The Cyber Frontline: Securing Manufacturing in the Digital Age

March 26, 2024

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Today, businesses in the manufacturing sector face a greater volume and variety of cyber threats than ever before. Businesses of all sizes are being targeted: from small, family-owned businesses to large multinational corporations. 

While you might think that your business isn’t a significant target for attackers, even the smallest manufacturing businesses play a critical role in the supply chains of major enterprises. Attackers often target smaller businesses, preying on their under-developed cybersecurity programs to gain access to a larger supply chain. 

That’s why every manufacturing business must stay up-to-date with the cyber security threat landscape. By doing so, you can take steps to address common cybersecurity vulnerabilities, adopt industry-wide best practices, and leverage new technologies in a thoughtful, productive manner. 

This article is the first in an upcoming series on the emerging cybersecurity threats affecting organizations in a variety of different industries. 

Throughout this series, we’ll explore the threats faced by organizations in industries including manufacturing, government, finance, retail, healthcare, and technology, sharing the latest technologies and best practices organizations can adopt to secure their infrastructure. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only. The contents are designed to offer insight and are not intended to serve as legal advice or authoritative guidance. While the information is intended to be accurate, readers should not act on the information contained within without seeking professional counsel.

An Overview of the Cyber Threat Landscape in Manufacturing

Businesses in the manufacturing sector face a wide range of cyber threats every day. A 2022 report from IBM found that manufacturing is one of the most-attacked industries globally, with 22% of all cyber attacks targeted at manufacturing companies. 

Common threats faced by manufacturing businesses include ransomware, phishing, Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), and insider threats. After using these attack methods to gain access to a company’s proprietary systems, cybercriminals breach confidential databases, steal sensitive intellectual property, and demand ransoms from their targets. 

Suffering from any of these attacks can have serious consequences. In 2019, Norsk Hydro had to shut down multiple plants around the world for several days after suffering a LockerGoga ransomware attack, leading to significant operational disruption and financial losses to the tune of $75 million.

Cyber attacks can shut down entire production lines. In 2022, Kojima Industries Corporation, a downstream supplier to Toyota, suffered a ransomware attack that halted production lines across 14 factories for 24 hours. This attack caused production on 13,000 vehicles to be paused, resulting in significant financial losses for both Kojima and Toyota. 

These are just two examples – countless others exist. The vast majority of cyber attacks go unreported. Many companies end up paying criminals a ransom to restore access to their proprietary systems and data – underscoring the importance of taking a proactive approach. 

Common Cybersecurity Challenges Faced by Manufacturing Companies

As the world of manufacturing has evolved, so too have the cybersecurity challenges faced by companies in this industry. Manufacturing businesses face the same threats as any other organization, from social engineering attacks on employees to phishing attacks. But they also face several challenges specific to the manufacturing industry, including:

Integrations Between Information and Operational Technologies (IT and OT)

Many manufacturing companies rely on legacy systems to manage, operate, and maintain production systems. Protecting these technologies with the appropriate IT security measures can be a significant operational challenge. 

Reliance on Legacy Systems

Many of the legacy systems used by a typical manufacturing firm are significantly outdated from a cybersecurity perspective, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Retrofitting decades-old equipment with modern security measures is a tricky technical challenge that can disrupt production. 

Need for Uninterrupted Production

Today, production lines run 24/7: an approach that can be incongruent with how cybersecurity teams operate. Cybersecurity professionals may need to take systems offline to install patches and make system updates. This can lead to tension between management and IT staff, but the reality is that a short, planned pause is preferable compared to an unexpected, days-long disruption as the result of an attack. 

Best Practices for Cyber Risk Management in Manufacturing

While there’s no question that manufacturing companies do face many cybersecurity threats, there are a number of best practices that manufacturers can employ to ensure they’re not targeted as the weak link in a supply chain. 

These include:

  • Conducting Risk Assessments: completing a formal risk assessment enables organizations to identify the specific risks their organization faces, determine their level of preparedness, and evaluate the potential impact of a cyber attack on production output, employee safety, and financial performance. 
  • Incident Response Planning: these plans outline the roles and responsibilities, communication strategies, and recovery procedures that should be followed if an organization does fall victim to an attack, helping minimize damage and downtime. 
  • Completing Regular Security Audits: routine audits of your organization’s security infrastructure help identify and address potential vulnerabilities, test the effectiveness of security controls, and ensure your business is in compliance with industry standards. 
  • Providing Employee Training: employees are your first and last line of defense against a cyber attack. Therefore, it’s vital they understand their responsibilities. Training employees on security policies, how to spot common attacks, and safe data handling practices significantly heightens your organization’s security posture. 
  • Establishing Security Protocols: creating robust cybersecurity policies that your organization must follow is key to protecting confidential data. Implement security controls across areas including multi-factor authentication, encryption, network segmentation, and access management. 

These best practices put organizations on a path to success; a journey that can be accelerated when businesses adopt emerging manufacturing technologies. Upgrading legacy systems to IoT-enabled machinery improves manufacturing efficiency while also allowing organizations to better manage their attack surface. Balancing innovation with security is key to bear in mind as organizations consider how to adopt these technologies.

New cybersecurity technologies, especially those that leverage AI and machine learning technologies, provide predictive analytics, improved anomaly detection, and automated responses to threats. 

Smith + Howard: Cyber Risk Management and Compliance

There’s no question that manufacturing businesses of all sizes face more sophisticated cybersecurity threats today than at any point in history. Making proactive investments in cybersecurity gives businesses the best platform possible to secure the integrity of their data and ensure the viability of their integrations. 

At Smith + Howard, our cyber risk management and compliance team has significant experience supporting manufacturing businesses with strategic, actionable cybersecurity solutions. From cyber risk assessments that identify vulnerabilities to providing ISO 27001 certifications, our professionals are here to support your business – wherever you are in your cybersecurity journey. 

Contact Smith + Howard today to learn more

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