Nine Cybersecurity Strategies for Manufacturers

hacker typing on keyboard

Did you know that manufacturing is the 2nd most targeted industry by hackers? With that in mind, addressing cybersecurity is more important than ever in the manufacturing industry. Although IIoT and Industry 4.0 in manufacturing create many positive benefits for operations, they also create vulnerabilities within systems. These vulnerabilities make it possible for hackers to gain access to an organization’s systems, equipment and critical data. Because smart manufacturing often connects entire systems, this often allows hackers full system access unless there are proper protections in place.  Companies have traditionally focused on information security in which vulnerabilities were introduced through desktops or server computing.    IIOT and Industry 4.0 have introduced an additional layer of vulnerabilities and threats.

What is a hacker and why does a hacker want access to a system? Hackers are people who use computers to gain unauthorized access to data that doesn’t belong to them. They exploit vulnerabilities remotely without ever physically entering a facility. By exploiting vulnerabilities, hackers can cause anything from product defects within a production line to a complete production line shut down. Often hackers are seeking financial gains and may be involved in corporate espionage or seeking to cause operational disruption for a manufacturer.

What can be done to decrease vulnerabilities in a manufacturing environment? A cybersecurity analyst would say that with cybersecurity training, there are many ways to close the gaps in a system to help protect it from harmful interlopers. Let’s focus on nine key cybersecurity strategies that can help reduce vulnerabilities in a manufacturing environment.

  • System Monitoring and Auditing: A network should be monitored and audited regularly. Monitoring a system is doing regular checks for security breaches, access anomalies and for proper operational efficiency. A system audit is the evaluation of the system for efficiency and security. Are there areas that could be improved? By conducting regular system audits, and reacting to results, a system can be maintained safely and efficiently.
  • Ongoing Vulnerability Scanning: Ongoing scanning of a system for vulnerabilities is also a critical part of a cybersecurity strategy. Although no software is perfect, at least identifying vulnerabilities can allow IT professionals to act with regards to closing those vulnerability gaps. Scanning software is like anti-virus software in that it must be kept updated to be effective. This type of software has pros and cons and is only as valuable as the action taken based on the information it provides.
    cybersecurity lock and key graphic
  • Firewalls: Firewalls for computers are a network securitysystem that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing traffic based on security parameters that have been set. A firewall establishes a barrier between an internal network and untrusted external network. An example of an untrusted external network would be the internet. Having firewalls in place is an important part of a cybersecurity strategy for any type of operation. Manufacturers need to have firewalls in place as a basic part of their security.
  • Clearly Identified Assets: In a networked system with hundreds, if not thousands, of components, making sure all assets are identified has the benefit of making intruders or rogue devices more obvious. If all aspects of the systems are identified clearly, it is more difficult for a hacker to hide within a system and cause harm to operations.
  • Encryption Tools: Encryption has been a longstanding way for sensitive information to be protected.  In the past encryption tools were used by militaries and governments.  Today, encryption is used to protect data stored on computers as well as data in transit over networks. By encrypting data, confidentiality is maintained. The authentication of a message is verified so where it originated is validated. In addition, the integrity of the message is secured because encryption ensures the message has not been changed since it was sent. Encryption is an important part of a cybersecurity strategy.
  • Bridging the Talent Skills Gap: Because technology is evolving rapidly, it can be a real challenge for employees to stay up to date on the latest device, application or service. It is also easy for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in the newest technology. By bridging the talent skills gap, employees are kept educated on the newest technology. They can then recognize vulnerabilities and respond quickly.  

    hacker cybersecurity graphic
  • Segment Networks: Segmenting a network is dividing it up into smaller parts and therefore separating groups or systems from each other. Segmenting networks for security is not a new idea but due to the complexity of segmenting, it is not always the most popular choice. It is, however, a good deterrent for hackers and care should be taken to segment manufacturing and IOT devices from traditional data networks. In today’s environment, it is important to assume that your system will be breached. If your network is segmented it makes it more difficult for a hacker to attack your entire network. It also allows an organization to protect sensitive information from curious insiders who shouldn’t have access.
  • Frequent updates to software: Cybercriminals tend to target the most vulnerable networks. If software is kept up to date, it reduces known vulnerabilities. Updating software has many benefits. Updates often repair security holes, add patches to cover vulnerabilities and remove bugs. Hackers can take advantage of weaknesses in a software program and exploit those vulnerabilities. With updated software, vulnerabilities within software decrease significantly. This can not only keep hackers out but also protect your data.
  • Assess 3rd Party Vendor Risks: The security in a manufacturing facility can be compromised even when an operation has solid cybersecurity strategies in place. If a supplier or vendor for a manufacturing operation does not have their own strategies in place to reduce vulnerabilities, this can still affect the manufacturing operation. As part of a manufacturing operation’s cybersecurity strategy, assessing where 3rd party vendors and suppliers are in their cybersecurity plan is an important part of reducing vulnerabilities and maintaining security within an operation.

When it comes to cybersecurity in the manufacturing industry, the risks are ever-present. Implementing a strong, well-planned and consistently executed cybersecurity strategy can be the difference between successful operations and a cybersecurity disaster.


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