19th January, 2024

Cybersecurity for Manufacturing Companies: Why It’s Vital and How to Keep Hackers at Bay in 2024

In the age of digital transformation, the manufacturing industry has seen a significant shift towards automation, interconnected devices, and data-driven decision-making.

While these advancements have improved efficiency and productivity, they’ve also made manufacturing companies increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats.

Cybersecurity is no longer an optional consideration for manufacturers; it’s a critical necessity.

The Growing Threat to Manufacturing Entrepreneurs

The manufacturing industry is a prime target for cyberattacks due to the immense value of intellectual property and trade secrets it holds.

Cybercriminals often seek to steal these assets for economic gain or to get a competitive edge.

Research from KPMG in 2022 found “just 35 percent of high-maturity organisations and 13 percent of low-maturity organisations had network activity monitoring implemented on all operational control systems. That makes detecting, triaging and responding at scale to a cyber incident incredibly difficult.”

Additionally, the interconnected nature of industrial control systems (ICS) has made manufacturing environments susceptible to attacks that can disrupt production processes.

Types of Threats

Manufacturers face many evolving cyber threats today, including ransomware, phishing attacks, supply chain vulnerabilities, insider threats, and even state-sponsored cyberattacks.

Ransomware attacks, where cybercriminals encrypt critical data and demand a ransom for its release, have become more prevalent and sophisticated.

Phishing attacks, which deceive employees (or even owners or managers) into revealing sensitive information or downloading malicious software, continue to pose a significant threat, too.

Plus, supply chain vulnerabilities can expose manufacturers to risks from third-party suppliers, such as those from whom they get materials or parts, who may not secure their systems properly.

In addition, insider threats can actually come from employees with malicious intent or negligence.

State-sponsored cyberattacks on manufacturing companies have increased, too, posing a unique set of challenges and motivations.

Why Manufacturing Companies Must Focus on Cybersecurity

Intellectual property, including designs, processes, and product innovations, is the lifeblood of many manufacturing companies.

A data breach that exposes these assets can result in financial losses, legal disputes, and damage to reputation.

As such, manufacturing companies must prioritise data security, especially when it comes to safeguarding intellectual property.

A cyberattack on manufacturing operations can also lead to extensive disruptions, affecting production lines and supply chains.

It’s also important to note that manufacturers must comply with data protection and cybersecurity regulations because non-compliance may lead to both legal and financial consequences.

Regulatory bodies worldwide have implemented stringent data protection and cybersecurity regulations (e.g., GDPR in Europe, which affects firms internationally), to help protect individuals and organisations.

Non-compliance can result in fines, legal actions, and reputational damage.

Tips for Building a Robust Cybersecurity Strategy

While the threat is large and very real, entrepreneurs and company managers can take numerous steps to keep hackers at bay in 2024 and beyond.

Risk Assessment

A thorough risk assessment is the foundation of an effective cybersecurity strategy. It involves identifying assets, evaluating threats, and assessing vulnerabilities.

Manufacturers should consider methodologies like threat modelling (identifying information about threats that might impact a system or network) and penetration testing (an authorised security exercise where cybersecurity experts try to find and exploit system vulnerabilities) to identify weaknesses in their operations.

Cybersecurity Policies and Training

Clear and comprehensive cybersecurity policies are essential, along with ongoing employee training and awareness programs.

Ongoing training and awareness programs should educate employees about the risks of cyber threats, how to identify them, and the steps to take in response.

Insider Threats

Manufacturers should also be aware of the risks posed by insider threats, such as employees, contractors, and the like, and implement monitoring mechanisms to detect and mitigate issues.

Additionally, insider threats can come from workers with malicious intent or those who inadvertently compromise security by being lax with security practices or taking risky actions.

Network Security

Protecting the network infrastructure is another critical aspect of cybersecurity, so manufacturers should implement robust network security measures, including firewalls, network segmentation, and intrusion detection systems.

Endpoint Security

Securing endpoints (physical devices that connect to a network system), including industrial machines and IoT gadgets, is also essential to prevent cyberattacks since endpoints are common targets for cyberattacks.

Manufacturers should invest in endpoint protection solutions and regularly update and patch these devices.

Supply Chain Security

Securing the manufacturing supply chain is crucial to prevent vulnerabilities from third-party suppliers.

Manufacturers should vet their third-party suppliers for cybersecurity practices.

Zero Trust Architecture

Manufacturers should consider implementing a Zero Trust Architecture, which assumes that threats can exist both inside and outside the network.

It requires strict authentication and continuous monitoring, reducing the attack surface within the organisation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns and anomalies.

They enable proactive threat detection and response, reducing the reliance on manual monitoring.

Cloud Security

As manufacturers increasingly migrate to cloud-based systems, ensuring the security of data in the cloud becomes paramount.

Also, data encryption, strong access controls, and regular security audits are essential.

Cyber Insurance

Cyber insurance policies can help manufacturers recover financial losses resulting from a cyber incident.

Of course, understanding coverage options and assessing insurance needs is a must.

Incident Response Plan

An incident response plan outlines the steps to take when a cybersecurity incident occurs.

It should include procedures for communication, containment, eradication, and recovery.

Regular testing and drills help ensure the plan’s effectiveness, as does adequate staff communication and training.

Future-Proofing Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is an ongoing process, so manufacturers should continually assess their security, identify new threats, and adapt their defenses accordingly.

Also, it pays to collaborate with industry peers, government agencies, and cybersecurity organisations to share threat intelligence.

Investing in ongoing cybersecurity awareness training for all employees, including executives and staff, is crucial, too. Cyber threats continually evolve, and human error remains a significant risk.

Regular training programs should cover the latest cyber threats, social engineering tactics, and best practices.

The manufacturing industry stands at a critical juncture where significant cybersecurity risks accompany the benefits of digital transformation.

Finally, understanding the evolving threat landscape and prioritising cybersecurity are vital for protecting sensitive data, maintaining operational integrity, and ensuring long-term success for your firm.