Hackers are getting smarter.

In the arms race of operational technology (OT) cybersecurity, the discrete manufacturing industry has become a shiny new target for bad actors, driven by financial gain, espionage, activism, or even sabotage.

And they’re becoming worryingly successful.

Last year, McKinsey reported that OT cyberattacks increased by 140% from 2020 to 2021. In addition, 22 of the 64 publicly reported cyberattacks in 2021 “had physical consequences”, with the estimated damages amounting to “$140 million per incident.”

And this is just one of many worries that OT cybersecurity professionals face every day in the discrete manufacturing industry.

Sound all too familiar?

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some key challenges that you’re likely to encounter in OT cybersecurity for discrete manufacturing, as well as some of the solutions to counter them.

Legacy Systems and Equipment

The Challenge: Outdated Means Vulnerable

Discrete manufacturing has been around since the 18th century, with the Industrial Revolution heralding a major shift from handmade individual items to machinery production.

While discrete manufacturing technology has progressed over time to keep pace with modern demands, there’s one thing that lags behind…

Many discrete manufacturing facilities still use legacy systems and specialized equipment that may lack the necessary built-in security features.

These systems crucial for production were often designed without prioritizing cybersecurity, making them susceptible to cyber threats.

But there’s a problem: Upgrading or replacing these legacy systems on highly specialized equipment is costly and disruptive to manufacturing processes. So it’s more important than ever to address cybersecurity gaps in the existing infrastructure.

The Solution: Prepare and Update

The first step is to implement network segmentation and access controls. That way, you can help isolate critical OT systems from potential threats.

Network segmentation involves dividing the network into smaller, isolated segments. This helps contain any potential security breaches, while restricting the lateral movement of cyber attackers. This reduces the risk from cyber threats outside the company.

Access controls make sure that only authorized personnel have access to critical systems and data. You can implement role-based access control (RBAC) to limit system and data access by assigning specific privileges to authorized users based on their job roles. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access from within the company.

Another method to enhancing your cybersecurity in discrete manufacturing is to invest in security gateways or firewalls specifically designed for industrial control systems (ICS).

Interconnected Systems

The Challenge: Securing Connections

Discrete manufacturing involves interconnected systems such as PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems to coordinate its processes.

But because these OT systems are so interconnected, this makes securing the network even more challenging.

That’s because the complexity of these different interconnections creates multiple entry points for potential cyberattacks.

The main challenge is to maintain these interconnections between multiple systems to keep production processes running smoothly, while also preventing unauthorized access or manipulation.

The Solution: Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

The good news is, there is a way to enhance overall OT system resilience. Implementing an in-depth defense strategy, including multiple layers of security, is essential.

For example, network monitoring tools and anomaly detection systems can identify unusual patterns or activities.

Network monitoring tools analyze network traffic continuously, detecting unexpected data flows or device communication, while anomaly detection systems, powered by machine learning algorithms, identify deviations from normal behavior.

Both of these solutions help with real-time identification of potential security incidents and facilitate prompt responses.

The Human Factor and Training

The Challenge: Untrained and Unaware

Not everybody working in discrete manufacturing environments will have the necessary training in cybersecurity best practices.

That means people without this key knowledge might do something unintentionally like clicking on phishing emails or using insecure USB drives which can introduce vulnerabilities into an OT system.

The challenge is providing targeted cybersecurity training that specifically addresses the unique risks and behaviors associated with discrete manufacturing processes.

The Solution: Education

Regular cybersecurity training programs, tailored specifically to discrete manufacturing processes, will help to raise awareness and educate employees about potential risks. This could cover areas including:

  • Phishing recognition
  • Proper use of removable media
  • Adherence to security policies

“But how?” you might ask.

One tip is to work on programs that focus on specific challenges within your discrete manufacturing processes, incorporating practical exercises and simulations to enhance your team’s ability to recognize and respond to cybersecurity threats effectively.

And to make sure that your training is up to date, make sure you regularly update any training materials or courses to reinforce a culture of cybersecurity awareness.

Supply Chain Risks

The Challenge: Multiple Entry Points

The supply chain for discrete manufacturing includes the procurement of everything from raw materials and components to subassemblies.

Discrete manufacturing often involves a complex supply chain with multiple vendors and suppliers usually more and more as a company grows.

While this is great news for your commercial potential, it’s a different story for your cybersecurity.

With multiple vendors and suppliers, each entity in your supply chain becomes a potential entry point for cyber threats. So the more entities you have, the more vulnerabilities you may have at various stages.

This poses a major challenge: assessing and mitigating cybersecurity risks across the entire chain to preserve the integrity of the final product.

The Solution: Lead by Example

As the old saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. Collaborate with your suppliers to make sure they’re adhering to cybersecurity best practices.

Establishing secure communication channels and carrying out regular cybersecurity assessments of your suppliers will also mitigate the risks from your supply chain.

You can even set out your OT cybersecurity expectations with suppliers in your contracts, making regular supplier assessments to ensure they are staying compliant.

And with everyone working together to share threat intelligence within your supply chain, you can collectively strengthen your defenses and stay one step ahead of cyberattacks.

Limited Security Standards

The Challenge: Lack of Protocols

Unlike IT environments, there can be a lack of standardized security protocols and practices in OT environments, especially within discrete manufacturing.

In turn, this can lead to inconsistent cybersecurity practices and varying levels of vulnerability.

Added to that is the hugely diverse array of equipment and technologies in discrete manufacturing, which creates even more complexity in establishing uniform security standards.

So the challenge here is developing and implementing industry-specific security standards which also address the unique needs of the discrete manufacturing sector.

The Solution: Getting up to Standard

Adhering to industry-specific security standards, like ISA/IEC 62443, offers a framework for implementing cybersecurity measures. By regularly updating and patching your OT systems according to industry guidelines, you can easily enhance your overall cybersecurity.

And as cybersecurity isn’t a “one-time thing”, make sure you consistently review and update your security protocols to align with those ever-changing industry best practices and standards.

Along with staying informed through your supply chain, you can also stay informed about emerging threats and recommended security measures by actively engaging with industry forums and associations.

Integration of IT and OT

The Challenge: Securing Integrations

Converging IT and OT has brought a whole new onslaught of vulnerabilities and challenges for cybersecurity professionals from diverse technologies to security protocols.

All of these factors create potential attack surfaces that demand a coordinated cybersecurity approach.

In discrete manufacturing integrating IT and OT is increasingly common for improved efficiency and data-driven decision-making. But the challenge lies in achieving a seamless and secure integration, while also addressing the distinct cybersecurity requirements of both domains.

The Solution: Communication Is Key

One easy solution to this issue is to establish clear communication channels including joint training sessions between IT and OT teams, ensuring everyone follows a collaborative approach to cybersecurity.

In addition, security measures should be implemented that monitor both IT and OT networks and identify potential threats spanning across these domains. Some security solutions include:

  • Intrusion detection systems
  • Unified threat management systems
  • Integrated security information and event management (SIEM) solutions

Implementing these security measures bridges the gap between IT and OT environments, and helps you stay on top of cyber threats.

Data Integrity and Privacy Concerns

The Challenge: Integrity and Privacy

Maintaining the integrity and privacy of sensitive manufacturing data is crucial, given that manufacturing processes generate and depend on substantial amounts of data which is often proprietary.

In discrete manufacturing, where products with detailed specifications are created, the challenge is to safeguard the integrity and privacy of information such as product data, production schedules, and quality control information.

This protection is necessary to maintain the consistency and reliability of the entire manufacturing process, and defend against espionage and proprietary data theft.

The Solution: Getting it Under Control

For sensitive data in transit and at rest, make sure you implement encryption mechanisms to keep your data secure. This prevents unauthorized access during transmission and storage.

This means you’ll also need to regularly audit and monitor access to critical data to detect unauthorized activities. Access controls, for instance, limit data access to authorized team members.

Additionally, set up data backup and recovery plans to mitigate the impact of potential breaches or data losses.

These strategies don’t just relate to the manufacturing process addressing these challenges calls for a holistic approach that covers technological solutions, employee training, and collaboration across the organization and its supply chain.

Continuous monitoring, routine risk assessments, and a proactive cybersecurity stance are vital for safeguarding discrete manufacturing operations.

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