Cybersecurity in Manufacturing: Effectively Protecting Your Operational Technology (OT)

Cybersecurity is a challenging topic to navigate in the world of manufacturing. The steady growth of “Industry 4.0” is leading to more connected devices and sensors being deployed into manufacturing environments. Firms are now much more willing to embrace Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies that are helping their factories collect and analyse data that can be turned into intelligent insights. This enables a faster, more efficient production line, helping businesses become increasingly agile in order to meet growing customer expectations.

However, the proliferation of digital technologies in the sector is introducing new risks. A common expression in the IT sphere is that if a system is visible to the internet, it is only a matter of time until it will be affected by a security incident. The uncomfortable truth is that the world of operational technology (OT) is taking too long to learn the basic cybersecurity lessons their colleagues in IT discovered the hard way. Rather than being seen as a fundamental part of modern OT infrastructure and essential to reaping the benefits of Industry 4.0, such as just-in-time production and less stock, cybersecurity is still regarded as a grudge purchase, and sometimes not considered at all.

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The complexities of manufacturing environments

Perhaps, cybersecurity isn’t considered often enough in the manufacturing world because the complexities of such a field make implementing effective processes extremely difficult. By their very nature, industrial environments are complicated, and a large proportion of the unmitigated risks come from the fact that machines which were designed to be deployed in closed networks are now being connected to open IT systems.

In most factories that are being retrofitted with real-time remote sensing and analytics, not enough attention is being paid to protecting systems which don’t include basic security features, and therefore may be exposed to attack. The time to get this right is now, not just to mitigate the threat of cyberattacks, but also to allow manufacturing firms the opportunity for enhanced intelligence and streamlined operations, all with minimal cybersecurity risks.

While there have been few substantiated reports of major attacks in manufacturing plants when compared with breaches in corporate data, that doesn’t mean they aren’t already happening undetected. The concern is that the lack of major headlines, when compared to consumer and corporate data breaches, is actually feeding more complacency around the issue. Yet, as we saw in IT, many firms are likely ignorant that their OT networks have been breached, since there’s a general lack of monitoring.

There are examples of such attacks though, including one on a German steel mill in 2014 in which attackers gained access to the control system for a blast furnace. This particular incident demonstrated that when control systems are infiltrated, it is possible to cause serious physical damage and put human lives at risk. Cybersecurity is now impacting physical safety, and hopefully that fact will propel the sector into greater action.

How to effectively protect manufacturing environments

Protecting the production line and realising the benefits of the connected manufacturing plant requires a change in the way technology is deployed to reflect the reality of the IIoT and Industry 4.0. The drive to deliver efficiencies and real-time analytics means that OT environments are no longer air gapped from the IT network, so effective cybersecurity is a must to keep production running, and workers safe.

As always, good cybersecurity starts with the basics. That means simple things like ensuring good password policy for all users (on-site and remote), administrators and the IIoT devices themselves, where standards of practice still fall short. It continues with asset audits and ensuring that proper network segregation is used to protect vulnerable parts of the infrastructure.

On a more in-depth level, it means re-evaluating the entire supply chain and ensuring that business partners thoroughly understand the OT environment and its cyber security risks. To achieve this effectively, manufacturers will need to have an agreed baseline of security measures that are required industry wide. They will require a common language to communicate cyber security expectations and countermeasures.

The security expertise is out there to help manufacturing firms realise the potential of the IIoT and Industry 4.0. Applied Risk has vast amounts of experience in securing manufacturing environments, with a wealth of large organisations relying on our expertise to safeguard their critical assets. Learn more about improving the cyber resilience of industrial control systems in your manufacturing environment.