Cybersecurity in ICS and manufacturing systems is, unfortunately, lacking. Data shows that attacks on the manufacturing sector are increasing. One study, titled Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), showed that 40% of manufacturing firms were targets of cyberattacks in just one year. Out of those targets, 38% suffered more than $100 million in monetary losses. With attacks on the rise for the manufacturing sector, it’s important to ask why.

Why Are Manufacturing Firm Cyberattacks on The Rise?

One reason that has propelled the manufacturing sector into a war with cybercriminals is the pandemic. In 2020, there was a 300% increase in cyberattacks targeting the manufacturing industry. With more employees forced to work remotely came more poorly secured endpoints for hackers to break into. This left manufacturing firms more vulnerable than ever to threat actors who utilize phishing and ransomware scams to steal data.

The Reason Threat Actors Target Manufacturing Firms

The most common reason why cybercriminals target manufacturers is a simple one: profit. In many phishing and ransomware schemes, valuable information or entire networks are either sold to the highest bidder or held for ransom until the company pays the threat actor what they demand. Some people advise not to entertain these threat actors, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The longer a threat actor denies a manufacturer access to their network, the more money the manufacturer loses. They can lose millions a day, and in today’s interconnected world, it’s not just one company that gets shut down, but a slew of them.

Supply chains have only grown larger and larger, and attacks on these chains are some of the most widespread and effective attacks today. The modern age has brought with it a wide array of vulnerable endpoints. Through these, hackers can gain access to significant companies through partners and suppliers. So, when hackers attack one company, they affect thousands of people.

Why is ICS Important to Cybersecurity?

In manufacturing, ICS stands for an industrial control system, which, according to Tech Target, is “a general term to describe the integration of hardware and software with network connectivity in order to support critical infrastructure.” ICS technologies include sensors, which detect and respond to some type of input from the physical environment.

Over the years, components of today’s ICSs have been connected directly or indirectly to the internet. This connection is the convergence of IT and OT. While advances in smart sensors and other technology make this cost-effective technological advancement possible, it has also brought drawbacks as far as cybersecurity is concerned.

IT/OT Convergence and the Manufacturing Sector

Over the past several years, the convergence of informational technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) has done much to help the manufacturing sector. It enables more direct control and complete monitoring, with more straightforward data analysis from these complex systems from anywhere in the world. This convergence is possible due to sophisticated IoT sensors and actuators that manufacturers can fit to physical equipment. These devices can employ wireless communication over standardized networking protocols to communicate the relevant data from each physical system to a central server for monitoring and analysis. This analysis allows employees to work more efficiently and improves decision-making, which decreases downtime and increases productivity.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this new technological age. Many OT legacy systems have few to no security measures because many became operational in a period less connected to the internet. The connection of these OT systems has left many manufacturers with thousands of new endpoints to protect. An endpoint is any device that creates a physical end to a network (e.g., computers, smartphones, tablets, other specialized hardware, etc.). If not adequately protected with the proper hardware, these endpoints can be doorways for threat actors to sneak in and wreak havoc.

The Four Principal Security Threats to IT/OT Convergence

  1. Lack of collaboration—IT and OT teams have rarely worked together. This lack of collaboration can lead to security oversights that can increase workload, operating costs, and expose security flaws that attackers can use to their benefit.
  2. Legacy OT systems—while IT rarely lasts more than five years, OT systems can have decades-long lifecycles. As mentioned, these legacy systems typically incorporate little to no security measures, and because of proprietary designs and protocols, manufacturers can’t upgrade them with software. This can be costly, as new OT equipment must replace systems that can’t support security requirements.
  3. Insufficient insight—IT relies on asset discovery and configuration to provide a clear picture of the environment managed by the manufacturers. OT systems must be able to share this environment and offer discoverability and remote design and management. If an administrator can’t see an OT device, they can’t secure and manage it. This leaves an endpoint vulnerable to threat actors.
  4. Mission-critical demands—often, manufacturers run their OT systems 24/7, year-round. If they pause production or turn off the systems for upgrades or updates, the manufacturers risk significant revenue loss. In other words, organizations might ignore potential security vulnerabilities because they cannot afford the cost of downtime.

Is Hardware-Based Cybersecurity the Answer?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, software is never secure. Software cybersecurity uses written code and relies on never-ending maintenance and updates that can leave ICS and manufacturing systems vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hardware-based cybersecurity (hardsec) is a single-purpose physical device that provides robust protection against all cyberthreats. Security is built in on day one and is unchangeable forever. This helps to prevent hacks from ever occurring in the first place.

Hardsec solutions can eliminate the risk of cyberattacks by lowering the risk of human error, using an impossible-to-crack authentication system, and requiring no interaction with the user or system’s process. To learn more about the three biggest advantages of hardware security, click here.

Contact Q-Net Today!

Q-Net Security’s ‘drop-in’ hardware-based cybersecurity product, the Q-Box, is the perfect solution for manufacturers. Our hardsec technology can easily connect directly with a computer, server, IoT element, or network service to block cyberattacks. There is no endpoint software to install and no certificates or keys to manage, which means operations don’t need to stop to secure your endpoints. Simply place a Q-Box in front of any endpoint you wish to secure, and that endpoint may only communicate with other approved endpoints in the Q-Network. This is key for manufacturers as it assures that their systems can continue to run effectively while staying protected from threat actors.

Stop cyberattacks in their tracks and protect your critical networks with Q-Net Security. Contact us today at [email protected] for more information or to request a remote live demonstration!