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The manufacturing industry has grown by leaps and bounds these past few years, thanks greatly in part to recent technological developments such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As sophisticated automated systems become the norm across factory floors up and down the supply chain, it’s become increasingly clear that the manufacturing world is hurtling through a fourth industrial revolution – one characterized by the creation and use of intelligent networks which connect different machines and systems via the internet.

 

Commonly referred to as Smart Manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, this fourth revolution has certainly come with a host of advantages for manufacturers in the know… but with all new technology comes a new set of risks, and Industry 4.0 has left many manufacturers vulnerable to attacks. Here are a few different ways to keep automated systems secure in this new era of digitization.

 

Understand the risks and prioritize them

 

Most manufacturers wouldn’t think twice about ensuring that their physical machines are properly set up and maintained. When it comes to digital products, it’s important to pay as much attention to ensuring that software, firmware and hardware are also set up and maintained in such a manner as to reduce the number of potential attacks and other risks.

 

As such, it’s important to define a risk management process that will help identify and prioritize risks, facilitating the creation of up-to-date policies and processes that will take said risks into account. Enforcing a thoughtful risk management process helps teams to log and thwart potentially devastating incidents, even providing counter-measures to vulnerabilities such that companies aren’t left scrambling in the dark if something doesn’t go according to plan.

 

Keep your BYOD systems secure

 

Modern technological advancements may have done a wonder for industrial products, but consumer technology too has undergone incredible transformations in the past ten years. This has led to the rise of a so-called ‘remoted workforce’, typically reliant on their own personal devices to get work done from wherever they are in the world. As such, many companies are allowing employees to use their own electronic devices in the workplace, such as cellphones and laptops.

 

However, while this Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) system may be highly effective for some, it introduces a new class of potential cybersecurity issues to many modern manufacturers; providing unfettered network access to any device can lead to serious vulnerabilities that may be exploited by hackers. Whenever possible, ensure that only pre-approved devices are given access to your properly secured network – and only when circumstances call for it.

 

Create zones to isolate critical systems from one another

 

It can be easy to start providing access and credentials to any app or sub-system that asks for it; however, undoing the damage caused by a cybersecurity incident can be difficult, if not impossible. Following industry best practices and standards such as creating zones to segment and isolate sub-systems from each other is essential for limiting the reach and severity of a cybersecurity attack.

 

By setting up a DMZ (demilitarized zone), also known as a perimeter network, you can keep your internal network separate from the outside world (the internet) so that only externally-accessible services live in the DMZ. Though it may be impossible to thwart all attacks, a well-constructed DMZ will at the very least alert your employees of a security breach so that they can respond accordingly.

 

Don’t forget physical infrastructure

 

When talking about the IIoT and Industry 4.0, it can be easy to forget that manufacturing is still firmly anchored in the physical world, which includes real-life infrastructure. While problems may often be introduced from the outside world, damage caused by insider access can be the most devastating by far, and it doesn’t always have to be on purpose.

 

From accidental data loss to outright theft of intellectual property, it can be frighteningly easy for employees to cause untold amounts of damage to a company that hasn’t taken the proper steps to secure their assets. Physical blockers like locks and key cards, as well as implementing proper authentication and authorization mechanisms are a first basic but underrated step towards keeping digitized manufacturers safe from harm.

 

Be prepared to respond fast

 

While cybersecurity has grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years to keep up with the pace of technological changes, it has become impossible for manufacturers to keep themselves 100% safe from harmful attacks and breaches. As such, it’s extremely important to have an emergency response plan to deal with cyber vulnerabilities, just as one might have a plant safety response plan in the event of a physical catastrophe of some sort.

 

For instance, it’s important to have mechanisms in place to detect attacks, isolate a breached system and respond to an attack as quickly as possible. Ensure that all employees have some level of awareness regarding potential vulnerabilities, whether they are an automation technician who works with a programmable logic controller or an executive assistant who is bombarded by emails on a regular basis. Threats can come in various forms and everybody must learn how to respond accordingly to suspicious events.

 

Industry 4.0 has brought with it the promise of improved productivity, lowered costs and greater connectivity – but new technology always comes with a price. Industrial systems which have long been kept isolated and tightly under wraps are now becoming exposed to the internet in a number of ways, leaving them vulnerable to a host of attacks that may come in many shapes and forms. As manufacturing systems continue to grow in complexity, it’s clear that threat of attacks will grow as well. As such, it’s important to stay vigilant and up to date with modern security best practices in order to keep manufacturing plants running safely, smoothly and efficiently.

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