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Cyber Security Remains a Significant Challenge for Manufacturers & Distributors

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Modern manufacturing continues to evolve providing incredible enhancements to current processes, in turn exposing the underlying technology and the organization to additional risks.
October 26, 2017

Modern manufacturing continues to evolve providing incredible enhancements to current processes, in turn exposing the underlying technology and the organization to additional risks.

Disruptive improvements in technology, such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), continue to link manufacturing technologies together – not just in a single shop or building, but across geographic areas and organizations.

The connectivity between the computers and industrial control systems controlling the manufacturing are sending and collecting data, making modifications based on the data and feeding the information back into business information systems for analysis.

Unfortunately, the networks, computers and control systems were not designed with cyber security in mind – in fact, some of the underlying technology was designed to be isolated from all other computer communications and does not handle “internet” style communications well.

Using web-enabled and advanced communications techniques with these systems to link them together directly – virtually and through the cloud – exposes the data, the manufacturing systems and your proprietary information to additional risks.

The data being transmitted, created and collected from modern manufacturing is susceptible to disruption and corruption, including replacement with fake data as well as theft of the information.

Recent events have demonstrated improperly secured Internet of Things devices can be hijacked and used to cause problems across the world. The IIoT is subject to the same kind of hijacking and misuse if left exposed to the internet without proper precautions.

Some of the challenges are basic, for example changing default passwords, but keeping hundreds or thousands of devices up-to-date with configuration changes and patches can become cumbersome very quickly.

The devices themselves can also be disrupted by overloading them with too much data, causing mini-outages that can cause cascading problems in the manufacturing flow.

Isolating from the internet if possible and consciously addressing security configurations as devices are deployed are important to protecting the manufacturing environment.

The traffic between devices can also be affected by corrupting, intercepting, replacing or even stealing data. Encrypting traffic between devices requires additional hardware or software, management and configuration work, so most industrial devices forego encryption.

The downside to foregoing encryption is that it can be used to check the integrity of the data transmission, validate if the sender is legitimate and make it very difficult to sniff the data as it transits a network connection.

Ideally the devices should be isolated onto an industrial control systems network, limiting the amount of data traffic in the area and isolating the data communications from outsiders. Strong consideration should be given to encrypting the traffic both to protect the confidentiality of the data and to add a layer of integrity checking to the underlying data transmission.

Disruptive technologies may fundamentally change the supply chain, customization capabilities or the manufacturing processes, but they will still use your data and your private business information to effectively operate and deliver value to your clients. The Biggest Disruptor of All


Every solution needs to consider what level of confidentiality (authentication and encryption), integrity (encryption and error checking) and availability (both up-time and recoverability) are needed for the type of manufacturing. You must also consider the exposure to external networks, key interfaces and communications points with other solutions as well as the people allowed to access the solution and information.

Consider the following recommendations from the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations:

  • Implement application whitelisting – Can detect and help prevent attempted execution of malware uploaded by adversaries
  • Ensure proper configuration/patch management – Safe importation and implementation of trusted patches can help keep systems secure
  • Reduce your attack surface area – Isolate systems from untrusted networks and disable unused ports and services
  • Build a defendable environment – Segment networks into logical enclaves and restrict machine-to-machine communication paths
  • Manage authentication – Implement multi-factor authentication where possible and follow least-privilege principles
  • Implement secure remote access – Limit remote accesses, consider monitor only access and eliminate persistent remote connections
  • Monitor and respond – Perform system baselines and monitor for changes, develop detailed response and restoration plans

Disruptive technologies should disrupt your processes, the status quo and your perceptions. It will take conscious effort and a systematic approach to secure your technologies so that you can avoid a literal disruption to your disruptive technologies.


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