Global manufacturing faces numerous risks, hazards, and operational challenges on a continuous basis. It’s part of the nature of having global operations. One area of complexity that frequently makes the news is the threat of cyber attacks against large manufacturers. While the topic may be a frequent headline, it doesn’t mean that all manufacturers know how to manage or mitigate cybersecurity challenges.
Cybersecurity has become a rising priority for most manufacturing companies; however, there are many gaps in the operations and strategies of global companies. Cyber risks are some of the top threats to intellectual property, daily operations, and company reputation. Large manufacturers are even more vulnerable to exploitation by cybercriminals who use methods such as network intrusion, ransomware attacks, corporate espionage, and phishing schemes against the company itself, employees or contractors. While the corporate office certainly needs high-security systems in place, companies can often forget that there are many other areas in the business that also require cybersecurity measures.
Planning a Robust Cybersecurity Strategy
For manufacturers who want to take the necessary measures to prevent and resist cyberattacks, it’s essential they work with cybersecurity experts to first identify areas of risk. Once all possible weaknesses are identified, companies and their consultants can create a plan to mitigate and prevent them. The following are some of the most common cybersecurity challenges that manufacturing companies around the globe are facing in 2023.
Legacy System Vulnerabilities
Installing new software and keeping old software up-to-date is a struggle many manufacturing companies face. Managing software versions leads to concern because out-of-date software often lacks essential security features. Outdated software is often referred to as a legacy system, and cyber attackers love to target legacy systems. Updates are important to install as they often contain new features and cyber security measures that older versions don’t have. This is frequently the result of known cyber risks. Failing to upgrade can leave a company vulnerable.
Supply Chain Risks
Global manufacturing relies on vast supply chains bringing various components together to create a final product. From the extraction of raw resources to the production of the parts, products can consist of components manufactured in many locations around the globe. At some point, all pieces come together for assembly into the final product. This movement creates many opportunities for cybersecurity risks within the manufacturing company itself, to the complex network of suppliers, vendors, and transport structures. Weakness in the supply chain allows cybercriminals to disrupt and even gain access to crucial information and systems.
Product Development Vulnerabilities
Product development is an essential part of manufacturing. It’s where product teams organize and analyze the best moves to make with existing and future products to fulfill company goals and increase market share. Developing and managing new products involves several teams frequently in various locations. The software platforms used to connect product teams, develop roadmaps, and manage product development should have cybersecurity measures in place to protect valuable data from leaks, hacks, or ransom.
Intellectual Property Theft
Similar to the sensitive information involved in product planning and development, a company’s intellectual property is highly valuable in that it can contain proprietary information about technology and processes. This type of sensitive data is an attractive target for cybercriminals. Intellectual property is targeted to seek financial gain by holding the data ransom, using it as a bargaining chip, or selling it to competitors. The most common methods used to gain access to the intellectual property include cyberattacks, ransomware installation, and social engineering tactics, also known as phishing schemes.
Ransomware Attacks or Threats
Manufacturing companies are popular targets for ransomware attacks that take hold of and encrypt critical information systems and data schemes, rendering them inaccessible to the company that owns them. Cyber attackers that deploy ransomware tactics will typically promise the release of data upon payment of significant sums. Both the ransom value and the disruption to daily operations can cause significant financial losses for any sized company, and there is no guarantee the information will be released afterwards.
Industrial Control System (ICS) Vulnerabilities
Industrial control systems (ICS) make it possible to run production processes with maximum efficiency. These systems create vulnerabilities due to potential misconfiguration, lack of employee training, failure to update software or internal malicious behaviour. When an ICS falls under a cyber attack, it can disrupt operations, damage equipment, or even cause physical harm to individuals on the manufacturing floor. These potential consequences put ICS vulnerabilities into the category of both cyber risks and health and safety risks.
No matter how strong a company’s external cybersecurity strategy is, internal threats are also something manufacturers need to consider. Insider threats can come from various players, including employees, contractors, or stakeholders. A disgruntled or malicious individual could steal data, sabotage information, or conduct other nefarious activities. Having internal processes and security measures to prevent internal theft is just as important to manage as external threats.
Knowledge Gaps and Lack of Training
Employees, contractors, and stakeholders can also cause harm to a company by accident when they lack training and awareness in cybersecurity or IT management procedures. Many manufacturing companies lack in-house IT and cybersecurity expertise, which can lead to internal threats that are unintentional. While these challenges can be hard to identify, companies that consult with cybersecurity professionals can often come up with a plan to make the workplace safer and more informed.
Keeping Manufacturing Operations Safe from Cyber Threats
On top of ensuring technology is functioning properly, it’s also worthwhile to invest in training and employee awareness of cyber threats and how to handle them. Anytime new software or a new platform is introduced to a company’s operations, whether it’s for payroll, product roadmap management, or supply chain management, manufacturing companies will be more secure when they choose products that prioritize cybersecurity.
The scope and nature of cyber threats change from year to year, but they often exploit similar vulnerabilities in manufacturing operations. Keeping software up-to-date, consulting cyber security professionals, and investing in a comprehensive cyber security approach can help manufacturing companies stay on top of the most common cyber threats.