Not so long after the notorious SolarWinds attack, the Russian hacker group REvil claimed responsibility for the hack attack on JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processing companies. It was also around the same time when the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack happened. Over the past year, more than 40 food processing companies were targeted by cybercriminals.
Such attacks on manufacturers rarely happened a decade ago, but they are becoming commonplace nowadays. The growing reliance on digital technology and the internet has made manufacturers among the most viable targets for cybercrime perpetrators. This situation calls for a greater understanding of cybersecurity among manufacturers and other businesses involved in producing goods and putting added value to existing products.
Is 2021 a preview of the kind of cybersecurity issues that will hound manufacturers in the next year? Below is a rundown on what to expect when it comes to cybersecurity and threats that will affect the manufacturing industry in 2022.
Manufacturers Becoming More Security-Aware
Several points in Gartner's cybersecurity productions for 2021-2022 point to the fact that organizations are becoming more conscious of their security posture. Reportedly, organizations are implementing a cybersecurity mesh architecture to reduce the impact of security incidents by 90 percent. Around 60 percent of companies are expected to adopt cybersecurity risk as a primary basis in undertaking third-party transactions and engagements with other businesses. Additionally, 40 percent of boards of directors are expected to have their respective dedicated cybersecurity committees supervised by at least one board member who has the competence or qualifications for the role.
Gartner also points out that 30 percent of enterprises are set to adopt cloud-delivered secure web gateway, cloud access security brokers, zero-trust network access, and firewall-as-a-service from the same vendor. For years, organizations have relied on different providers for various security needs, especially firewall security. In the years to come, there is an expected shift towards the consolidation and optimization of security solutions to achieve greater efficiency and enhanced management of security controls.
Manufacturing companies have numerous concerns to attend to, especially with the disruptions and changes brought about by the pandemic and economic struggles. It is reassuring to know that they are becoming security-aware and are even moving towards more efficient cybersecurity systems.
Manufacturing is a Favorite Ransomware Target
Datto's Global State of the Channel Ransomware Report says that manufacturing is one of the most targeted industries by ransomware perpetrators. This reality is expected to persist in 2022.
“It’s not surprising that Construction and Manufacturing are top targets for ransomware. These industries are in a constant wave that flows with the ups and downs of the economy. Because of this, much of their work is project-based and recurring revenue is rare. As a result, it makes it difficult to invest in IT staffing or IT services that require monthly fees,” the report writes. Manufacturers are always pressed to focus their resources on how to boost their operations at the expense of non-core functions such as cybersecurity.
Cybercriminals that employ ransomware know that it is easier to attack manufacturing companies because they do not pay that much attention to their security posture and they do not have adequate expertise to detect and mitigate attacks. Add to this the reality that manufacturers cannot afford any suspension in their activities because it would result in humongous losses and reputational damage.
That’s why many manufacturing companies hit by ransomware prefer to just pay the ransom instead of temporarily shutting down operations to address a cyber attack. The average ransomware demand in 2021 was more than half a million dollars. For many companies, this is a smaller price to pay compared to losing millions with several days of suspended operations and adverse consequences on brand image.
A Need to Address the IT/OT Convergence
Many manufacturing operations have already started bringing together their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) ecosystems in a bid to improve operational efficiency and customer service. This has resulted in new security challenges. A Deloitte analysis report says that "there are a number of areas where people, process, and technology overlap between the IT and OT ecosystems―areas where respective strategies need to be in sync. The reality of these technologies and how they are used, however, is often markedly different."
OT expenditure and acquisitions are generally decided by factory floor point persons with minimal involvement from corporate IT departments or cybersecurity teams. This creates a weakness in the cyber defense posture of organizations with multiple technologies employed and some that do not go through the scrutiny and monitoring of the IT department.
Moreover, the use of IoT devices in manufacturing is blurring the separation between information technology and operational technology. It makes it inevitable to confront the need to establish better security policies and measures that can help prevent the emergence of new security flaws, some of which take time to be discovered amid the hustle and bustle in the manufacturing business setting.
The Lingering Impact of the Pandemic
COVID-19 continues to push businesses to go online. This is not just about reaching out to customers over the internet but also the normalization of web-based activities including the work-from-home setup and the remote monitoring and operation of facilities.
Many organizations still fail to become proficient with these new arrangements in working and doing business. In the process of learning the ropes, they end up creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities like unwittingly opening backdoors that are exploited by cybercriminals.
A manufacturing company may create a quality inspection system, for example, that is directly linked to the production line to enable remote control over equipment and other resources. Organizations with inadequate expertise and experience in setups like this can possibly cause the defeat of their own security controls with misconfigurations or the use of hardware and software that have vulnerabilities that can be taken advantage of by threat actors.
Also, the software used by manufacturing companies for their equipment, especially in advanced automated operations, may be administered by a vendor or third-party. The vendor takes responsibility for the system’s updates and bug fixes. However, this infers the possibility of cyber-attackers targeting the software supply chain instead of directly attacking an organization, similar to what happened with SolarWinds.
Manufacturing companies need to quickly get accustomed to the pandemic-induced new arrangements of operations while being mindful of the cyber threats. It is unlikely for things to return to the previous “normal,” so the logical thing to do is to adapt and do better.
Cybersecurity’s Crucial Role in the Manufacturing Industry
Cybersecurity in the manufacturing industry remains to be a precarious affair. The risks abound and are ceaselessly evolving and becoming aggressive. The silver lining, though, is that manufacturers are becoming more mindful of their cybersecurity. Their security postures still have a lot of room for improvement, but they are no longer as naive and weak as they used to be several years before.
As businesses go digital and online, it is essential to embrace cybersecurity and consider it as one of the pillars of business operations given the frequency, relentlessness, and wicked ingenuity of cyberattacks. Downplaying the threats and failing to prepare for the attacks can lead to disastrous consequences.