Securing manufacturing's digital future: The importance of end-to-end encryption


The digital transformation of manufacturing is becoming increasingly vital to the industry's success. As more companies adopt new technologies to improve both efficiency and productivity, and reduce costs, the drive towards a more digital future is gaining momentum. However, this transformation is not without its challenges, as it heralds a new era of connectivity that brings with it rising levels of cyber vulnerability.

In recent years, manufacturing has overtaken financial services as the most cyber-attacked industry. The increase in cyber threats has been staggering, with a report stating that manufacturing experienced a 156 per cent increase in successful cyber-attacks from 2019 to 2020. This trend is alarming, especially considering in manufacturing, protecting the blueprints of prototypes can be the life of death for a company. This raises the question of how manufacturers can secure their operations in the face of growing cyber threats.

In this article, István Lám, CEO of Tresorit, looks at how devastating the scale of risk can be, and explains how the solution to this problem is end-to-end encryption. This technology encrypts data at the source, ensuring that it remains secure even if intercepted by cybercriminals. It has been used for many years in other industries, such as banking and healthcare, to protect sensitive information from prying eyes.

The scale of risk 

Smart factories, driven by technology, are undoubtedly the future of manufacturing and can result in enhanced productivity due to increases in factory output and labour productivity. Smart factories will often lead to the set up of a hyperconnected supply chain which offers a digital thread throughout the business. In order to benefit from the opportunities presented by technological developments, the cyber risks need to be better understood as many manufacturers are embracing a hyperconnected business without understanding the real risk imposed. 

A hyperconnected business increases the impact of an attack meaning that a cyber incident at a manufacturer is often not an isolated event and compromising one area risks impacting the entire organisation. This can be hugely detrimental for businesses with highly stringent quality assurance standards as their products run the risk of being rendered totally unsellable. 

And in the world of hyper-connected supply chains, it may even be business partners who put an organsiation at risk. Ransomware gangs have been reported to target their primary victim’s business partners to pressurise them into paying a ransom to prevent their own data leakages as a result of an attack. 

Devastating consequences

Malware and ransomware attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated with the consequences becoming increasingly devastating. Attacks pose the risk of not only resulting in a loss of competitive advantage, but denial of access or damage to operational systems including production facilities. What’s more, an attack can have a hugely adverse effect on a manufacturer’s trading reputation and can result in a significant loss of customers or suppliers. According to research 22 per cent of manufacturers claim that cyber-attacks cost their business between £5,000 and £25,000 between 2020 and 2021. 

End-to-end encryption 

End-to-end encryption can be used to secure a wide range of manufacturing processes, from the design of products to their production and distribution. For example, manufacturers can use encrypted communication channels to share information with suppliers, customers, and partners without the risk of interception by cybercriminals. They can also use encryption to protect their intellectual property and sensitive data, such as financial and personal information.

What exactly is it? 

End-to-end encryption isn’t the standard for all encryption types and often data will only be encrypted while it is in storage, or while it is in transit. End-to-end encryption means that every file and relevant file metadata on the device in question is encrypted using a unique randomly generated encryption key, and files can only be accessed with a user’s unique decryption key so that data is stored as securely as possible. And in a manufacturer’s hyperconnected supply chain where sensitive data is being passed through a number of organisations, this ‘gold standard’ of encryption, offering continuous security and privacy, is crucial. 

What else can be done? 

In addition to end-to-end encryption, manufacturers can also implement other cybersecurity measures to reduce the risk of cyber attacks. These include regular security audits, keeping software up-to-date, running up-to-date antivirus software, using strong passwords, and the use of intrusion detection and prevention systems. 

Security awareness training for all employees is also key - this helps to get everyone in the organisation on the same page and goes a long way to reducing incidents and risks. Manufacturers should train employees on a variety of topics from Phishing, and cyber threats, to how to recognise and respond to threat situations and secure data handling. 

Final thoughts

The drive towards a more digital future is key to the prosperity of manufacturing. However, this transformation also brings with it rising levels of cyber vulnerability. With cyber threats on the rise, manufacturers must take action to secure their operations. 

End-to-end encryption is one potential solution to this problem, and it should be considered as part of a broader, multi-layered cybersecurity strategy, which will be unique to each manufacturing company, depending on its size, industry and compliance regulations. By adopting these measures, manufacturers can protect their operations and ensure the continued success of their businesses in the digital age.

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