and data. It can still be a disgruntled FTE or contractor as well as a first-time intruder, but in either case you must have security controls deployed that prevent someone from gaining unlimited access from inside your system.

  • Equipment Hazards

While technically less of a cyber threat, equipment malfunctions can be the end result of an attack and whether intended or not, this disruption can lead to real loss of life that will irreversibly affect your brand reputation, as well as open up the possibility of compliance penalties.

Ensuring Cybersecurity for Manufacturing

Improving your security preparedness against these types of threats must include a fundamental review of – and a willingness to redefine – existing policy. No technology by itself will solve cybersecurity, but empowering the human factor will give you a strong last line of defense against a breach. Here are some of the steps manufacturers must take to protect themselves from the worst impacts of a cyber attack:

For more detailed manufacturing cybersecurity guidelines, refer to the educational resources provided by agencies such as NIST and CISA.

To see the resources from NIST, click here.

To see the resources from CISA, click here.

SWK Knows the Manufacturing Industry

SWK Technologies has a long history of serving manufacturers and our Managed Cloud Services practice is uniquely positioned to serve the manufacturing industry’s IT needs. With hundreds of customers in the manufacturing industry SWK has the experience, knowledge and toolset necessary to understand and optimize your unique cybersecurity pain points.

Contact SWK here to get started on evaluating your cybersecurity needs and learn how to strengthen your defenses against all kinds of cyber threats.

Learn More About Cybersecurity for Manufacturing

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