The Role of Cybersecurity in Ensuring the Safety of Manufacturing Operations

Manufacturing businesses have historically thrived on productivity. Until recently, many executives managed worker safety as a secondary concern. With greater connectivity, manufacturing businesses now face novel threats to their cyber security. These include malware attacks, denial of service and device hacking and exploitation.

These attacks can cause business disruptions, product defects and regulatory fines. To prevent these issues, manufacturers need to make cybersecurity a business priority.

Identifying Vulnerabilities

As the industrial sector digitizes and becomes more connected, new attack points for cybercriminals emerge. These attacks can have significant consequences for manufacturing companies and their supply chains. Data breaches can expose valuable intellectual property and sensitive financial information. Ransomware attacks can halt operations by encrypting critical files and demanding payment for their release. Supply chain attacks can compromise the integrity of the manufacturing process, resulting in defective or unsafe products.

Adding to the complexity is that cybersecurity is a short-term solution. As technologies change and attackers improve their skills, manufacturers must continuously review and update their cybersecurity practices to protect against the latest threats.

The rate of cyberattacks shows no sign of slowing down. These attacks can significantly impact the economy, costing businesses billions in lost revenue and reputation damage. The stakes are even higher for manufacturing companies, which rely on computer-controlled machinery and industrial control systems to operate their factories. If these systems are breached, production will stop, leading to expensive repairs and production delays.

Additionally, many manufacturing companies store highly sensitive data, including customer information and product designs. If this data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for malicious purposes or sold to competitors. These risks have prompted some companies to take a more proactive approach to protecting their data and limiting the risk of a cyberattack.

Defending Against Attacks

The digital innovations that allow manufacturers to increase efficiencies also make them vulnerable to cyberattacks. From CNC machinery on the factory floor to backend systems in the office, manufacturers are often exposed to vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit. Additionally, since manufacturing companies typically use different cybersecurity services than more sensitive industries like finance and healthcare, they may be unable to recognize an attack in progress.

While a lack of cybersecurity awareness can present serious challenges, a robust security framework can protect against the most common attacks. This includes firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems (IDS). A strong IDS can help detect unauthorized activity within the system. For example, it can alert you to potential data breaches or phishing attempts by warning you when suspicious activity is detected.

As the industry embraces smart manufacturing practices, cybersecurity resources for manufacturers become more urgent. While air-gapped equipment offers some protection in legacy operations, modern manufacturing environments require greater network connectivity and industrial Internet of Things (IoT) sensing capabilities that can’t be supported by existing air-gapped infrastructure.

They’re attractive targets for attackers seeking to steal intellectual property and cause disruption. However, these attacks are not always espionage-driven; the growing popularity of ransomware attacks indicates that manufacturers are a desirable target for bad actors looking to reap financial gains. In addition to the economic impact of a stoppage in production, manufacturers must also deal with reputational damage and customer distrust.

Managing Threats

As more organizations rely on technology to operate, cyber-attacks against them increase in volume and complexity. Even if companies contain the effects of an attack, they may experience financial, reputational and strategic consequences. In the most severe cases, they may be subject to regulatory fines and penalties.

Cyber security includes multiple practices, including network monitoring (identifying and blocking unauthorized network activity), antivirus software, implementing least privilege principles for users and apps, and deploying encryption methods to protect data. Additionally, it includes creating procedures and protocols for responding to cyber incidents promptly and effectively. Finally, it involves training employees and establishing a culture of responsibility and vigilance. In the manufacturing industry, cybersecurity protects operational technology systems from digital attacks that can disrupt production and lead to revenue losses. These attacks are often carried out using ransomware, phishing, malware and other techniques. They can also include tampering with industrial controls such as SCADA or ICS systems to cause a disruption of operations and threaten workers’ safety, as well as public safety in critical infrastructure cases.

While these threats are real and present an imminent danger, strong cybersecurity can help mitigate the risk of cybercrime. Individuals, the manufacturing industry, government institutes, educational institutions, for-profit businesses, and non-profit organizations are all at risk of cyberattacks and breaches, with the latter resulting in monetary losses, data leakage, brand damage, and disruption to business activities.

Managing Risk

The internet is dangerous, and cyber attacks are on the rise. Cybersecurity is a set of practices that protects your internet-connected devices, networks and information from hacking, ransomware, phishing, identity theft and data breaches.

Managing risk involves identifying vulnerabilities and threats and evaluating how likely each is to occur and how significant the impact would be if it did. Then, it would help if you treat the risk (modify it with security controls), tolerate it, or terminate it completely. Each option has pros and cons; weighing these against your organization’s established risk appetite is important.

Manufacturing is increasingly becoming a target for cyberattacks due to the increased connectivity of industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. These are vital systems that monitor and control the physical processes that produce goods for public consumption. If these are hacked or attacked, it can lead to production disruptions and revenue loss.

Because of the complex nature of these technologies, ensuring cybersecurity requires the combined efforts of multiple stakeholders. While the burden of maintaining cybersecurity shouldn’t fall solely on IT leaders, they must be supported by all organizational departments and employees to avoid blind spots. This includes ensuring that the workforce understands why cybersecurity is so important and what they can do to help maintain it.