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As manufacturers increasingly adopt smart practices to remain competitive, cybersecurity emerges as a critical concern. The recent findings from the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index report highlighted the severity of the issue, ranking manufacturing as the top attacked industry for the third consecutive year. This highlights the urgent need for manufacturers to reassess their cybersecurity strategies and implement robust measures to safeguard their operations.  

Reimagining cybersecurity in manufacturing 

Historically, operational technology (OT) systems have controlled physical processes such as machinery, assembly lines, and manufacturing operations, while IT systems have managed data processing, communication, and administrative tasks. However, the rise of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, and automation has blurred the lines between OT and IT systems. 

This convergence offers significant benefits, allowing manufacturers to gather real-time data, optimize operations, and improve decision-making. However, it also presents new cybersecurity challenges. The interconnectedness of OT and IT networks expands the attack surface, exposing industrial systems to a range of cyber threats such as malware, ransomware, and unauthorized access. 

Additionally, OT systems often prioritize reliability and availability over security, which can leave them more susceptible to exploitation. As a result, manufacturers must implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect their interconnected OT and IT environments, including network segmentation, access controls, encryption, and continuous monitoring. 

Cybersecurity: More than an IT problem 

A common misconception among many organizations is that security is solely an IT problem. However, when you consider the devastating ransomware attack suffered by Norwegian Hydro, it becomes evident that cybersecurity extends far beyond IT departments. The attack halted production lines across 170 plants, impacting 35,000 employees in 40 countries. Important files were locked on thousands of servers and PCs, resulting in an estimated financial loss of 650 million Norwegian Kroner (approximately $60milion). 

In light of such risks, it's insufficient for manufacturers to delegate cybersecurity solely to their Security Operations Center (SOC) teams. Rather, accountability for security should rest with top management across the organization. 

What are the key focus areas for cybersecurity in manufacturing? 

As we’ve previously mentioned, the interconnectivity of OT and IT today means it’s now possible to have interfaces between OT and workstations used by employees. For example, accessing stats from a robot can now be done from a regular work terminal, creating an interface between everyday computers and production equipment. 

This connectivity poses risks, as an infected work terminal can become a stepping stone to the production environment through lateral movement. So, controlling access to operational technology and monitoring network interfaces are crucial security measures. 

Access management plays a vital role in authorization, ensuring that employees only access what they need, when they need it, and from approved locations. Deviations from normal working patterns, such as logging in outside of scheduled hours, can indicate potential security breaches and should trigger alerts. 

Additionally, with more people working remotely and using their own devices, it's important to consider the security implications of non-compliant or non-company owned devices. Strong access controls and authentication methods can help keep sensitive data and systems safe from potential threats. Monitoring solutions to detect anomalies and additional security measures like multi-factor authentication can further enhance access management. 

Evolution of malware attacks 

Malware attacks continue to become more sophisticated, with threat actors deploying complex infection chains and new delivery methods. IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index report found malware was the most common action threat actors took on victim networks, occurring in 43% of all reported incidents. 

IBM listed the popular methods threat actors are currently using, which included embedding scripts in OneNote files, malicious links in PDFs, and disguising executables as document files. 

Additionally, malware developers are increasingly developing Linux malware and creating Linux variants of existing malware families. This highlights the need for manufacturers to strengthen defences, especially as more move to cloud environments reliant on Linux systems. 

Ensuring user-friendly security measures 

Balancing security with user-friendliness is essential. Implementing robust access management processes supported by efficient tools reduces delays and frustration for employees while maintaining security standards. 

Modern authentication methods like multi-factor authentication and single sign-on improve security without sacrificing user convenience. Single sign-on consolidates access to various systems under one account, enhancing security and adhering to zero-trust principles. 

By focusing on access management, monitoring, and evolving threat landscapes, manufacturers can mitigate risks and safeguard their operations against cyber threats. 

Safeguarding manufacturing data in security 

Manufacturing companies possess a wealth of data, often more than they realize. While this data can be invaluable for optimizing operations and driving innovation, it also poses significant risks if not properly managed and secured.  

The risk lies in the potential for this data to be exploited by adversaries or competitors. Each piece of information, whether it's about vendors, partners, material quality, stakeholders, or finances, may seem innocuous on its own. However, when aggregated, it can paint a comprehensive picture of the company's operations, strategies, and vulnerabilities.  

For example, information about material quality combined with supplier data could reveal weaknesses in the supply chain, making it susceptible to disruption or sabotage. Similarly, financial data coupled with stakeholder information could expose vulnerabilities in financial systems or potential points of leverage for adversaries. Understanding this data landscape and the associated risks is crucial for manufacturing companies to protect their assets and maintain their competitive edge.  

The right cybersecurity partner will be able to help you navigate this landscape and gain a comprehensive understanding of your data and risk exposure. For example, they’ll be able to conduct thorough data assessments and audits, assessing the sensitivity and criticality of each dataset, and evaluate existing security measures and controls.  Business impact analysis can also be used to expose potential risks to key systems. 

Additionally, a good partner will be able to advise on the right advanced data analytics and monitoring solutions to implement to help you continuously assess and mitigate risks. By leveraging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, you’ll be able to identify patterns, anomalies, and potential threats in your data, enabling proactive risk management and threat detection.  

At Columbus, we can help with all these things. Not only that, we can also provide guidance and support in developing robust data governance policies and procedures. This includes establishing clear guidelines for data access, storage, sharing, and disposal, as well as implementing encryption, access controls, and other security measures to protect sensitive information. 

For more information on how we can help you, click here. 

Navigating change in manufacturing cybersecurity 

As manufacturers increasingly embrace cloud services, strengthening defences becomes paramount for future-proofing systems. Introducing new technologies to meet evolving standards is inevitable, but the focus must extend beyond the technology itself to include the people driving the transformation.  

Why? Because people are the wildcard in any change initiative – they can either make or break it. In fact, around 70% of transformation journeys fall short of achieving their intended goals. 

To realize the desired value and outcomes, it's imperative to secure buy-in from employees at the outset. Attempting to impose new workflows, processes, or software without their support is a recipe for failure. 

Engaging and aligning everyone with the transformation is often the most challenging aspect of any project. This is where the expertise of experienced consultants can make all the difference. A competent partner can help you navigate the complexities of change management, using their years of expertise to ensure successful adoption. 

Drawing from frameworks such as the Digital Maturity Matrix introduced in "Leading Digital," consultants can assess your organization's current level of digital readiness and identify areas for improvement. By aligning transformation efforts with digital maturity goals, organizations can better prioritize initiatives and tailor change management strategies to address specific needs. 

 A strong backbone of any successful transformation project must have: 

  • Clear internal communications –  ensuring employees grasp the objectives, benefits, and implications of the transformation is essential. Transparent communication also helps encourage buy-in, reducing resistance to change 
  • Strong and efficient leadership – effective leadership plays a pivotal role in guiding employees through the change process. Inspiring confidence in the direction of the change and providing support are crucial for minimizing disruptions 
  • Thorough training and education for end-users – comprehensive training programs helps prepare your employees with the knowledge and skills they need to adapt and excel with new technologies and workflows 

By prioritizing these elements and leveraging the expertise of a competent partner, you can drive successful transformation and increase adoption and utilization rates.   

What are the next steps manufacturers can take with cybersecurity?  

We’ve discussed in detail how cybersecurity helps protect your operations, however, it’s also a way of safeguarding your brand. Staying updated with cybersecurity certifications is vital for reinforcing customer trust. For example, being NIS2 compliant signals to the market that your organization prioritizes security, enhancing your credibility and making it easier for customers to do business with you. 

Knowing how to spread your investment in cybersecurity can be difficult, especially with limited budgets. Here are some areas to focus on: 

  • Secure the boundary between IT and OT/IoT – implement robust cybersecurity measures to safeguard critical assets and prevent unauthorized access between IT and OT/IoT systems 
  • Develop a business continuity plan – create comprehensive plans to ensure continuity during critical IT incidents, enabling essential functions to continue for a limited time 
  • Assess and map potential consequences – prioritize cybersecurity efforts by quantifying risks and assessing the impact on operations in case of manufacturing outages 
  • Create a structured disaster recovery plan – establish plans for swift responses to cybersecurity incidents and disruptive events, minimizing downtime and enhancing overall resilience 

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to cybersecurity. Your investments should align with your unique needs and vulnerabilities. Over time, businesses often accumulate several security solutions without assessing their actual needs, leading to inefficiencies and potential risks.  

At Columbus, we offer a robust security foundation by combining identity security with leading cybersecurity practices and expertise in data analytics. Using our OnTarget Delivery Methodology, we bring structure and predictability to your IT projects, allowing you to run multiple projects concurrently and release value early. With our experience and focus on best practices, we can help build a solid and secure security foundation for your business. 

If you're interested in how we can help your business, feel free to reach out by clicking on the button below. 



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