The Lingering Threat of Cyber Attack

In recent years, the manufacturing sector has become an increasingly attractive target for cybercriminals. 

Once primarily concerned with physical security and operational efficiency, manufacturers now find themselves on the front lines of a digital battleground.  

As technological advancements and connectivity reshape the landscape, cybercriminals are seizing new opportunities to exploit weaknesses in manufacturing systems. 

In fact, recently, the manufacturing industry found itself at the top of this unenviable list for the third consecutive year in a row: listed as one of the most targeted sectors for cyber-attacks yet again. 

This persistent vulnerability highlights the increasing risks and challenges faced by manufacturers in the digital age. 

Understanding why the manufacturing sector remains a prime target for cyber-attacks is crucial for developing effective defense strategies and safeguarding valuable assets. 

Today we dive into the details of this breaking news story and discuss the best options manufacturers have to help combat this growing threat in our new digital age. 

(*NOTE: Rain Engineering is not a cyber security provider.) 

What We Know…

According to reports coming out of Industry Week, for the third year in a row, the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Report ranked the manufacturing industry as the most attacked industry by cybercriminals. 

Further research suggests that, last year alone, manufacturers comprised more than 25% of security incidents with malware attacks making up the majority of those incidents. 

So why, year after year does the manufacturing sector continue to be threatened by these cyber criminals? 

Well, at its most basic, the manufacturing industry’s top position on the cyber-attack list for the third consecutive year underscores the sector’s increasing vulnerability to digital threats. 

This trend is not coincidental but rather indicative of a broader shift in the cyber threat landscape. 

As manufacturers integrate advanced technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and smart manufacturing systems, they inadvertently expand their attack surface as each new connected device, sensor, and machine introduces potential entry points for cybercriminals, making the task of securing these networks increasingly complex and critical. 

Even still, this persistence of cyber-attacks on manufacturing is also driven by the high value of the intellectual property (IP) housed within these organizations as many manufacturing companies often possess proprietary designs, trade secrets, and innovative processes that are highly attractive to cybercriminals seeking economic gain or engaging in corporate espionage. 

Needless to say, the theft or compromise of such sensitive information can have devastating financial and competitive consequences. 

Furthermore, the interconnected nature of supply chains means that a breach in one part of the chain can have cascading effects, potentially compromising multiple organizations and amplifying the impact of an attack. 

Financial motivations further propel cyber-attacks on the manufacturing sector, with ransomware attacks emerging as a particularly prevalent threat, which can bring production lines to a standstill, forcing manufacturers to pay hefty ransoms to resume operations swiftly. 

This not only leads to immediate financial losses but also disrupts supply chains and damages reputations. 

So, as you can see, the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) systems in manufacturing facilities – among other contributing attributes – has introduced additional vulnerabilities, as OT systems often lack robust security measures. 

But, believe it or not, according to the X-Force report, 85% of incidents could have been mitigated with patching, multi-factor authentication or at least-privilege principles, proving that with a little more due diligence, these threats could have been avoided altogether. 

So, what are we to do? 

Well, as cyber threats evolve and become more sophisticated, the manufacturing industry must prioritize cybersecurity investments and strategies to protect against these persistent and evolving risks. 

Let’s take a closer look at where your facility might be vulnerable to such threats and what combating these criminals might look like… 

Your Vulnerabilities

  1. Increasing Digitization and Connectivity

The manufacturing industry has undergone significant digital transformation, with the adoption of advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and smart manufacturing systems. While these innovations enhance productivity and efficiency, they also expand the attack surface for cybercriminals. Each connected device, sensor, and machine presents a potential entry point for attackers. 

  1. Legacy Systems and Outdated Software

Many manufacturing facilities still rely on legacy systems and outdated software that were not designed with cybersecurity in mind. These older systems often lack the necessary security features to withstand modern cyber threats. Additionally, updating or replacing legacy systems can be challenging and costly, leading many manufacturers to postpone necessary upgrades, inadvertently leaving vulnerabilities unaddressed. 

  1. Complex Supply Chains

Manufacturers typically operate within complex supply chains that involve numerous partners, suppliers, and third-party vendors. Each link in this chain represents a potential vulnerability that cybercriminals can exploit. A breach in one part of the supply chain can have cascading effects, compromising the security of multiple organizations involved in the manufacturing process. 

  1. Valuable Intellectual Property

The manufacturing sector is a repository of valuable intellectual property (IP), including proprietary designs, trade secrets, and innovative processes. Cybercriminals target this information for economic gain, corporate espionage, or even to sell on the dark web. The theft of IP can have devastating consequences, including loss of competitive advantage and significant financial losses. 

  1. Financial Gain and Ransomware

Cybercriminals are often motivated by the potential for financial gain. Ransomware attacks, in particular, have become increasingly prevalent in the manufacturing industry. These attacks involve encrypting critical data and demanding a ransom for its release. The disruption caused by ransomware can halt production lines, leading manufacturers to pay the ransom to resume operations quickly, further incentivizing cybercriminals. 

  1. Operational Technology (OT) Vulnerabilities

Operational Technology (OT), which controls physical devices and processes in manufacturing, is often less secure than traditional Information Technology (IT) systems. OT systems are designed for reliability and longevity, but their security measures are frequently overlooked. As IT and OT environments converge, the vulnerabilities in OT systems can be exploited by attackers to disrupt production and cause physical damage. 

  1. Human Factors and Insider Threats

Human error and insider threats remain significant risks in the manufacturing sector. Employees may inadvertently click on phishing emails, use weak passwords, or fail to follow security protocols, providing attackers with an entry point. Additionally, disgruntled employees or those with malicious intent can pose a threat from within, using their access to compromise systems and data. 

  1. Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness and Training

Many manufacturing companies lack comprehensive cybersecurity awareness and training programs. Employees may not be adequately informed about the latest cyber threats or best practices for safeguarding against them. This knowledge gap makes it easier for attackers to exploit human weaknesses and gain unauthorized access to critical systems. 

  1. Regulatory and Compliance Challenges

Manufacturers must navigate a complex landscape of regulations and compliance requirements related to cybersecurity. Ensuring compliance with standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can be daunting, particularly for smaller manufacturers with limited resources. Failure to comply can result in significant fines and reputational damage. 

Time to Fight Back!

To combat the escalating threat of cyber-attacks, manufacturers must prioritize the modernization of their cybersecurity infrastructure. 

This involves upgrading legacy systems and outdated software that often lack the necessary security features to withstand modern cyber threats. 

Implementing advanced cybersecurity technologies such as intrusion detection systems, firewalls, and encryption protocols is essential. 

Additionally, adopting a zero-trust security model, which requires strict verification for every user and device attempting to access the network, can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. 

… But a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity also necessitates a strong focus on employee training and awareness. 

You see, cybersecurity is not solely the responsibility of IT departments; as such, it requires the vigilance of every employee within the organization. 

Manufacturers should implement regular training programs to educate employees about the latest cyber threats, phishing tactics, and best practices for safeguarding sensitive information. 

Creating a culture of cybersecurity awareness helps ensure that employees recognize potential threats and understand their role in preventing cyber-attacks. 

Furthermore, establishing clear protocols for responding to suspicious activities can help mitigate risks and prevent breaches. 

Finally, strengthening partnerships and collaboration within the supply chain is another crucial strategy for enhancing cybersecurity. 

Manufacturers should work closely with their suppliers, partners, and third-party vendors to ensure that cybersecurity measures are robust and consistently applied across all links in the supply chain. 

This can include conducting regular security assessments, sharing threat intelligence, and establishing contractual obligations for cybersecurity standards. 

By fostering a collaborative approach to cybersecurity, manufacturers can create a more resilient defense against cyber-attacks, protecting not only their own operations but also those of their partners and the broader manufacturing ecosystem. 

The Wrap Up

The manufacturing industry’s journey towards increased digitization and connectivity brings both opportunities and challenges. 

Yet, its unfortunate distinction of topping the list of most attacked sectors by cybercriminals for the third consecutive year underscores the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures. 

As we continue to see, while technological advancements can drive efficiency and innovation, they also expose manufacturers to new and evolving cyber threats. 

Now, turning back on the digital age is certainly not an option so to help combat these risks, manufacturers must prioritize cybersecurity, invest in modernizing their systems, and foster a culture of security awareness and resilience. 

Through a combination of technological upgrades, employee education, and collaborative efforts, the manufacturing industry can better protect itself from the relentless tide of cyber threats and safeguard its valuable assets and operations. 

… And though Rain Engineering is not a cyber security provider, we think it is safe to say that, by understanding the unique vulnerabilities and challenges they face, manufacturers can better defend themselves against the relentless tide of cyber-attacks and safeguard their critical operations and assets. 

P.S. We here at Rain Engineering know that there are many businesses out there willing to help you along your digital transformation journey. 

As such, you might be asking yourself – with all the options out there – why is Rain Engineering the right choice for you. 

Well, we could tell some elaborate story as to why you should choose us for your digital transformation needs, but that’s really not our style… 

Instead, let us just take a moment and simply explain Rain Engineering’s business values and key characteristics so you can have the information necessary to make a clearer decision why we may (or may not) be the right fit for your facility’s digital needs. 

Firstly, our mission is to help people like you gather the tools and know-how necessary to improve, not only the way you work, but the quality of work you provide. 

Why? Because we here at Rain Engineering truly believe that EVERYONE deserves to do better! 

Secondly, we’re proud to say that our key business characteristics include being good communicators and problem solvers, while continuing to always have your business’s financial well-being in mind! 

In fact, among other things, these characteristics have been at the forefront of every successful partnership we’ve achieved over the span of our manufacturing career. 

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, as a company, we prioritize being lifelong learners… We are proud of the years of experience we provide and our team’s dedication to continued education, but the key word here should be continued. 

We are ALWAYS learning and working to improve how we do things! 

Not only this, but when we DO find new and improved ways of achieving our shared goals, we are always eager to communicate those secrets to our customers so they can better their business tactics too, because we really do care about each and every one of our customers. 

… And, as we said, we believe EVERYONE deserves to do better! 

So, yes, we know there are other companies out there who are eager to partner with you on your digital transformation journey, but if you’re interested in working with a team that prides themselves in, not only their current skillset, but their continued ability to learn new things and share that valuable knowledge, then Rain Engineering is the place for you!