Cyber Security for the Manufacturing Industry

Brook Zimmatore | July 26, 2017

For the manufacturing industry, IT has been more about innovation and streamlining of production than it has been about cyber security. For many, just the air gap between the internet and internal systems was considered sufficient protection. A more realistic possibility, but still remote, would have been corporate espionage or deliberate sabotage.

But times have changed. The manufacturing industry has seen very real threats, and cyber threat intelligence suggests that it is only increasing.

Here’s what you need to know.

Caught in the Cross Hairs

Most of the major recent cyber attacks actually have roots in governments. Most notably, the NSA-created tools leaked by some hackers were used to create and spread the two largest global cyber attacks known to date: the WannaCry and Petya viruses.

Those two viruses alone hit a wide variety of manufacturers:

  • Honda was forced to halt production at a Japanese plant.
  • French automaker Renault had to temporarily close their biggest factory, with less than 24-hours’ notice to thousands of employees.
  • FedEx saw their systems experience interference.
  • Companies in Britain, the Ukraine, Denmark, Spain, and other countries were all also affected, a total disruption now estimated to have cost the global economy billions of dollars.

But it is not just the NSA. North Korea may have been responsible for launching the WannaCry virus. Russia targeting the US and the Ukraine may be responsible for some of the other major cyber attacks in recent months. WikiLeaks also let everyone know about another government-created threat: Brutal Kangaroo, a tool suite designed to target closed networks by air gap jumping with a thumb drive.

Not one of these major cyber attacks had the manufacturing industry as the intended target, as far as we know. They may have been aimed at other governments or at the general disruption of industry or economy, but specific manufacturers could be seen as collateral damage, simply caught in the cross hairs.

What to do to Protect Manufacturing

Fortunately, many of the most effective steps for preventing a cyber security incident are already in play at most manufacturers, they just need some beefing up.

For one, the practice of creating an air gap, where one or more computers are physically isolated from unsecured networks, can still provide a measure of security. Similar methods are even used by the nuclear power industry. The success of an air gap depends entirely upon the security of the isolation. That means that thumb drives and outside laptops should not be connected to a secure computer within the gap. If it were necessary to connect such a device, that device would need to first be thoroughly scrubbed, with the appropriate security of both the personnel and the device before it would connect to the secure device.

Another important protection, which cannot be overstated, is to always, always update when updates become available. When security patches get released you want those ASAP. The entirety of WannaCry and Petya both stemmed from Windows security flaws that had already been patched by Microsoft.

The last critical area of protection has to do with personnel. Beyond requiring that personnel install updates, one must train everyone on basic cyber security the way you would drill fire safety. That means excellent and unique passwords, training against phishing attacks, and other cyber safety operations. Security can no longer be left to just IT departments.

Professional and Personalized Insight

Industry-specific cyber security intelligence can help you mitigate threats before they cripple operations and force plants to halt production.  You can learn from the mistakes of others and be proactive about cyber security. Though it might be a new area to consider, it should become a vital component of manufacturing safety.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.