Manufacturers Taking Cybersecurity More Seriously in Light of Growing Threats

SACA - Rapid Digital Transformation Makes Cybersecurity a Priority for Manufacturers

Most modern manufacturing facilities bear little resemblance to the hot, dirty facilities many people still imagine when they think of manufacturing. Instead, today’s manufacturing workplaces boast clean, comfortable environs suitable for the advanced automation technologies that have enabled manufacturers to be more productive and efficient than ever before.

The advancements that result from new automation technologies aren’t without their costs, however. According to a recent IndustryWeek article by Stephen Gold, “These are harrowing times for manufacturing professionals who, in an era of Industry 4.0, are trying to integrate their information technology and operational technology while defending against the dramatically rising threat of cyber criminals.”

Eschewing these new technologies isn’t an option, according to Gold: “It’s not like they have a choice on whether to integrate their IT with OT such as machine automation, industrial control systems (ICS), robotics, programmable logistics controllers (PLCs) and building management systems (BMS). Successful IT/OT collaboration is critical to modern manufacturers’ digital strategies.”

Unfortunately, these same technologies have become “the portal where cyber criminals gain entry to the lifeblood of the company: factory operations.” Is the threat really that serious, though? Indeed, it is. According to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence, “in 2021, manufacturing surpassed finance and insurance as the top targeted sector of cyber bad actors.  Today, 1 out of every 4 cyber-attacks on business are against manufacturers.”

Why target manufacturers? One potential reason is the fact that many manufacturers have been quick to adopt new technologies but slow to ensure that those technologies are secure. Another key reason is that, “[d]espite FBI guidance, manufacturers pay the requested ransom more often than other industries – and at typically higher rates.”

Fortunately, manufacturers appear to be “meeting the challenge head on.” A recent study “found that American manufacturers’ level of cyber maturity is catching up to their accelerated pace of digital transformation. This is vital because, while financial extortion related to data theft is a serious risk, infiltration of operating systems with the intent to sabotage or even shut them down poses an existential threat to manufacturers.”

The first step to address cybersecurity risks is raising awareness of and acknowledging the issue. Much progress has been made in this area. The study found that, “[w]hen asked to rank cybersecurity as a business risk, 80% put it in the top five, 10 percentage points higher than three years ago. And no wonder: that same percentage experienced at least one breach resulting in unauthorized access to data in the previous 12 months.”

While not every manufacturer gets hit with a ransom demand, the effects of cyberattacks can be widespread and devastating. Manufacturers have reported issues ranging from operational outages that affected revenue to significant loss of business-critical data and intellectual property.

The key to effective cybersecurity remains efficiently managing IT and OT threats. However, “manufacturers face one primary obstacle to ultimate success: finding in-house expertise to oversee the cyber threat, a high hurdle considering the broader skilled talent shortage being experienced.”

The manufacturing skills gap is real, and it’s even more critical in the area of cybersecurity. According to a recent survey, “roughly 8 out of 10 manufacturers pointed to scarcity of talent and expertise as a key barrier to effective breach response within the last year.” That’s why it’s critical for manufacturers to hire highly skilled workers that can manage cybersecurity risks, in addition to operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing the advanced automation systems that are being implemented.

How can manufacturers find the workers they need? And how can they be sure that workers have the hands-on skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace? Today, more and more manufacturers are looking for workers with industry-standard certifications that prove they have the skills employers need. For example, if workers possess a certification from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), employers can feel confident they’ve already proven they have the knowledge and hands-on skills needed for working with advanced smart automation technologies. SACA has been hard at work collaborating with industry leaders to develop a wide variety of industry-standard certifications that will help employers find workers who possess the advanced connected-systems skills they need to take their businesses to the next level. Be sure to check out SACA and all it has to offer!