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The Manufacturing Industry Is Still Vulnerable to Cybersecurity Threats

Manufacturing cybersecurity threats

Due to a general lack of investment in cybersecurity, yet a growing reliance on modern technologies, the manufacturing sector is one of the most vulnerable and targeted industries. In fact, it is second only to healthcare regarding cyber attacks.

It would be easy to point the blame at the emergence of technologies like big data, cloud computing and the IoT, but such claims would be misplaced. While cybersecurity is a growing concern for all industries due to the rise of these modern technologies, manufacturing is one of the few that has such a dire problem.

Modern Technologies Are the Target

The cost of cybercrime to businesses in the current landscape is expected to reach $6 trillion annually. With attacks now focused on smart homes, local networks, people, railways and even commercial industries — the power grid is a huge target. You better believe that industrial technologies — now making use of the cloud, mobile and remote support, data analytics and wireless connectivity — are included in that list.

The IoT sensors and devices especially, though they offer incredibly convenient experiences, are becoming more and more of a target. 2016’s largest ever Distributed Denial of Service or DDOS attack —which took down dozens of major websites in the United States including Netflix, Twitter and Reddit —made use of the Mirai botnet.

Unlike past or common botnets, the Mirai botnet made use of the IoT and connected devices. Things like connected TVs, appliances and even routers were used to bring the targeted network to its knees.

The problem is that most IoT devices are not designed with security in mind. They do not have a strong or secure foundation, making them easy to corrupt and leverage. The Mirai botnet made use of connected devices, gaining access through default passwords and administrative accounts that weren’t changed.

Manufacturing Plants Are More at Risk

The structure of the manufacturing and development industry puts it at an even higher risk than most other sectors. You see, everything is produced en masse, with autonomous systems and hardware carrying out the bulk of the work.

You put in an order with various specifications, and the equipment handles the rest. However, should the hardware ever become compromised, it would be incredibly costly and dangerous for just about everyone. Even just a minor setting or performance change could have dire consequences.

Imagine having to throw away or remove an entire day or weeks worth of production because hackers changed a simple option. You might even be forced to recall products later down the line because of a small performance shift. 

Hackers and botnets can gain access to these systems through a variety of vulnerabilities and holes and make the costly changes, wreaking havoc on even the most successful organisations in the industry.

Intellectual Property Is Also at Risk

Another growing concern in the industry is intellectual property theft. A Kaspersky Lab Survey revealed 21 percent of manufacturers had their intellectual property stolen as a result of a security breach.

Through phishing, blackmail and a variety of monitoring tools, smart hackers can gain access to personal accounts within a network. They are cleverly designed social engineering attacks, with the goal to abscond highly sensitive personal or corporate information. Stolen IPs during a breach are becoming increasingly common for modern attacks, and the information can be used against you later.

This requires constant vigilance on all fronts. You’ll want to embed security in every process, system or network and use it as a foundation. You’ll also want to educate and train your personnel on common security measures, to ensure they aren’t the unwitting participants in a breach or attack.

There’s a Professional Cybersecurity Shortage

By the end of 2017, there will be a shortfall of 1.5 million cybersecurity professionals globally. In the U.S. alone, 209,000 positions will remain unfilled. This is all despite a rise in cyberattacks and data breaches.

Many organisations and companies will struggle to fill their cybersecurity and professional development teams, creating an even higher risk for affected networks and systems.

This means that, yes, a worker shortage proves to be one of the largest — if not the largest - problem currently in the manufacturing industry. The connected tools and equipment used in the industry are incredibly niche, often requiring direct training and familiarity so you can’t just bring on anyone to do the work. If every other industry is experiencing a shortage, it stands to reason that manufacturing will be hit the hardest.

There’s a Trickle-Down Effect

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a particularly well-organised attack on parts of the manufacturing industry could impact different sectors and wreak havoc on important functions at the national level.

In other words, many other sectors use products and items created in the modern manufacturing industry, including those essential to infrastructure. By disrupting the manufacturing process, hackers could effectively be disrupting many other areas of national operations.

Make Security a Priority

Imagine a huge, systemic shutdown of all operations and additional industries, simply because of a data breach or cyberattack on a prominent manufacturing plant. It can and possibly will happen, which is why security is a concern now more than ever.

It’s time to start working towards a general improvement in security and protection in the industry before it’s too late.

Megan Ray Nichols


Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to breaking down current complex scientific discussions into the vernacular. Megan enjoys explor

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