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Industry 4.0 Implementation: Steps to Ensure Robust Cybersecurity

By following these guidelines, manufacturers can uplevel their security stance, protect their investments and take meaningful steps toward establishing a robust cybersecurity strategy.

Patricia R. Toth

January 18, 2024

4 Min Read
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Olivier Le Moal via Adobe Stock

Effective cybersecurity practices play a crucial role in safeguarding Industry 4.0’s cyber-physical systems that rely on the internet and cloud-based software for advanced manufacturing and automation, and their intricate connections within the facility. These connections are vital for ensuring that manufacturing systems consistently provide accurate and timely data, indispensable for the success of the industry 4.0 model.

In the past, enterprise systems within manufacturing facilities operated within their borders. Physical and electronic separations existed between the shop floor and the company's office functions. Very few production systems were interconnected or linked to the internet. This approach, called ‘air gapping,’ provided a high level of protection. By remaining disconnected from potential risks associated with connectivity, manufacturers were considered unattractive targets to attackers, deterring them from making the effort of embedding malware.

Today the ubiquity of the internet and mobile devices has blurred the once-distinct lines between conventional information technology systems (IT) and operational technologies (OT), which include production systems and other equipment. And the rise of the hybrid and all remote work force has naturally further eroded the boundaries that used to exist. At the same time, there has been a notable increase in attempts to breach the once secure air gap. As a consequence, the manufacturing sector is now one of the prime targets for cybersecurity attacks.

Related:2023 Cyber Risk and Resiliency Report: How CIOs Are Dueling Disaster in 2023

In the world of cybersecurity, there is a foundational concept called the CIA triad. This is an acronym that stands for confidentiality, integrity, and availability:

  • Confidentiality is all about protecting a company’s sensitive company information. It's like having a secret vault for manufacturing data. 

  • Integrity is the guardian that ensures a company's data and gear are trustworthy and always accurate.

  • Availability is the VIP pass for timely access to company data and equipment. Organizations want their systems to be available when needed.

There are other attributes that can join the party, like privacy and safety. But these three -- confidentiality, integrity, and availability -- are the rock-solid, time-tested principles required in the Industry 4.0 realm; the golden rules of cybersecurity.

Identifying the Threat

Manufacturing systems face a range of threats that need safeguarding. For small and medium-sized manufacturers, these threats typically fall into three major categories:

Related:What Will It Take to Adopt Secure by Design Principles?

Conventional IT Threats: These are the threats that most companies are already acquainted with such as ransomware, data loss or theft, and intellectual property breaches. They typically zero in on a company's IT infrastructure and its employees, often through sneaky phishing attacks (fake email offers, fraudulent security alerts) or exploiting weak passwords. These traditional attacks can result in not only lost time and money but also damage a manufacturer's reputation and relationships with business partners and supply chains. 

Operational Technology Challenges: Industrial control systems, Industrial IoT, and other shop-floor equipment used to be considered secure because they were kept separate. Today these systems are often connected to a company's network and the internet. This opens the door for attackers to compromise them. Successful attacks on the operational tech environment can jeopardize proprietary company information, disrupt the manufacturing process, and affect product quality.

Customized Software Vulnerabilities: Manufacturers regularly use software that has been tweaked, modified, or tailored to meet the specific needs of their operations. These customizations may inadvertently introduce security weak points. What's more, to prevent equipment malfunctions, the software isn't always kept up-to-date or patched to address newly discovered vulnerabilities. If the custom software wasn't initially designed with security as a top priority or isn't correctly implemented and maintained, it can serve as a potential entry point for accessing other systems.

Related:SEC Cyber Disclosure Rules Usher in a New Era for CISOs

Some Simple and Practical First Steps Toward Security

Here are some actionable steps to safeguard manufacturing systems:

  • Cybersecurity Responsiveness Training: Implement a cybersecurity training program for both new hires and existing employees. This program should educate them on appropriate behaviors, how to spot rogue activities, and the steps to take when encountering a problem. You can explore a variety of free and cost-effective online cybersecurity training resources, by NIST.

  • Annual Cybersecurity Risk Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment on an annual basis. This assessment will help identify the specific cybersecurity risks that require attention, ensuring that an organization’s resources are focused where they matter most. Refer to "Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals" for a straightforward guide on conducting risk assessments.

  • Engage with Service Providers: Have meaningful conversations about cybersecurity with service providers. Ensure that cloud service providers have robust data protection measures in place to prevent misuse and unauthorized disclosure. For cleaning or maintenance providers, prioritize trustworthiness, and for critical utilities like power and internet, seek assurances of reliable uptime.

  • Supplier Cybersecurity Practices: Gain insight into the cybersecurity practices of suppliers. Organizations can request that each supplier complete an assessment questionnaire, a valuable tool for assessing the cybersecurity expertise within an organization.

  • Risk Tolerance and Cybersecurity Practices: Define risk tolerance levels and determine the specific cybersecurity practices intended for adoption. For a structured approach to reducing cybersecurity risks in the manufacturing sector, check out "Cybersecurity Framework 1.1 Manufacturing Profile."

By following these steps, manufacturers can uplevel their security stance, protect their investments and take meaningful steps toward establishing a robust cybersecurity strategy.

About the Author(s)

Patricia R. Toth

Principal, FairWinds Cybersecurity

Patricia R. Toth has over 35 years of experience in cybersecurity. Most recently she was the Cybersecurity Services Manager at the NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). At MEP, Pat developed the cybersecurity services across the MEP National Network of 51 MEP Centers. She led the MEP National Network Cybersecurity Working Group, authored NIST Handbook 162 “NIST MEP Cybersecurity Self-Assessment Handbook for Assessing NIST SP 800-171 Security Requirements in Response to DFARS Cybersecurity Requirements”. Pat has written numerous blogs and articles on cybersecurity for small and mid-sized manufacturers, she is a nationally recognized expert and has been greatly sought after as a speaker at various conferences and events.

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