Create a free Industrial Equipment News account to continue

Defending the Factory of the Future

Breaking down cybersecurity challenges and strategies for the smart manufacturing environment.

Protection Background Technology Security 524882074 701x502 (1)

The 4th Industrial Revolution is in full swing and moving faster with each passing day. This exponential growth has been propelled by interconnectivity, automation, and artificial intelligence. Modern businesses are able to increase efficiency, safety and production by working to seamlessly integrate and protect their informational (IT) and operational tech (OT).

The transition to smart manufacturing has introduced new vulnerabilities, especially as manufacturing increasingly becomes a target for cyber threats. According to IBM, the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million from a survey of 550+ organizations. The interconnectivity between OT and IT systems is the basis of Smart Manufacturing. And while this collaboration increases innovation and efficiency,  it is also the root of increased vulnerability to cyber threats. 

Tech Evolution and Cyber Security

The era of Industry 4.0 brings forth unimagined opportunities, yet is ripe with intricate cybersecurity challenges. The culmination of merging OT and IT is the cornerstone of modern manufacturing. This integration redefines this traditional industry and advocates the immense need for advanced integrated cyber threat protection.

The importance of this intersection and its vulnerabilities were exposed during the Colonial Pipeline incident in 2021. Hackers were able to use an outdated VPN account as a gateway to infect Colonial’s IT systems with ransomware. Although it was only the IT that the ransomware targeted, the expansive OT network, including 5,500 miles of pipeline, was immediately taken offline for security measures.

This and many other attacks over the last few years have highlighted the intertwined vulnerabilities and far-reaching implications of cyber threats in today's modern manufacturing landscape. 

Hyperconnectivity

Today's modern manufacturing is accelerated by increasingly sophisticated and interconnected systems. Each of these systems is underpinned by high-level data analytics and connected to the Internet of Things or IoT. The advantage of these systems is unparalleled, and by leveraging data, these systems can perform predictive analytics and real time adjustments throughout the manufacturing process. 

Unfortunately, these exponential advancements and increased connectivity only broaden the surface area for malicious attacks by industrially-oriented cyber threats. In modern manufacturing devices are often connected 24/7, and any small imperfection or error can quickly endanger the entire operation. When this occurs, sensitive information and critical infrastructures are at risk.

In modern manufacturing, the companies at the forefront don’t just utilize data sparingly; it has become the cornerstone of all operations. These businesses lean on data analytics and machine learning algorithms in all measurable aspects of business, from product design to quality control. 

As such, data repositories hold immense value, which inadvertently turns them into prime targets for cybercriminals. From intellectual property theft to crippling vital infrastructure, a security breach can have a monumental impact and create unfathomable loss in terms of money, reputation, and even human life.

Intelligent Systems and Data Reliance

AI-driven systems and machine learning systems are now an integral part of the modern manufacturing landscape. This heavy reliance on data, especially when stored or processed through the cloud, makes these data repositories a high-value target. Unauthorized data access doesn’t merely risk intellectual property theft or exposure of personal information. In the hands of adversaries, this data can evolve into sophisticated corporate espionage, granting them the power to tamper with and manipulate both OT and IT processes within an operation.

Modern manufacturing is at the convergence of operational technology and information technology, which increases the number of attack vectors. In this digital shift, the gravity of cybersecurity protocols has surged, with secure data transmissions being a significant concern. One particular issue is finding the right IT solution for signing contracts from afar.

While e-signatures have long been commonplace, digital signing stands out in the modern business landscape for its superior security via stringent encryption processes and identity verifications. This ensures businesses can bolster their manufacturing prowess whilst keeping their contractual obligations private and efficient at the same time. Solutions like digital signatures directly combat social engineering, as they’re conducted through secure channels.  

Fortifying the Advanced Manufacturing Ecosystem 

Adopting a robust and sophisticated cybersecurity protocol is crucial in today’s modern, intelligent manufacturing landscape. According to a Deloitte study, 48 percent of all manufacturers perceive the operational risk of cyber security threats as significant barriers to smart manufacturing. Additionally, there is a wide spectrum of risks from operational to strategic and financial to compliance. Due to the high exposure of personnel, technology and intellectual assets, the intricate web of smart factory technologies is increasingly at risk to cyber threats. 

Implementing network segmentation requires a clear organization and communication of needs, data, flow, and device roles. The importance of meticulous planning ensures that threats can remain isolated and the remaining operations continue unhindered. The importance of the efficacy of segmentation cannot be overlooked, as this could keep a minor threat from becoming an international incident.

It must also be emphasized how the use of AI ensures real-time and even anticipatory threat detection. Leveraging AI-driven tools allows businesses to pinpoint patterns a regular human would never notice. This technology has been seen impacting every industry and sector across the globe, and will continue to add significant value and innovation in the years to come. 

Unfortunately, there is a lack of cyber security talent, especially OT specialists, as even an influx of new professionals can’t satisfy the global demand. With the cyber threat landscape being dynamic and ever-changing, periodic training and continual education are essential to keep OT security specialists ahead of the latest threats and mitigation techniques. Technology alone isn’t the solution — it takes various professionals,  teams, software and technology to coordinate this all-encompassing integration.

As technological prowess grows, so too does the magnitude of cyber vulnerabilities. We are in an era where automation, AI and connectivity are not just luxuries but necessities for many businesses. This new landscape of smart manufacturing has created unparalleled efficiency but has also opened the proverbial Pandora’s box of cybersecurity threats. 

As the guidelines are redrawn by these vast technological innovations, it is critical that we prioritize cybersecurity and upgrade our resources. The next generation of manufacturing titans will be dictated not only by adaptability, innovation and security, but also by their resilience and thoughtfulness in the face of digital threats. 

More in Advanced Mfg