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Manufacturing Industry Cybersecurity Best Practices

Critical gaps in manufacturing industry cybersecurity, exposing organizations to regulatory pitfalls and downtime, need robust protection and team insight 

Cybersecurity has become a crucial concern for the production sector, with manufacturing industry cybersecurity now a major consideration for the c-Suite. Today’s interconnected industrial systems, driven by the advent of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT), offer multiple advantages but also expose organizations to new risks and vulnerabilities.

Let’s explore some of the manufacturing industry cybersecurity best practices and discuss the importance of device visibility, risk management, and adherence to key regulatory guidelines.  

A Surge in Manufacturing Industry Cybersecurity Attacks  

The manufacturing sector has seen a significant uptick in cyber attacks in recent years. This surge can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, manufacturers often possess valuable intellectual property that can be a goldmine for cybercriminals. Secondly, given their vital role in global supply chains, manufacturers are attractive targets for state-sponsored attacks aimed at disrupting economies. Plus, obviously, the manufacturing industry is just as open to attacks motivated by financial gain or for ideological or political reasons, as any other sector.  

As an example, the NotPetya attack in 2017 inflicted a staggering 10 billion USD in damages worldwide, with manufacturing companies like Merck, Maersk, and FedEx’s subsidiary TNT Express bearing the brunt. This attack – unfortunately, one of many – underscores the severe ramifications of manufacturing industry cybersecurity failure, which can include financial loss, regulatory fines, significant operational downtime, a rise in cybersecurity insurance premiums, and reputational damage from which few organizations fully recover.  

Critical Vulnerabilities in Manufacturing Sector Security 

Critical vulnerabilities often stem from modern manufacturing systems’ inherently complex and interconnected nature. These can range from inadequate access controls to unpatched software. Furthermore, the increased use of IoT devices, often with poor built-in security, expands the potential attack surface and targets bad actors looking for devices to exploit to conduct DDoS attacks. 

One area often overlooked is visibility into networked devices. Manufacturers need to understand which devices are connected, what they’re doing, and how they interact with other systems. Without this visibility, detecting anomalies indicative of a cyber attack becomes a daunting and time-consuming task for already stretched cybersecurity teams.  

Best Practices for Manufacturing Industry Cybersecurity  

Adopting a holistic cybersecurity strategy, synchronized with the enterprise and capable of adapting to the evolving global conditions, is key to mitigating these vulnerabilities.

Here are a few best practices:  

  • Implement Access Controls: Follow the principle of least privilege (PoLP), ensuring employees only have access to fulfill their roles. Further, it is important to review and update these privileges regularly, and to know when those privileges are being exploited, or if there is a deviation from a baseline of accepted and approved user and application behavior. 
  • Use Network Segmentation: Segment your environment to contain potential breaches and protect critical systems and service accounts from being compromised. This way, damage is contained and cannot spread across the entire environment, thus enhancing security, improving performance, and aiding in compliance with data protection regulations. 
  • Apply Regular Patching and Updates: Keep all systems, software, and devices updated with the latest patches to fix known security issues. Regular patching and updates plug vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. Software and systems are complex and constantly evolving, which inevitably leads to occasional security flaws. When these flaws are discovered, vendors release patches or updates to fix them. If these patches are not applied promptly, cybercriminals can use these known vulnerabilities to breach systems, steal data, or cause other damage. Consequently, maintaining an up-to-date system through regular patching and updates minimizes the attack surface and helps keep systems secure. 
  • Adopt a Zero Trust Model: Zero trust is crucial for manufacturing industry cybersecurity because it strengthens security posture by assuming no user or device is trustworthy, regardless of whether it’s inside or outside the network perimeter. In a sector where sensitive intellectual property, personal data, and critical infrastructure systems are often at stake, the zero trust model helps minimize the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches. It promotes the principle of “least privilege,” allowing only necessary access for users, applications, or devices to perform their tasks, reducing the chances of a successful cyber attack. Zero trust should include colleagues, applications, and (critically) devices. This approach is especially important in the era of increased connectivity, where traditional network perimeters have become blurred. Assume that threats will originate from within the network, and continuously verify and enforce access controls.  
  • Invest in Security Awareness Training: Security awareness training equips employees with the knowledge and skills to recognize and mitigate cyber threats. People are often the weakest link in an organization’s security chain, and uninformed employees can inadvertently expose the organization to risks like phishing attacks, malware, and ransomware. Moreover, regular training helps foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness, where security becomes an integral part of everyday processes, reducing the potential for human error. 
  • Develop an Incident Response Plan: Developing a cybersecurity incident response plan is crucial for manufacturing industry cybersecurity because it prepares the organization to respond effectively and promptly to cyber threats, minimizing potential damage. Given the interconnected nature of modern manufacturing processes, even a minor breach can have substantial operational, financial, and reputational consequences. A well-structured incident response plan outlines roles, responsibilities, and procedures to follow during a cyber incident, enabling swift containment, eradication, and recovery. It also facilitates communication and coordination among stakeholders during a crisis, ensuring transparency and trust. By practicing and refining this plan, manufacturers can enhance their cyber resilience, reduce downtime, protect valuable assets, and ensure continuity of operations in the face of ever-evolving cyber threats. 

Regulations and Compliance in Manufacturing Cybersecurity  

Several regulations and standards apply to manufacturing cybersecurity, too numerous to mention here. These include the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework, the International Society of Automation’s ISA/IEC 62443 for industrial automation and control systems, and sector-specific standards such as the Automotive Industry Action Group’s (AIAG) Cybersecurity 3rd Party Information Security.  

Organizations can, however, adhere to these standards by conducting regular risk assessments, implementing recommended controls, and pursuing third-party audits for compliance.  

Proactive Vigilance 

In today’s ever-evolving cyber threat environment, cybersecurity is not a luxury but a necessity for the manufacturing industry. By implementing these best practices and adhering to industry standards, manufacturers can protect their operations, safeguard their intellectual property, and ultimately secure their position in the global supply chain 

Cybersecurity is a complex task requiring vigilance and a proactive approach. However, the investment in sound cybersecurity practices and software will pay off manifold in the face of growing cyber threats, both now and in the future. 

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