Manufacturing Cybersecurity

Automation and IoT connectivity deliver efficiency and convenience—but they also open back doors to cybercriminals. How can CEOs help safeguard their companies?

Does your CISO ever walk the factory floor? And if so, is he or she welcomed by the operations team?

As recently as a few years ago, these may have seemed like strange questions. The roles and responsibilities for IT and operations teams have historically been split: operations teams managed the machinery and industrial systems, while the CISO and the IT team took care of the back-office computers and networks.

But that clear line has become blurred as manufacturing enterprises have become increasingly digitized, automated and connected. Today, a piece of industrial equipment can order needed materials directly through automated supply chain software; operations teams can activate and monitor machinery remotely; and original equipment manufacturers, or other third-party vendors, often have back-door access to diagnostic and performance data.

Every one of these features, however, provides hackers with another potential avenue to attack critical systems and potentially impact your business—because when everything is connected, everything is vulnerable. Plus, with businesses hardening their operating software cyber defenses, industrial hardware has become a more inviting target for hackers. The number of vulnerability advisories issued by the Department of Homeland Security for industrial control systems has climbed from 17 in 2010 to 223 in 2018.

We live in a digitized world. By the end of 2020, 200 billion devices will be connected through the Internet of Things, including home appliances, office printers, smart phones and even industrial equipment. According to a 2019 Gartner report, the number of industrial businesses with IoT platforms deployed on premises—items such as 3-D printers, assembly robots and automated packaging—is expected to double by 2023.

All these connections bring convenience and efficiency to our homes and workplaces. But for manufacturing and industrial enterprises, those benefits come with the responsibility of a holistic, converged cybersecurity posture.

As highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, preserving outdated silos between your IT and operational technology, or OT, teams could result in dangerous gaps that allow hackers to sneak in, steal business data or IP, take over machinery and disrupt production. It could be no more complicated than an employee bringing a compromised personal cell phone onto the factory floor. And if a piece of equipment is compromised, does your IT department have a way to resolve the breach?

This is why the teams need to work closely to reduce risks, identify weaknesses and create new policies. Here are three ways you can help your IT and OT teams work together:

Create an integrated IT/OT security governance body. Appoint a senior leader to head the team, get your CISO on the factory floor regularly, and make sure someone is specifically responsible for securing your OT systems. While IT and OT don’t need to be combined, they do need to work together to identify risk in areas where their missions overlap.

Evaluate team needs. Does your OT team understand cybersecurity? Does your IT team understand manufacturing operations? While neither side needs total expertise in what the other side does, they do need to be conversant. Identify the needs and fill gaps with training or outside hiring.

Create an integrated policy framework: Make sure they are speaking the same language, collaborating on projects, and sharing policies that make sense for both sides. That doesn’t mean adopting a one-size-fits-all-approach. Industrial equipment may not be able to use active scan tools while in operation, and some mandatory software patches may void warranties. But the teams should be working from the same playbook.

When IT and OT converge and are aligned, companies reduce risk, complete infrastructure projects faster, make the best use of their operational information, and save money. Most important, they keep the machinery running.