Why is cybersecurity crucial for manufacturing?

Because most of the activities in the industrial sector are nowadays automated, security is key to prevent any deviation from the expected behaviour of the equipment. In this context, security is to be understood holistically: cybersecurity is just one (important) part, next to physical security, health security, fail-safety, etc.

However, since the landscape of today's digital age is rapidly evolving, the manufacturing industry is experiencing a transformative wave driven by technology. As factories become smarter and more connected, prevalence of cyber threats is increasing.

That’s why manufacturers must fortify their defences by implementing robust cybersecurity measures. In this article, we will delve into the vital reasons why cybersecurity is indispensable for the manufacturing sector.

Protect the company´s business model

Manufacturing companies have a specific business model, relying on two main assets:

  • Intellectual property: As substantial resources are allocated to R&D to create innovative products and processes that often are patented, intellectual property is the lifeblood of the company. Safeguarding sensitive data, trade secrets, and proprietary information from falling into the wrong hands is paramount
  • Operational continuity: Almost the entire source of income of manufacturing companies is the sale of their products. Therefore, every minute of downtime, when production is “on hold” (apart from forecasted maintenance windows and improvements implementation), means significant revenue loss and shall be avoided

The advent of Industry 4.0 has led to a deep integration of digital technologies into manufacturing processes, creating a more interconnected and efficient environment. However, this increased connectivity and dependency also exposes manufacturing systems to all kind of cyber threats such as ransomware or malware that can access protected data or disrupt operations, which leads to financial as well as reputational damage.

Protect the real world

By definition, manufacturing companies have an impact on the real world: the actuators are acting (creating, transforming or deleting) real material.

Because of the scales at stake in the industry, the enormity of physical consequences, in case control systems fail, bears an extreme broad impact.

Putting human lives in danger is by far the most important risk. This includes:

  • The company’s employees: The German steel mill attack (2014) modified the behaviour of automated machines, that could have damaged the workers’ physical integrity
  • The company’s customers: The cyberattack on the KA-Sat network, a satellite-based communication network (2022), caused a disruption in the remote monitoring and control of thousands of wind turbines across Germany. If the emergency control system hadn’t taken over, around 11 GW of electricity couldn’t have been delivered to final customers, potentially putting critical services at risk
  • The environment or the whole population of the area surrounding a manufacturing facility: Another cyberattack targeted a German nuclear plant in the early 2010s. In that case, its type (disruptive, not destructive) and the limited extent of its impact (no need to shut down the processes) caused no harm. But cases where such attacks make the monitoring of nuclear fission impossible and the reaction going out of control can’t be excluded

Furthermore, modern manufacturing is often characterized by complex and global supply chains. The interconnected nature of these networks makes them susceptible to cyber threats. A breach in one part of the supply chain can have cascading effects, impacting multiple stakeholders or organizations through automated interfaces (e.g., exchange of supply data). Cybersecurity in manufacturing involves securing not only internal systems but also collaborating with suppliers and partners to ensure the integrity and resilience of the entire supply chain.

Finally, manufacturers often build long-term relationships with clients based on trust and reliability. A cybersecurity breach can erode this trust and tarnish a company's reputation. Customers expect their suppliers to handle their data trustworthy and ensure the security and safety of their products. By prioritizing cybersecurity, manufacturers signal their commitment to customers and partners information protection, product safety and security as part of an overall business integrity.

Enable sustainable innovation

As manufacturing embraces digital innovation and emerging technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the attack surface for cyber threats expands. Cybersecurity is the linchpin that enables manufacturers to leverage these technologies while mitigating the associated risks. By integrating security into design and implementation of digital systems, manufacturers can harness the benefits of innovation without compromising the safety and security of their operations.

In this regard, the numerous regulatory that manufacturing companies must comply to, depending on their industrial sector, can be considered a chance. Adherence to these standards, such as ISO 27001 or NIST Cybersecurity Framework, is not only a legal requirement but also a crucial aspect of maintaining trust with customers and partners. Cybersecurity measures help manufacturers demonstrate compliance and uphold their commitment to ethical and secure business practices.

In addition, those standards often provide guidelines, good and best practice, and can even offer an up-to-date overview of concepts and technology. That’s why cybersecurity standards must not be considered as an impediment to implement something new, but rather as a helpful guidance for implementing it in the right way, secure, scalable and sustainable.

BxC takeaway

At BxC, we are convinced that cybersecurity is a topic that manufacturing companies should consider as one important pillar of the overall security of the production. We like explaining our customers that a right-minded and customized cybersecurity strategy, even if it relies on basic measures, has a highly positive impact on risk mitigation for the company’s successful business.

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