cybersecurity in manufacturing

Cybersecurity in manufacturing centers around the management and protection of Operational Technology. OT consists of computing and communication systems that control and manage industrial operations with a focus on the physical devices and processes they use. But with the continued evolution of manufacturing — including industrial transformation and Industry 4.0 — the need for cybersecurity designed for OT has never been greater.

OT, for decades, has relied on computers to monitor the physical state of a production system and covers a wide range of industrial operations, from pipelines and utilities to metal fabrication and corrugated product plants. 

Traditionally, OT was always air-gapped or siloed. This means it worked without being connected to external networks or in many cases even digital technology. A simple Windows 95 machine, for example, could be used to guide a multi-million dollar metal press in a manufacturing environment. Massive pieces of machinery, run and monitored by OT, are built to last decades — not years. You didn’t worry about replacing that Windows 95 box because it was working and the expensive equipment it was running was essential to the business and not due to be replaced for a very long time. 

Welcome to the Convergence

However, the IT/OT convergence has narrowed the gap between the previously separate realms of OT and IT (information technology). More and more, IT and OT networks are becoming interconnected and working through the same network. This has provided more convenience and efficiency in managing OT components. That previously air-gapped Windows 95 box? It’s still running your press, but it’s now also connected to the corporate internet and/or the internet so it can be accessed remotely or provide real-time updates on industrial performance. 

But adding OT to your network or the cloud also introduces a new range of cybersecurity threats that weren’t present before for OT systems. This increases the risk greatly for manufacturers reliant on OT. You can no longer assume legacy elements are safe or that industrial processes or machinery won’t be targeted by malicious actors. 

This has come into sharp focus in the last decade. The Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021 was one of the most visible examples of a cyber attack on OT components and displayed the potential for massive disruption caused by such vulnerabilities. The incident caused a complete five-day shutdown of pipeline operations supplying gasoline and jet fuel to the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard. 

If cybersecurity in manufacturing wasn’t top of mind before that attack, it is now. Decision-makers and boards across the country need to examine their vulnerabilities in OT and improve their resilience. In 2022, manufacturing was the most targeted sector for ransomware attacks, according to an IBM report. 

Keep on Track with Tekscape: We are built to support your technology and keep businesses running. Reach out to us today to learn more.  

Cybersecurity in Manufacturing Involves Different Priorities

IT and OT, while both dealing with the technology that transmits and safeguards data, operate within different spheres. They have different goals and serve different purposes. So while your internal IT team or security personnel may be concerned about OT vulnerabilities and have processes for protecting IT systems, those solutions don’t translate seamlessly into cybersecurity in manufacturing.

Some key differences to remember:

  1. For OT, the priority is the safety and availability of equipment and processes. This essential machinery has to remain operational. For IT, the focus is data security.
  2. While IT incidents are more frequent, OT incidents are more disruptive. The loss of key production equipment, even for a few hours or a day, can be crippling to a manufacturer. 
  3. While IT security updates are common and products have relatively short life spans, OT updates and patches are far less frequent. Many production plants operate on 24x7x365 schedules, with no or few planned maintenance periods. Patches for OT networks are rarely done.
  4. Designed to run for decades, OT systems often use outdated software that is liable to break down or crash when exposed to some IT protective measures, like basic vulnerability scans.

Improving cybersecurity in manufacturing means acknowledging these differences and understanding a different toolkit and approach is needed. Security experts with experience in this space are critical.

Tools for Improving OT Cybersecurity

Building better security for OT elements in your organization isn’t as simple as upgrading your network devices and buying a new security software solution. It’s paramount to align expectations and build a dialogue between OT and IT personnel in order to bring both sides together. 

Remember, OT cybersecurity needs different policies. Quick fixes or rapidly deployed software that are prevalent in strengthening IT security won’t fit OT processes. Manufacturing needs to be operational to keep the business running; a more careful approach that avoids disruption and costly off-line time is essential. The same end-point security tools and rapid-fire patching seen with IT could break essential processes in an OT environment. This leads to more internal pushback and a likely worse security state than before. 

The right cybersecurity services provider can help manufacturers craft a comprehensive plan for tackling OT cybersecurity concerns.

Know What You Have — Conduct network and physical audits or inventory to see what elements exist and how critical they are. Seek feedback from OT personnel to find out what’s essential and what is most concerning. A full assessment gives you a strong starting point. 

Develop Strategies — Once you have an understanding of the environment, solutions can be created. Is there vital equipment nearly at its end-of-life point? Find a way to segment it to reduce risk. Are there components best served with patching? Can you change configurations to better protect legacy elements? Beyond these considerations, you can also develop standard models governing remote access. Get rid of remote access methods that lie outside of IT’s knowledge, like vendor-managed access. Create one or two solutions for access and funnel all requests for access through them. 

Tackle Cybersecurity in Manufacturing with Tekscape

For more than a decade, Tekscape has served as a business-focused, managed IT services provider. It’s our mission to help guide businesses through digital transformation to improve security resiliency, smooth operations, and empower them to reach their goals. Our comprehensive step-by-step onboarding process means we’re able to act quickly to get your specific program running with a minimum of disruption. 

We have specialized experience and expertise in serving manufacturers to help them protect legacy OT components, and implement new solutions. Our complete line of cybersecurity capabilities covers everything from assessments and managed security to awareness training and cyber insurance. Connect with our team today to learn how to take a more proactive approach to cybersecurity in manufacturing.