The fourth industrial revolution or industry 4.0 has brought tremendous opportunity to the manufacturing industry. With industry 4.0 came the conception of the smart factory. A smart factory is an interconnected network of machines, communication mechanisms, and computing power. Smart factories have grown in popularity because they use advanced technologies to analyze data, drive process, and encourage intelligent automation. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that business leaders need to accept that digital transformation is an urgent priority in order to stay competitive and resilient. With the innovation and growth that this transformation has brought, there are also new risks and challenges.

In 2021, manufacturing was the most targeted industry for cyberattacks. Industry leaders believe that these attacks will increase with fifty one percent of them being attacks on smart factories. Unfortunately, forty seven percent of manufacturers say that cybersecurity is not a high-level concern. The benefits of transforming a factory into a digital one appeal to manufacturing industry leaders, however, transformation can easily be undone if cybersecurity is not made a high priority. The industrial internet of things or IIOT devices make smart factories a prime target for cybercriminals.

One of the challenges of securing smart factories against cyberthreats is finding the talent to mitigate these threats. There is a severe labor shortage in information technology right now. This is where managed service providers have come in. A managed service provider (MSP) delivers services, such as network, application, infrastructure, and security, via ongoing and regular support and active administration on customers’ premises. They can also maintain their customer’s infrastructure in their own data center (hosting), or in a third-party data center.

MSPs take the responsibility of securing the smart factory against cyberattacks through monitoring, audits, employee training, and testing. Many internal IT teams say that their cybersecurity is lacking because they are overwhelmed by the vast array of IIOT (industrial internet of things) devices. These devices are meant to track and prevent attacks, but they must be maintained and tested on a regular basis. Internal IT departments may not have the time or capability to do this. Tekscape is a national managed service provider to smart manufacturers and provides the resources and services to mitigate and recover from cyber-attacks. Today we are going to go over common cyberattacks on smart factories.

Before we start, here are some definitions of terms we will use today.

IIOT – The industrial internet of things (IIoT) refers to the extension and use of the internet of things (IoT) in industrial sectors and applications. It has a strong focus on machine-to-machine communication, big data, and machine learning.

Malware – Short for “malicious software,” refers to any intrusive software developed by cybercriminals (often called “hackers”) to steal data and damage or destroy computers and computer systems.

Hacker – A person skilled in information technology who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means.

Threat actor – A threat actor, also known as a malicious actor, is any person or organization that intentionally causes harm in the digital environment.

Industrial Control Systems – An information system used to control industrial processes such as manufacturing, product handling, production, and distribution.

Man in the middle attack – A man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attack is a type of cyber-attack in which the attacker secretly intercepts and relays messages between two parties who believe they are communicating directly with each other.

Vulnerability exploitation attack – Any cyber-attack that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in applications, networks, operating systems, or hardware.

Industrial control system – (ICS) is a collective term used to describe different types of control systems and associated instrumentation, which includes the devices, systems, networks, and controls used to operate and/or automate industrial processes.

Vulnerability exploitation cyber-attacks in smart factories

When a plant decides to make the switch to becoming a smart factory, its entire system becomes connected to a single network. A vulnerability exploitation attack can occur in any of the devices connected to this network. This attack is using forcing software to act in a way that it is not intended. The point of these attacks is to glean information about the facility’s current cybersecurity defenses. A good example of this is Stuxnet malware which used exploited vulnerabilities to target critical infrastructure in a smart factory in the United Kingdom. To avoid a vulnerability exploitation attack, a managed service provider needs to emphasize good security practices such as regular testing and patching.

Malware in industrial control systems (ICS)

Data from past attacks show that malware deployment is the most common threat to smart factories. Malware that makes its way into the network of a factory can compromise industrial control systems. There is a specialized Trojan virus call Triton that is a significant threat to industrial safety systems. It was specifically created to manipulate these systems and can easily shut down a plant’s operations. Incidents like this are the reason penetration testing and regular security audits are so important.

When hackers deploy malware, their usual delivery method is tailored in a way that can do the most damage and exploit the target’s defenses unnoticed. Other common techniques to deliver cyberattacks on smart factories involve taking advantage of employee error. Without cyber awareness training, employees may fall victim to social engineering, phishing attacks, and ransomware attacks. Proper education on the dangers of cyberattacks and how to not fall victim to them is imperative to all smart factory employees.

Smart factories and man in the middle attacks

A man in the middle attack involves a threat actor infiltrating a communication method that the factory is using. Most smart factories require different types of communication channels in order for the plant to run efficiently. A man in the middle attack can even infiltrate the communication process between a control system and a corresponding device. The point of these attacks is to relay information to malicious third parties. It can also allow the hacker to input their own code or data. A common purpose of man in the middle attacks is to modify a smart factory’s firmware upgrades. Without properly working firmware, the software installed in the factory’s hardware cannot execute commands correctly. Making communication channels secure is critical to the smart factory’s entire system.

Tekscape has been a recognized managed IT services company since 2007, headquartered in New York City. Currently, we operate via two physical locations in the United States. Based on our engineers’ deep technical knowledge and leveraging our strategic relationships with the world’s leading cloud providers, Tekscape excels at supporting companies globally with information technology solutions. Tekscape services include managed IT, managed security services, cloud computing, network, advisory services, compliance, and collaboration.