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Maintaining data security in the manufacturing industry and why it’s important


The manufacturing industry is robust and thriving, keeping the world running by producing the various goods and tools we use in our day-to-day lives. Because of this high importance, the manufacturing industry is currently one of the most targeted industries in cyberattacks. As with every other industry, there are unique practices and controls manufacturers must implement to protect sensitive data while ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of said data, says Kevin Reed, CISO, Acronis.

With advanced data protection, manufacturers can protect critical data from unauthorised users, preventing modification, disclosure, and loss of information. Data security also plays a critical role in preventing potential cyberattacks and disruptions that would otherwise disrupt operations. 

Biggest threats facing manufacturers 

Any sort of disruption or data loss in manufacturing can have dire consequences, disrupting operations and producing downtime which can lead to supply chain issues and the loss of business continuity. These can lead to unsatisfied customers, lost revenue, and even legal consequences. 

Continuous uptime for factory floor operations is crucial for maintaining business profitability, and even just minutes of downtime can translate into millions in lost sales, revenues, wasted capacity, and higher fulfillment costs. Keeping near-100% uptime is a difficult challenge, however, and is further exacerbated by the lack of on-site tech support resources to address issues such as server failure. Other components, such as human error, natural disasters, or infrastructure can also lead to catastrophic interruptions and extended downtime. 

Ransomware is one of the biggest concerns facing the manufacturing industry, a concern it shares with most other industries. Ransomware attacks are costly and can result in data theft, and the increasing sophistication of these attacks has led to increased frequency and higher ransoms. 

Another problem facing the manufacturing industry is the lack of cybersecurity talent available to hire. Hiring, training, and retaining cybersecurity talent is difficult and expensive, leading to several gaps in cybersecurity positions across the industry. This skill gap issue permeates across industries, with the entire globe experiencing a cybersecurity skill shortage. 

Five tips for manufacturing businesses looking to protect their data 

There are several potential measures manufacturing tech leaders can take to ensure their company’s infrastructure is secure and strong enough to defend against various cyberthreats. Regular data backups, securing storage, implementing access controls, encrypting sensitive data, preparing disaster recovery plans, and adequate employee training are some of the biggest steps organisations can take to supercharge their cyber defences. 

The following methods are also important for manufacturers to consider implementing into their infrastructure: 

Strengthen employee training 

Human error accounts for a majority of cyberattacks, with social engineering acting as the base for many large-scale attacks and data leaks. Teach your employees how to spot potential phishing attacks and how to verify the identity of every official that contacts them, especially in the age of evolving generative artificial intelligence capable of creating convincing deepfakes. Host regular training sessions and remind your staff of the importance of robust password security management and how to properly handle sensitive information. 

Regularly ensure compliance with manufacturing regulations 

To help maintain strong infrastructure and data integrity, manufacturers are subject to a variety of data protection regulations, depending on industry and geographical location. Regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or even industry-specific standards including the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 27001 further ensure adequate data security. 

Maintain optimal network security 

Weak network security makes it easy for cyberattacks to infiltrate digital infrastructures and access any sensitive information logged on the network, from shipping records to customers’ personal information. Ensure your network stays strong with firewalls, intrusion detection systems, antivirus software, and conducting regular security audits. 

Additionally, manufacturers can enhance network security with stronger access controls, encrypted communication protocols, network activity monitoring, and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). 

Secure equipment and infrastructure 

Lastly, one of the most beneficial ways to ensure maximal data security and integrity is by implementing physical access controls, conducting regular risk assessments and penetration tests, segmenting networks, and regularly updating and patching all software. 

Backup your data 

Make sure a backup of all data is securely stored in a readily accessible place when needed. Cyberattacks can result in the loss or compromise of data, which can lead to catastrophic legal and financial consequences for the victim. Cloud storage backup is one of the most efficient ways of storing backup data, offering the ability to recall, and restore data from any compatible device connected to the internet. 

The manufacturing industry, like most others, relies heavily on data to keep day-to-day operations smooth and revenue continuous. Data can contain everything from personal client information, employee information, sensitive financial information, and even confidential innovations and patents not ready for public view. 

Here’s what can happen when manufacturers face data compromise or disruption. 

Kevin Reed
  • Downtime: One of the worst disruptions manufacturers can face is unscheduled downtime. Significant data loss can lead to downtime, as some systems may need to be put on standby or even shut down until the data is recovered. This can also lead to increased costs needed to repair the disruption and profit loss, as well as a dip in productivity. 
  • Supply chain disruptions: Without data, manufacturers can’t effectively manage and run their supply chains. Data loss can cause potential disruptions between clients, suppliers, and manufacturers. Missing shipping information, inventory, and customer data can cause major disruptions that can’t be mitigated without recovering lost or compromised data. 
  • Reputational damage: When a manufacturing company is compromised, it doesn’t look good. Suppliers, customers, shareholders, and other manufacturers might lose trust in a company that suffered major data loss, leading to a decrease in profits. 
  • Loss of intellectual property: Sensitive data including property data, patents, processes, trade secrets, and product designs, are all often stored on the infrastructure of manufacturing plants. If these are leaked, it can cause market disruptions, legal consequences, and competitive disadvantages, all leading to lost profits and revenue. 

Never take data protection lightly, especially in popular and targeted industries such as the manufacturing industry. By following the preceding steps and keep up with the latest cybersecurity trends as well, you can stay smart about how to avoid threats and severely mitigate any potential damage caused by an unlikely attack or compromise.

The author is Kevin Reed, CISO, Acronis.

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