4 ways to increase cybersecurity.
by Anders Erickson, Ryan Layton & Todd Neilson
October 12, 2018

Cyberrisk is a clear and present danger to companies of all stripes, including manufacturers and industrial organizations. The business impact is real and companies need to understand that when they find themselves in the crosshairs of cybercriminals, the dangers and damages can extend far beyond financial loss and easily add up to a litany of issues including (but not limited to):

security concept lock on digital screen
  • theft of intellectual property
  • loss in productivity
  • harm to reputation
  • destruction of data
  • theft of personal employee data
  • disruption to business continuity
  • damage to physical facilities
  • liability or fines for noncompliance with data-privacy regulations
  • possible legal action by customers and employees whose personal information has been breached or employees suing for lost wages if the company cannot pay due to the breach
  • costs of remediating the damage itself
  • relationship damage and lost confidence within original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and supplier relationships

Companies are under pressure to become more efficient, increase quality, reduce expenses and drive productivity. It is only natural to add technology to the mix. With more automation coming onto the scene and the Internet of Things (IoT) innovations becoming commonplace, more technology is being built into the very fabric of an organization’s day-to-day internal and field operations, as well as the very products they are producing.

While this has enabled manufacturers to operate at performance and revenue levels never achieved before, it has also increased the number of technology touch points within an organization, which significantly increases their susceptibility to cyberattacks, a risk that has historically been difficult for business leaders to quantify.

With the proliferation of cyberattacks across all industries, executives are being challenged to view cybersecurity differently. Cyberrisk is business risk, not just technical risk, and nowhere is this truer than for manufacturing and industrial companies.

Hackers (in particular, nation-states) like manufacturing and industrial companies because they have trade secrets, business plans and valuable intellectual property at their fingertips. Furthermore, manufacturing and industrial companies have historically made fewer technology and security investments, and are generally less experienced and equipped to manage and secure internet-facing or internet-enabled technologies. The result is expanded access into the network by threat actors and increased business risk due to the critical nature of the production line, the proliferation of IoT, the prevalence of legacy technology and “technical debt” and reliance on vendors and supply chain partnerships.

Business Disruption. The key to any manufacturing business is to keep the production line running. Automation is the key to any production system and that technology is at risk to security breaches just like any other. Malicious actors, or even insider threats, can bring down a business’s ability to generate revenue, produce product and operate efficiently. Isolation of these computerized systems from the internet is one layer of control. However, cybersecurity issues can disrupt a business in many ways including availability, efficiencies and noncompliance to required standards.

IoT. As more and more devices are connected through networking and internet protocol (IP) addressing, they are increasingly open to attack. A recent attack called the Mirai Botnet involved thousands of in-home and commercial cameras and IP-enabled devices to send terabytes of traffic at a single target, causing it to fail. These devices are a part of any industrial and manufacturing system that could easily be compromised. The control is visibility and a simple password change. Most of these devices had default passwords that have not been changed. This will continue unless companies understand and secure our increasingly connected world.

Legacy Technology and Technical Debt. Industrial systems and manufacturing equipment are investments that need to provide a payoff. The longer assets run and produce, the better the return on the investment. However, the older those systems are, the more vulnerable they become to security risks. Older systems are at risk of getting hacked due to insecure software, unpatched vulnerabilities, misconfigured operating systems and needed upgrades. The costs of technical debt can cripple a company over time, and it is much less expensive to continually update and upgrade systems rather than trying to play catch up years down the road when a piece of technology is no longer supported and must be replaced.

Vendors and Supply Chain Risk. A company’s technology systems are interconnected and rely on other systems, such as the internet, email, file storage, cloud applications, etc. This interconnectivity increases the risk that those third-party connections will cause a breach of some type. In order to control this risk, assess the risks that vendors, suppliers and contractors introduce to the company. This could cripple production and bring down the company. Vendors and supplier cybersecurity postures need to be formally assessed at least annually. Before selecting them for partnerships, ensure that they are not adversely impacting security.

Additional Avenues of Attack

Furthermore, manufacturing and industrial companies are impacted by at least three additional broad categories under which most cyberattacks and threats occur: