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The Risks of Connected Manufacturing: Managing Threats to Industry 4.0

Written By: Alex Cowperthwaite

Close-up of an orange robotic arm in a smart factory

In manufacturing, cybersecurity attacks are on the rise. According to the 2021 NTT Global Threat Intelligence Report, manufacturing is the second-most targeted industry sector in 2021, up from eighth in 2019. There was a 300% increase in attacks targeting manufacturing companies between 2020 and 2021.

Besides the volume of attacks, data breaches within the industry are expensive. The 2021 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report notes that breaches against industrial firms, which includes manufacturing firms, cost an average of $4.21 million, making it one of the more expensive industry sectors. Becoming the victim of a data breach is expensive, both in terms of dollars and cents as well as the trust of your customers and partners. With more manufacturing firms becoming the targets of such expensive attacks, the time has come for you to make security a priority: to know your level of risk, and make plans to strengthen your security posture.

Why Are Manufacturers at Risk?

Attackers are focusing on manufacturing companies for several reasons. 

First, financially motivated attackers, like ransomware gangs, are now demanding multi-million-dollar ransoms from manufacturing firms. They expect companies will pay a ransom for several reasons. For one, uptime and safety are priorities of a manufacturing company. With so many connected devices, the risks of such an attack are widespread. Downtime associated with a ransomware attack can make it impossible for manufacturing firms to fulfill contracts and supply products. Depending on what machines are compromised, modern ransomware with data theft capabilities can also lead to a risk of losing intellectual property and trade secrets. Attackers recognize the value and the urgency, and use this as leverage in ransomware campaigns.

Sometimes, the attackers are not financially motivated, but are instead associated with sophisticated campaigns of corporate or state-sponsored espionage. Any manufacturing company that owns valuable intellectual property about something an unscrupulous actor wants to build or access becomes a target. Manufacturing companies face the risk of losing not only sales, but their competitive advantage, due to the loss of those sensitive secrets.

Other times, the manufacturer is not the final target of an attack. Manufacturing companies can also be part of multi-stage attacks against a supply chain. For example, a phishing campaign against a manufacturing firm was part of a larger attack against the COVID-19 vaccine delivery supply chain. In addition to concerns about the integrity of your business’s networks and data, common to most cyber attacks, being part of a supply chain attack can lead to lost trust from other businesses who purchase your products, as well as possible legal or financial liability.

The risk is not only about the appeal of assets that manufacturing firms possess. Many manufacturing firms are not managing cyber security as well as they should be, and attackers are drawn toward softer targets. According to a recent  NTT report, manufacturing firms are also less mature from a security perspective than companies in other major industries such as technology, finance, and business and professional services. This is especially a concern for smaller manufacturing firms, who are trying to adapt and continue to produce with smaller budgets and staffing needs than larger conglomerates.

This introduces a tension: with technology comes risk, but for your manufacturing company, the risk of not adopting emerging technologies could be even greater than the risk of bringing them in.

The Future of Manufacturing

Even though the security challenges facing manufacturing companies are tough, they are worth facing. After all, digital transformation is happening in the manufacturing sector, and you need to embrace smart factory technology in order to remain competitive.

In the manufacturing sector, this digital transformation is often described as Industry 4.0. The concept embraces a full range of technologies, including factory automation, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, at all levels of production and the supply chain. Elements of Industry 4.0 include:

  • Monitoring: Though traditional manufacturing-sector devices were monitored offline, modern manufacturing equipment uses IoT technology to provide unprecedented information about how well factory devices are functioning, and how efficiently products are being made. This helps your business not only track its operations, but make better decisions about process and technological improvements.
  • Production: Smart factories not only embrace automation of tasks, but take advantage of situations where a combination of automated and human labor produce the best results. Cobots, or collaborative robots, work alongside people to ensure efficient, quality production.
  • Safety: Wearable devices have a broad range of safety applications including detecting proximity to moving objects such as forklifts, identifying high-risk repetitive motions, and even alerting when employees may be getting too drowsy to operate equipment safely.
  • Training: It used to be that workers could not be trained on factory tools without laying their hands on, or being close to, such machines. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies give workers more knowledge than ever before, in advance of them stepping up to factory machinery, allowing for unparalleled levels of knowledge and safety compared to previous employee training.
  • Customer Connections: VR and computer vision technologies allow companies to give their customers realistic virtual tours of their factory. That way, companies have the peace of mind that comes with only letting trained people on the factory floor, while customers and prospective customers get unparalleled access to the facility.

The majority of manufacturing companies, 62% according to a recent Deloitte study, are committed to going ahead with smart factory initiatives. In short, modern companies cannot expect to keep pace with their competitors if they do not digitally transform. Thus, your manufacturing company needs to embrace Industry 4.0 while also building its confidence that you are doing so securely.

Security Assessment and Planning in the Smart Factory

Manufacturing companies need emerging technologies, but with emerging technologies come security questions that many manufacturing companies do not have the expertise on staff to answer. Many manufacturing companies do not have a mature security program. Some even lack dedicated information technology departments, much less security staff.

Published frameworks can be one place to start. There exists meaningful guidance for manufacturing cyber security, including the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) and the Department of Homeland Security Critical Manufacturing Sector Cybersecurity Framework. Such frameworks are a good start for manufacturing companies to strengthen their security posture and get ready to adopt further smart factory technologies.

However, such frameworks can be difficult to enact meaningfully without people who have experience securing emerging technologies and securing manufacturing companies. Without experienced implementation guidance, a manufacturing company is left at increased risk of data breaches and financial loss. 

Moving Confidently Forward

For your manufacturing company, the way forward requires building a foundation of security as you invest in emerging technologies. That way, you can embrace all the advantages of cutting-edge manufacturing options, while remaining confident that you are doing everything in your power to keep your data, your operations, and your company safe. 

Doing this is easier with a partner who has experience with emerging technologies and manufacturing cyber security. A trusted advisor can provide guidance and build perspective around how to move forward, and how to adopt the technologies that will keep your company thriving for years to come. Learn more about how you can adopt emerging tech with confidence.

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Alex Cowperthwaite
Technical Director
Alex Cowperthwaite
Alex is a Technical Director. He has extensive experience performing a variety of security assessments including cloud architecture, threat models, web app and infrastructure pentetration tests. Alex’s background in reverse engineering and vulnerability analysis combines with years of hands on experience at Security Compass to provide an adaptable skill set that can tackle almost any unique security assessment. Alex has a passion for leading and mentoring Security Compass consultants to achieve excellence in results.

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