Cybersecurity for Manufacturers: 5 Key Takeaways

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By Andrew Hastings, freelance writer.

In the last decade or so, the manufacturing sector has jumped leaps and bounds in terms of advancement in technology. With it, however, come unique challenges that present themselves in the form of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the ever-lasting question of how to protect sensitive company data from being leaked and shield the undergoing processes from disruption.

Certain manufacturers insist on using outdated IT systems merely for the sake of convenience and getting the job done. However, they are opening themselves up to the risk of a data breach, the consequences of which can damage the company’s reputation beyond repair, not to mention other damages that may occur as a result.

To help facilitate your digital transformation journey, we’re going to present 5 key cybersecurity takeaways to keep in mind as a modern-day manufacturer:

1) Know the challenges and design your strategy accordingly

The future of manufacturing lies in connectivity and utilizing technological breakthroughs such as the power of AI. However, with each connectivity point you are introducing, there comes a vulnerability that cybercriminals can take advantage of to slip through the cracks and compromise the network.

Know that some degree of security risk is inevitable if you want to stay up to speed with technology and provide competitive manufacturing services. In other words, you should get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

So, what are the top cyber threats manufacturers should know about? According to 2021’s edition of Data Breach Investigation Report, they are as follows:

- Social engineering
- System intrusion
- Basic web application attacks

When a breach happens at one of the manufacturing facilities, more than 80% of the time, one of the above turns out to be the reason. In the vast majority of cases, the attackers are after some form of monetary gain.

Knowing this, you should put some effort into fortifying the potential entry points that are the most likely to be targeted by hackers. For social engineering that is often accompanied by a phishing attempt, you should learn to recognize the signs of one and educate your employees to exercise caution where caution is due. Investing in their training and education can mean the difference between putting out a spark before it ignites a flame and a complete disaster.

When it comes to fortifying your IT network, keeping your operating system and software up to date will get you far. You should also consider installing an antivirus and a firewall for an added measure of security.

2. Adopt a zero-trust mindset

It only takes one misstep to let a hacker in. After that, the whole manufacturing operation is at their mercy. Since focusing on preventing a situation like this at all cost is the preferable way to approach the matter compared to trying to remedy it, a zero-trust mindset will be of paramount importance to your overall cybersecurity strategy.

One of the essential pillars of this security model is to always verify and never take things at face value. To give an example, you should always subject the users to extra verification steps when they attempt to sign in, even if the login attempt is coming from a recognized device. This won’t have a noticeable effect on anyone’s productivity, but in terms of security, your organization will benefit a lot.

Another crucial principle of the zero-trust model is designing your IT infrastructure in a way to easily contain a proverbial fire, should one occur. In other words, don’t give any unneeded security clearances or administrative privileges unless they are required for that individual to do their job. For instance, making backups on a regular basis is a standard maintenance procedure, but in most cases, administrative privileges will not be needed to complete the job.

3. Secure the endpoints

The reality of manufacturing is that you will be dealing with hundreds if not thousands of endpoints, all of which need to be maintained for optimal security. Since keeping such a massive number of devices up to date requires a hefty amount of man-hours (at least if you were to do it the traditional way), see if there’s a way you can automate the process.

Monitoring the digital events in each of these endpoints should be another crucial element in your overall cybersecurity strategy. Since dealing with such a massive network of devices can quickly become overwhelming, you will need a way to filter the alerts generated by your cybersecurity software of choice. Ideally, the one you’re using should give you an overview of the entire network from a single screen.

4. Have a BYOD policy in place

Letting your employees bring their own smart devices to work or not is up to your discretion. In the pro side of the argument, there are numerous benefits to establishing a permissive environment, including increased safety, convenience, fall prevention, sleep prevention, streamlined communication, etc.

However, the opposing camp is not so keen on welcoming them to the workplace due to the inherent cyber security risks they present. For starters, there is no way to ensure these devices meet the required security standards, and if they happen to be riddled with malware, processing any kind of sensitive company data with them is a risk in and of itself.

To keep the situation under control, you should have a BYOD policy in place that specifies exactly what is allowed and what isn’t.

5. Create an incident response plan

Sometimes, a cyber incident can happen despite taking all the necessary precautions – after all, no line of defense is 100% bulletproof. Since time is always of the essence when dealing with situations like these, a swift reaction on your end will be quintessential to minimizing the damage and ensuring minimal disruption to your manufacturing operations.

In contrast, not having one will not only make you inefficient and prone to panicking in clutch moments, but it could also give the wrong impression to an auditor who could conclude you don’t have the necessary security measures in place.

A cybersecurity incident response plan generally consists of the following:

- Preparation
- Detection and analysis
- Containment and eradication
- Post-incident reflection

The general idea is to outline every step in advance and cover all the realistic scenarios of a breach that could play out before one actually happens. For example, in case you find out that one of the devices connected to the network is leaking personal data, you will need to isolate it first as to stop the leak from continuing before thinking about how to remove personal information from the internet and prevent it from re-surfacing.

A good incident response plan prepares the answers in advance. That way, when you’re in the midst of a crisis, you can focus all your efforts on mitigating the damage rather than trying to improvise your way through.

To conclude

The more you digitize your manufacturing operations for the sake of competitiveness and efficiency, the more you need to educate yourself about the cyber threat landscape that preys on the unwary. The concepts we’ve laid out for you today should serve as a solid starting point that allows you to begin the process of digital transformation with determination and confidence, knowing that you’re moving in the right direction.

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