Cyber security is the new normal in the manufacturing industry

Cyber security is a hot topic globally, and also in the manufacturing industry. The discussion is welcome, as Internet of Things also extends to industrial devices. A powerful industrial machine cannot be connected to the Internet without any worries. If responsibilities aren’t taken seriously, major damage can be caused to businesses, the environment, and even to human lives.

Internet of Things has led companies across industries to connect their devices online. This is the case also in the manufacturing industry, though it is a very peculiar environment for IoT development. Huge industrial equipment is often old as they are expensive investments and built to last. Therefore, hardware and software upgrades can be difficult or extremely expensive, especially if the manufacturer is no longer in business or documentation is inadequate. When such a device is connected online, the security risks are particularly high.

Security risks can lead to troublemaking or disaster

There have been several cases around the world where an industrial company has been hit by a cyber-attack. The most traditional motive is industrial espionage that aims to improve the attackers competitive edge or cause harm to competitors. Attacks can also happen due to intergovernmental political quarrel, a hackers desire to show off, or pure fun of troublemaking.

The attack is often done with a surgeon's precision. Malicious software is installed via a flash drive or open network and a target is identified by malware sniffing device drivers and software. The malware then installs a virus, takes control of the device and operates it in an abnormal way, destroying important software or possibly damaging the entire device. A security attack can happen also during the design phase. Industrial product development consists of many stages during which an attacker may be able to cause harm. For example, an attack to the design software can affect the strength of the load-bearing steel beam or the lifetime of product materials.

Whatever the motive or the target of cyber-attacks, consequences can be particularly serious in the manufacturing industry. Hacking a device weighing tens of tonnes can cause economic, environmental and personal injury. An attack may result in the company breaking laws and regulations unintentionally, losing confidential information and damaging its reputation in the industry. At its most serious, a cyber-attack can endanger human lives and even cause commotion in national security.

Cyber security is always influenced by man

In the manufacturing industry, cyber security is always influenced by the people in control. In some companies, the mechanics of industrial machines are still controlled by a computer with a 90’s operating system and software with no guaranteed security. If a worker is surfing online while on a coffee break, he or she can unknowingly contaminate the computer and the equipment it operates. Damage can also occur with brand new equipment if they are controlled by a person who is unaware of industrial processes and their cyber security needs.

Cyber security is not a one-time investment. It’s not enough that a security issue is only recognized, it also has to be fixed. At the same time, both the devices and the people who control them need to be constantly up to date with the latest developments. At its best, cyber security becomes a natural part of everyday life –  the new normal in the manufacturing industry.


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