Head of Cybersecurity, Design & Planning Automation, Elvira Cedergren, looks at ways you can improve cybersecurity on the factory floor.

Digitalisation is critical in the modern factory, though this increases vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Taking the correct approach to cybersecurity can help to minimise this risk.

Machine shops are undergoing a revolution, not least in the way they have embraced connectivity. By accessing digital data remotely – and instantly – manufacturers can boost productivity, quickly diagnose machine problems and streamline operations.

However, cyber-attacks are always a potential hazard, with industrial companies at increasing risk of being hacked. This can scare some away from making the necessary digital modernisations that can enhance manufacturing operations.

There are many benefits to digitalisation, but each can potentially be undermined by the threat of a cyber-attack. For instance, cloud-based software can bring huge efficiency gains – yet are potentially easier to breach software installed on local computers.

Phishing threat

It’s true that cybercrime – from phishing emails to targeted cyber-attacks – is a potential threat to all businesses. However, users can follow a number of simple rules that will protect them against all but the most cunning of hackers.

One is to choose strong passwords. It’s common practice to share passwords in machine shops – and his should be avoided. Everybody should have their own dedicated username and password. In addition, avoid simple, predictable passwords: even ones that seem complex can be easily cracked by cybercriminals. Instead, randomly generated passwords – with strings of sixteen or more characters – are far more effective.

Another key line of defence is to train staff to recognise the signs of a potential cyber-attack. In a recent survey, only one-third of those in the manufacturing sector thought staff took cybersecurity seriously. Machine-shop staff should recognise common tricks – such as phishing – that are used to harvest usernames, passwords and other sensitive data.

Thankfully, there are many freely available resources that provide an overview of cybersecurity for manufacturers. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a good place to start.

CNC protection

Manufacturers should map the computers and network infrastructure in their machine shop and assess the potential risk. What might happen – and what security measures are needed?

It is obvious that mobile devices, laptops, PCs and servers in the network should have the latest security measures installed. But what about CNC machines? Malware could affect their programming, causing them to create defective – and potentially dangerous – parts. A hacked CNC machine could also be used to steal proprietary information.

CNC tools and other systems can be protected by strong firewalls – barriers that sit between private computer networks and the Internet. Strong authentication methods help to deny access to unauthorised users. In addition, it is wise to keep operating systems and software updated, as security flaws in older versions can easily be exploited.

Rebuffing attacks

‘Divide and conquer’ is typically seen as a plan of attack – but dividing a network into smaller ‘segments’ can help to isolate a cyber-attack if it happens.

This is called network segmentation. Here, a threat can be contained in one part of the network, which prevents it from spreading more widely. Small security incidents can be quarantined – which protects organisations from breaches.

It is vital to have a contingency plan in place, in case of a security breach. This will guide decision-making during a cybersecurity crisis. Without it, your company could face additional attacks, take longer to recover and lose more money.

Aspects of such a plan include: developing a chain of command for reporting incidents; creating a ‘quick response’ guide; backing up data; and knowing how to communicate a data breach to customers.

While industrial operations are at increased risk from hacking, there are layers of protection in place. Suppliers of cloud-based software, for instance, build their reputations on high security standards. It is also vital to source software from a responsible vendor, who can explain all aspects of their approach to security – such as protecting multi-site networks.

The benefits of digitalisation in manufacturing are huge. The threat of hacking is very real – but can be mitigated by choosing secure systems – and staying vigilant.

For more information, please contact us or download the cybersecurity whitepaper here.