Ways to Optimize Manufacturing Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are becoming more prevalent across all industries. Business leaders put so much effort into streamlining processes and boosting productivity to keep clients satisfied and raise output. However, even those best efforts will fall short if a cybercriminal affects the enterprise.


Manufacturing facilities are at an increasingly high risk of such issues, especially as they feature more connected, advanced machines that play vital roles in operations. Here are six practical tips that can help strengthen manufacturing cybersecurity at companies of all sizes.


Educate Employees About Protecting Data

When many people think of what constitutes a cybersecurity issue, they envision situations involving malicious attacks originating from outside of an organization. Indeed, that is one type to consider, but problems can also emerge due to employee errors. Thus, it’s crucial to teach workers about how they specifically help keep company data safe. Emphasize that everyone has a part to play in improving manufacturing cybersecurity.


One 2020 study showed that 78% of respondents thought employees had accidentally put data at risk within the past year. The most common reason was that workers fell for phishing emails. However, mistakenly sending data to the wrong recipients was also an issue. In addition, some people thought it was OK for them to take information with them to new jobs, and 46% of respondents said themselves or colleagues had done that.


Adopt a Proactive Response to Mitigate Problems

Optimizing cybersecurity means ideally finding and addressing issues before they turn into catastrophes. In other words, it is not sufficient to tackle a problem once it has caused a data breach or other undesirable event. The parties responsible for maintaining cybersecurity should instead adopt solutions that enable remaining aware of network traffic and other activities and spotting suspicious signs early. Taking a proactive stance allows company representatives to respond more promptly.


Steve Bjarnason, senior security advisor at Secureworks, pointed out how even something as seemingly harmless as a USB drive could infect an industrial control system (ICS) — if the device contained malicious content. That outcome is particularly likely since companies often have their business networks linked to an ICS, rather than keeping the two separate. He said, “... the ICS needs to be monitored on a regular basis. (Original equipment manufacturers) should have a monitoring system that is constantly scanning for malicious activities and detect unauthorized changes to the environment.”


Perform a Data Audit and Respond Accordingly

A common cybersecurity shortcoming occurs when company representatives don’t know the locations of all critical data. If you’re unsure of where the most important information resides, how can you protect it effectively? The first step to fixing that problem involves performing an audit. It includes reviewing and prioritizing certain information categories. They encompass personally identifiable details, research and development files, and content related to banking or credit cards.


After confirming the type and location of your most essential files, roll out deeper, tiered storage to protect that content. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach — hackers learned to exploit those long ago. Instead, the better strategy is to tailor your protection measures to the type of data concerned, as well as the applications that use it.


Expect and Fight Back Against Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks occur when cybercriminals restrict access to files or networks and demand that the affected parties pay them to resolve the problem. However, forking over the fee often doesn’t improve the matter. That’s why the best way to prepare for a ransomware attack is to minimize the damage a hacker could cause by orchestrating one. For example, backing up data keeps a business running, even if hackers steal information. Manufacturers should never assume cybercriminals won’t target them.


“We’re seeing a lot more ransomware-type attacks,” said Jeff Stefan, an attorney with Varnum LLP. He clarified, “They’re not necessarily focused on obtaining sensitive, personal information or financial information for identity theft. But I think there is — unfortunately, because it’s a terrible thing — a lucrative business surrounding locking up systems and demanding ransom in exchange because of how vital certain servers and these systems are to companies.”


Reduce Network Connection Risks

Today’s manufacturing facilities are increasingly advanced, potentially including innovations such as collaborative robots, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. However, some manufacturing professionals fail to recognize the issues that can emerge when more devices connect to a network. The basic principle to stay mindful of is that more connectivity can increase the attack surface’s size.


Ilan Shaya, the CEO of ICS Security, emphasized that his top recommendation is to identify all connections to the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) network and analyze the risks associated with each. That could mean looking at business networks, wireless network devices and even modems, if you still use them.


Shaya also discussed how every network connection includes an accompanying security risk. Therefore, a best practice is for company leaders to verify that each link is genuinely necessary. When it is, they should investigate which cybersecurity tactics would best limit the threats a connection could pose.


Consider Expanding Your Cybersecurity Team

Succeeding in manufacturing cybersecurity requires depending on the expertise of specialists. It’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to keep a company adequately secured without the input of people who know how to implement and follow a strategy that adheres to best practices. When company decision-makers consider investing in tools that help them detect or recover from attacks, they should also consider hiring more cybersecurity experts.


According to a November 2020 survey, 53% of manufacturing organizations viewed operational technology (OT) as vulnerable to cyberattacks. Making matters worse was that 58% of respondents said it had become more difficult to detect and respond to threats. Additionally, 53% said their security operations workload is greater than staff capacity. Hiring more team members could address all those problems and more. 


Cybersecurity Readiness Is a Journey

Anyone tasked with improving manufacturing cybersecurity should not see it as a task they can finish in a matter of days, weeks or months. While it’s true that a single action can cause a remarkably positive change, the effects of collective steps are what matter most for strengthening a company’s cybersecurity.


Moreover, new threats emerge regularly. That reality means that company leaders should never view their cybersecurity strategies as complete. The best approach is to periodically review and change them as necessary. Then, there’s a higher likelihood of staying well-protected against the newest dangers in the online world.

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