The Greatest Cyber Risks Facing Manufacturers Today

It's not easy defending a manufacturing organization from cyber threats.

A Future of Smart Manufacturing and Industrial Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity in the manufacturing industry is a critical concern due to an increasing attack surface that moves well beyond traditional information technology assets. This includes the use of operational technology (OT), Information Technology (IT), and industrial control systems (ICS — a subset of OT). Along with internet-connected devices, all these types of technology can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. These attacks can disrupt production, compromise sensitive data, and even cause physical damage to equipment. Cyberattacks can lead to downtime and lost revenue, not to mention expensive damage to a company’s reputation.

To protect against these threats, manufacturers must implement robust cybersecurity measures. They should also have incident response plans in place, train employees on cybersecurity best practices, and conduct regular risk assessments.

Manufacturing is a unique industry when it comes to cybersecurity, since they depend on machinery to create their products and goods. The manufacturing machinery is either operationally “up,” meaning it’s available and productive — or the machinery is operationally “down” and unproductive. When facilities aren’t operating as planned, revenue is lost. And on average, unplanned downtime costs manufacturers around $148 a second — or almost $9,000 a minute. That downtime can also add up to ripple effects in our supply chain, potentially jeopardizing the way our society runs, obtains goods, and participates in commerce. In other words, downtime costs can add up quickly. 

Faced with competitive pressures, supply chain disruptions, and digital modernization imperatives, the manufacturing industry has often struggled to keep pace with cybersecurity. Integration between IT and OT has progressed slowly, while some manufacturers still rely on legacy applications that may be out of date, hard to update, and were not designed with security in mind.

The pandemic may have triggered supply chain instability back in 2020. However, it hasn’t gone back to pre-2020 levels yet because of the Russia/Ukraine war, threat of a global recession, extreme weather, and global politics that have developed within the last year, according to Bloomberg. And while it is predicted that in 2023 the disruptions will hopefully be more subtle, the cybersecurity issues plaguing the core of manufacturing are risks that can’t be ignored for much longer.

Digital modernization in manufacturing is a crucial undertaking, with legacy systems to address or update, manual processes to automate, and siloed operations to coalesce into a unified effort. “Smart manufacturing” is the definitive direction in which the industry is headed. By embracing these automated and updated processes, manufacturers can help spur competitive differentiation and cost advantages.  

And, there’s good news on that front: the manufacturing industry as whole is improving their overall cybersecurity maturity. According to the Manufacturing Leadership Council survey, since August 2022, 62% of manufacturers now have a formal cybersecurity plan in place. That’s up from only 33% back in 2018. 

This improved defense is critical given that there are no illusions that cyber threats will decrease. Nearly 79% of the Manufacturing Leadership Council survey respondents said they expect more attacks in 2023 than in prior years.

As the manufacturing industry evolves, so have threat actors. Several types of cyberattacks can affect the manufacturing industry, including:

  1. Ransomware attacks: This type of attack encrypts a company's data and demands a ransom before access can be restored. This can disrupt production and lead to financial loss. This ecosystem includes ransomware developers selling their capabilities on an as-a-service basis, affiliates that specialize in operationalizing RaaS (Ransomware as a Service).

  2. Phishing attacks: These attacks use email, text messages, or social media to trick employees into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials. This type of attack can lead to unauthorized access to company systems and data, and theft of that data.

  3. Industrial control systems attacks: These attacks target the systems that control and monitor industrial processes, such as those used in manufacturing. They can disrupt production, cause physical damage to equipment, and potentially cause safety hazards or accidents.

  4. Business email compromise attacks: These attacks are normally part of a multi-stage attack. These can hijack a legitimate user’s email account or even introduce malware that infiltrates the entire infrastructure.

  5. Resource exhaustion attacks: These attacks consume resources, making systems inaccessible and potentially taking them offline. In the manufacturing industry, denial-of-service attacks can disrupt production and communication systems.

It's also important to note that with the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in manufacturing, the number and sophistication of these attacks are likely to increase.

Not sure how to stay ahead of cybercriminals? We're here to help. For more information on top actions you can take, read the free e-book, A Vision for the Future of Industrial Cybersecurity to learn more about enhancing your manufacturing setting’s cybersecurity.

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