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October 23, 2023
By: Jason Middaugh

Solving Common Manufacturing Security Issues

As the disparate but commonly tied-together realms of IT (information technology) and OT (operation technology) further become intertwined, manufacturing companies are discovering new problems and hurdles to overcome. Many companies are seeing potential growth and efficiency stymied by manufacturing security issues that require expert assistance to address. 

Remember, while IT and OT appear very similar on the surface, they have distinct differences and priorities. For instance, IT is focused on system uptime as it primarily deals with data and prioritizes keeping it secure. For OT, the priority is the safety and availability of equipment and processes that actually make the business’s products. IT systems are updated in relatively short, consistent periods, while OT systems are designed with duty cycles of decades.  

But as OT and IT become more integrated — commonly referred to as the IT-OT Convergence — problems can develop. Here, we’re examining some of the most common manufacturing security issues that businesses face and offering solutions on how to put them behind you.

Make Sure Your Business is Protected: Connect with our cybersecurity experts to get started on your tailored security solution today.

3 Common Manufacturing Security Issues 

1. Legacy Operating Systems 

As mentioned above, OT governs the machinery, equipment, and production of the systems critical to what the business actually produces — and these are designed and built to last decades. This means many of these components are still running off legacy operating systems, and present risks and vulnerabilities due to their age and inability to be updated.  

Manufacturing production lines cost millions (or tens, or hundreds of millions) and once up and running are typically left alone. Many times that production system from 20 years ago is still chugging along with an ancient OS; you can still find Windows XP guiding some of these systems today. It remains critical to the business, it can’t be turned off, and it can’t simply be swapped out. IT protocol demands constant updates for security reasons. What do you do if that’s not feasible, or in some cases prohibited by vendor agreements on the manufacturing equipment? 

Network segmentation is critical to solving the puzzle here. If you have (and still require) outdated operating systems, it’s important to segment those systems away from other IT and OT elements. You’re putting those essential manufacturing systems in solitary confinement; they’re isolated. They can do what they still need to do, but they’re not communicating with your environment (or the world) at large.  

Once properly segmented, you’ll still need to deploy network-based, anomaly-detection technologies. Your OT is in a bubble, but how will you know if something goes wrong in that isolated environment? You need network monitoring capabilities to keep an eye on those manufacturing systems; these allow you to take note of anything odd, while not actually installing anything on the manufacturing system itself.  

2. Employee Access 

In any manufacturing facility, employees on the floor remain an important part of the overall process. They’re running the lines, doing QA checks, overseeing automation stations, and many more tasks. On the other hand, many of those employees will also require connectivity to production reports, shipment estimates, email, and all the other information coursing through an organization today.  

The issue is how to floor employees maintain their accessibility to information while also adhering to security policies. Due to the inherent dangers on the floor, many policies will prohibit employees from having personal cellphones while working their shift. If that’s the case, how do they access email and other systems that require two-factor, or multi-factor authentication? 

There are several ways to tackle this challenge and there is flexibility in the approach. You can white-list locations for example. If an employee is checking email, from the factory floor and only the factory floor, then 2FA or MFA could be waived as a requirement. If they’re elsewhere, the additional authentication measures remain in place. By working with your people, processes, and technology you can address these kinds of nagging manufacturing security issues.  

3. Increased Convergence 

We’ve already mentioned how OT and IT are different, have different goals, and serve different purposes. But these systems are also becoming more and more intertwined. For instance, executives and leaders in an organization are asking for more and more information from the OT network. What were the production levels for the last week, month, or quarter? What are the projections? If we get a big order, can we fill it? There is a movement to access real-time information from manufacturing systems (and the OT that runs them) to drive business decisions.  

But because of legacy components, there is an inherent risk to further connecting OT to your IT environment. You’ll be able to access that manufacturing data more seamlessly, but you’re opening up Pandora’s Box by putting everything on the same network. Remember, we just advocated for segmenting OT away from other networks and systems.  

While it’s true that OT and IT are starting to use some of the same technologies, this complete integration won’t be complete in the near future due to the cost and cycle life of OT systems. How does a manufacturer bridge that gap and provide the data needed in the c-suite while doing everything possible to keep the entire environment secure? 

The need to balance information gathering and cybersecurity will hinge on developing relationships between IT and OT — a classic example of getting all of your people aligned. While IT and OT have traditionally operated in wholly separate bubbles, those days are now gone. Your IT leadership needs to connect with your OT leadership (and vice versa) to figure out the right balance. Your networks (IT) and means of production (OT) are going to be somewhat connected because of the need for more data. If you’re not building those relationships, it’s going to lead to manufacturing security issues.  

Bigger, More Complex Role: The role of the CIO is changing rapidly in the manufacturing sector as companies take a fresh look and approach to governing OT. Learn more here. 

Eliminate Manufacturing Security Issues with Inversion6 

Solving issues for manufacturing companies falls well within Inversion6’s area of expertise. We have a deep bench of security experts, CISOs and security consultants who have substantial experience with both IT and OT teams and the technologies they use. Each and every one of our CISOs have worked for manufacturing companies, and some have a deep reservoir of knowledge in this area from having worked at Fortune 500 companies navigating these types of issues. 

At Inversion6, we’re comfortable with, not intimidated by, the challenges posed by OT cybersecurity. We know how to navigate those challenges, what questions to ask, and where to push — and not to — when it comes to raising the bar for security. We know what’s worked, what’s critical to consider, and how to expand your internal communications to help build consensus. We have a wide range of cybersecurity expertise to offer, providing a full suite of services to help you define your strategy, deploy the right technology and protect you from malicious attacks. From fractional CISOs and a Secure Operations Center for monitoring coverage to XDR services and autonomous penetration testing, we partner with you to protect your business at every level. 

Don’t let manufacturing security issues bog down your operations. Connect with our team today to learn how we can help. 

Post Written By: Jason Middaugh
Jason Middaugh has been involved with information security and management systems for more than 20 years. As an experienced Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and technology executive, Jason has been heavily involved in leading the transformation and management of information security, cloud services and more by advancing technology strategies. Jason is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and has been with Inversion6 as a CISO since 2019.

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