Protecting Manufacturing Operations from Cyberthreats
Published on : Saturday 30-09-2023
How to protect manufacturing operations from cyberthreats with futureproof networking solutions.
In 2022, the manufacturing sector recorded the highest number of cyberattacks among major industries worldwide. The main reason for this phenomenon is the dissolution of the air gap between industrial control systems (ICS) and the Internet, also known as Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) convergence, which exposes OT infrastructure to new cyberthreats. However, modern manufacturing cannot quarantine itself from the outside world if it wants to remain competitive. In this article, we examine key challenges faced by two smart manufacturing applications, viz., (1) interconnecting new devices on a large scale for real-time facility monitoring and (2) integrating multiple networks for optimal management. In addition, this article provides practical recommendations for how to protect these types of operations from cyberthreats.
A new threat targeting smart manufacturing systems
The rise of smart manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, has seen a growing number of cyberthreats in the industrial sector as an unintended consequence of OT/IT convergence. While merging OT and IT infrastructure achieves better efficiency and greater value creation, it also exposes traditionally isolated OT systems to all kinds of cyberattacks. Combining an ever-expanding threat landscape with manufacturing organisations’ extremely low tolerance for downtime makes them a high-profile target for cyberattacks. As previously stated, the manufacturing sector alone suffered from the largest share of cyberattacks of any industry in 20221.
A deeper look at the types of industrial applications that have been targeted reveals some common challenges but also some clear areas for improvement. Let’s take a look at two practical examples of industrial applications, how cyberthreats can affect them, and how to mitigate their vulnerability to cybersecurity risks.
Application 1: Real-time Facility Monitoring and Control Systems
Applications that involve enabling real-time monitoring and control for large-scale industrial networks are increasingly susceptible to cyberthreats. These applications generally require deploying many connected devices on a large scale to collect, send, and analyse large amounts of data from the field at the control center. Consider the following cybersecurity concerns:
a. Hundreds of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and sensors at the edge need to be connected to collect data about manufacturing facility conditions and to optimise energy usage. Each of these devices is a new node that could potentially fall prey to cybersecurity attacks such as unauthorised access or malware attacks.
b. Vulnerabilities are amplified when these networks expand and aggregate large numbers of edge devices into the distribution layer. If the network is not properly segmented, the whole network is vulnerable when just a single node is compromised.
For these applications, operators should consider a defense-in-depth approach. This involves selecting secure devices, building robust network defense layers, and identifying network statuses to ensure network security and availability. Selecting security-hardened devices that have passed international security certifications, or have security functions based on internationally recognised standards, such as IEC 62443 and NERC CIP, can provide solid building blocks when adding new network nodes. Segmentation and threat prevention also provides another layer of protection to guard against attacks and helps prevent unwanted intrusions and threats from propagating to other network nodes. Last but not least, constantly monitoring the security status of your network nodes allows you to stay aware of and respond to any issues or abnormalities.
Application 2: Industrial Machine Integration
Another manufacturing application that is vulnerable to cybersecurity threats is the integration of industrial machinery into networks for optimised management. Traditionally, industrial engineers would build a closed network environment and use similar patterns to assign IP addresses to machines.
However, the ability to remotely control and manage industrial machinery requires connecting industrial networks to the Internet. When these traditionally isolated machines need to be connected to a centralised management system, using the same pattern to generate IP addresses for all machines can result in IP conflicts and may cause network downtime. All machines will need their IP to be reconfigured, a time-consuming task that can easily result in security vulnerabilities. Furthermore, when they are connected over an Internet-enabled public network, they are exposed to all types of new cyberthreats. Predictable IP addresses in particular quickly become a target for cyberattacks.
Simplified management and enhanced security can go a long way in addressing these vulnerabilities. For example, system integrators could take advantage of network address translation (NAT) technology to protect IP addresses from prying eyes and streamline device integration. More recent hardware solutions also offer embedded intelligent threat prevention mechanisms that automatically block data coming from unauthorised IP addresses. Combined, these tools provide another robust layer of protection for machine networks.
Overcome OT Networking Hurdles and Transition to a Smart Digital Future
As you converge your OT and IT networks on the path to digitalisation, network security must evolve to face emerging new cyberthreats. Regularly monitoring network infrastructure and keeping protection mechanisms up to date are vital parts of a dynamic security policy to protect connected systems and reduce costly downtime. However, OT engineers might have limited training or experience in the latest IT, which makes it challenging for OT engineers to keep their systems intelligent and secure at the same time.
To defend against cyberthreats, it is crucial for system integrators and industrial operators to futureproof their manufacturing networks with integrated industrial networking solutions and employ a defense-in-depth approach designed for OT engineers.
Download the Application Note2 to learn more about how to strengthen the defense of your manufacturing facilities and optimise your investments with Moxa’s futureproof networking solutions.