We Need to Make Smart Manufacturing Safer With Better Cybersecurity

Emily Newton
We Need to Make Smart Manufacturing Safer With Cybersecurity
Illustration: © IoT For All

Manufacturing cybersecurity cannot be an afterthought. These days, it seems easier to count the companies that haven’t been affected by cybercrime than the ones that have. A stunning 80 percent of firms that responded to Duke University’s 77th Global Business Outlook Survey said their networks had been breached for some nefarious end or another.

Whether to steal, tamper with, or ransom sensitive enterprise data, it’s all too easy for hackers to find and exploit unpatched security gaps in modern technology. When that happens to a small business like a contract manufacturer, in 10 percent of cases, that business isn’t able to recover and doesn’t open its doors again. Here’s what smart factory owners need to know about manufacturing cybersecurity.

Where Do Manufacturing Threats Come From?

Smart manufacturing is defined by several technologies, all of which depend upon internet access to exchange data. Smart factories consist of tech that enables:

  • Predictive machine maintenance
  • Remote monitoring of processes
  • End-to-end process visibility
  • Automated quality control
  • Smart warehousing and organization
  • Predictive capabilities for demand and output
  • Remote resource management

This means there isn’t just one possible point of entry or failure bad actors can take advantage of in smart manufacturing. In fact, there’s a wide range of possible intrusion points, including back-office computers and traditional IT, data warehouses, operational technology (OT) like the Internet of Things (IoT), customized software, and legacy systems.

Actions Manufacturers Can Take

Culture needs to be a top priority as you assess the current threat landscape and take measures to protect your organization. Some of the following points are closely related to building a conscientious, safety-minded culture. This is done by educating the workforce on the current threat landscape regularly and instituting organized cybersecurity training.

Other manufacturing cybersecurity actions require some technological know-how, such as bifurcating industrial networks for data partitioning and achieving the best level of protection. Here are some steps worth taking to protect your smart factory.

Conduct a Risk Assessment Annually

Your business and its technology stack change regularly — so do cybersecurity threats. An annual cybersecurity risk analysis will reveal where to invest your efforts and where you might be able to eliminate wasted time or resources. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has a series of free resources available so business owners and stakeholders can understand fundamental cybersecurity risks and how to take effective precautions.

Train New Employees and Retrain Veterans

It’s critical to prioritize cybersecurity awareness and preparedness in new employee onboarding. This must also be a recurring training topic for seasoned team members.

Why does manufacturing cybersecurity demand ongoing learning? Because protecting manufacturing assets requires vigilance. Workers must know what phishing attempts look like so they don’t hand over sensitive credentials in an email. Routine training and testing help ensure your team stays on its guard.

Ongoing learning is essential because the nature of the threat changes regularly. When hackers identify a vulnerable endpoint in a targeted network, they’re often able to exploit it in 15 minutes or less. Every workforce needs to know about the latest vulnerabilities and what actions to take to keep assets safe.

Create Separate Networks for Smart Technology

One of the most common and helpful pieces of advice you’ll receive about hardening a smart factory against outside interference is setting up separate networks for smart technology. In fact, this course of action is recommended by the FBI. If a criminal compromises one of your networks, it means they won’t be able to capture data from industrial IoT devices.

Back-office computers with client and payroll data shouldn’t run on the same network as industrial control devices. Hackers could desire payroll data as well as proprietary information from machine-tending software.

Understand How Service Providers Protect Themselves

Global commerce is in the grips of a technological arms race. IoT, inventory-tracking platforms, connected manufacturing equipment, and other tech breakthroughs bring performance and competitive enhancements. They also present risks stakeholders in smart factories need to understand.

APIs — application programming interfaces — are a primary tool with which manufacturers and other entities incorporate third-party telematics, tracking, and sensing hardware with their existing tech stacks. Unfortunately, APIs are so vulnerable to an attack that we’ve stopped counting which ones have been breached and now count which ones have not. In a report published in 2021, only 6 percent of surveyed companies reported no API-related cybersecurity problems in the previous year.

This is just one way in which a smart factory might become compromised. Still, manufacturers must understand how their third-party technology and digital service providers protect themselves and their infrastructure. Again, NIST provides resources — this time in the form of assessment and auditing considerations as you look at potential outside technology partners.

Implement Zero-Trust Architecture

Ultimately, the best thing manufacturers can do to maintain cybersecurity in smart factories is commit to zero-trust architecture. Zero-trust architecture combines several features:

  • Strong user-identity authentication
  • Least-privilege policies throughout the organization
  • Verifications for user-device integrity

The main benefit of zero-trust architecture is it assumes no single device or network access point is secure. It also awards access credentials only to parties requiring that level of access to complete their current objective.

Setting up zero-trust in the workplace is an important step to take not just because of the result, but also because it forces stakeholders to identify vulnerable processes and endpoints in the organization’s infrastructure. This will help prioritize which actions to take, determine which vendors may be susceptible, and inform which cybersecurity products to purchase.

Smart Manufacturing Cybersecurity Can’t Be an Afterthought

Smart manufacturing has been a major technological boon when it comes to meeting rising global demands. Manufacturers have more tools than ever for gathering and analyzing process data and making factories more efficient, but these tools also bring vulnerabilities. Understanding the risk types and how to protect one’s organization can’t be an afterthought — manufacturing cybersecurity needs to be a top priority every step of the way.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton - Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized | Industrial Content Writer, Revolutionized.com
I specialize in writing in-depth articles for the industrial and sci/tech sectors. In addition to my work for Revolutionized, my works have been published on Engineering.com, ReadWrite, and Global Trade Magazine. Please connect with me on LinkedIn!
I specialize in writing in-depth articles for the industrial and sci/tech sectors. In addition to my work for Revolutionized, my works have been published on Engineering.com, ReadWrite, and Global Trade Magazine. Please connect with me on LinkedIn!