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Why is cybersecurity critical for modern manufacturing?

As the manufacturing sector produces and incorporates more IoT technology, companies must create strategies to protect their data. Here are six ways to do so.

Take a moment to envision the server that runs your corporate ERP system and the company data it holds -- critical...

company information that drives your company's success. Imagine what could be done with such information if it were to end up in the wrong hands because of malware. With the burgeoning of IoT in manufacturing, manufacturing companies can't afford to ignore cybersecurity issues.

Despite the inherent enterprise information risks of the Internet of Things, along with the continued growth of e-commerce, modern manufacturing faces a call to action. Yet, what companies have done to protect data, in general and as far as the public knows, has been inadequate. This is due to the lack of investment in risk management and security, including in gaining the necessary knowledge.

Companies have several security options in both the hardware and software spheres, but these products won't come cheap. Moreover, they require expertise in understanding and selecting the appropriate products and strategies. These have to be agile, since hackers have been adept at outsmarting security measures. The cybersecurity and secure chip markets are filled with companies and methods, but that cannot negate a critical truth: Companies must hire their own experts and constantly invest in their ongoing training to keep up with this fast changing arena.

Here are six steps modern manufacturing companies can take toward creating better cybersecurity in the enterprise and throughout the supply chain:

  • Establish and empower a risk management task force that includes product and supply chain leaders.
  • Mandate that product design include cybersecurity team members who embed security within products.
  • Ensure that IoT technology includes robust upgradable software, communications and hardware. Patches and security updates can then be sent and managed from the product provider to ensure products are always secure. 
  • Companies should carefully reconsider partner networks and other communication partnerships, and the processes and technology that secure those communications. All it takes is one unsecure endpoint to disrupt service or provide hackers with the easier vulnerabilities they can use to steal valuable information. 
  • Products should not go to market without a third-party cybersecurity audit, just as they don't go to market without quality approval. A security audit will uncover vulnerabilities in the security plan and offer solutions.
  • Reconsider your manufacturing outsourcing strategy. Serious security breaches can come from offshore suppliers. Indeed, some hardware companies have moved manufacturing to countries where they are in control of security. This allows them to do background checks on employees and have access to a rich network of risk management and security expertise. It also provides more certainty of legal protections should things go wrong.

IoT has changed the whole concept of product design, moving beyond hardware-oriented thinking to having software and data as the critical component. The security of that operating software and the data it is transmitting is of utmost importance. Hackers have already shown they can steal  trade secrets -- from weapons systems to space vehicles to pharmaceutical patents, to name a few -- and once IoT becomes prevalent, the potential damage for such illegal access only grows.

Cybersecurity threats are a reality for modern manufacturing, which means that now is the time to fight them.

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This was last published in May 2016

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