How manufacturers can build lasting cyber resilience

By Chris Goettl, Security Evangelist at Ivanti
Manufacturing bosses today face an unprecedented threat to their organisation. It’s not Brexit. It’s not skills shortages. It’s not even from disr...

Manufacturing bosses today face an unprecedented threat to their organisation. It’s not Brexit. It’s not skills shortages. It’s not even from disruptive competition. It’s the risk of cyber-attack. The unfortunate consequences for manufacturers who embark on digital transformation efforts, is that they’ll become increasingly exposed to information theft, sabotage and damaging service outages.

Yet with the right strategic approach founded on industry best practices, there’s much that manufacturers can do right now to build greater resilience and reduce their attack surface.

Manufacturers under pressure

Digital transformation is driving a new industrial revolution, with manufacturing one of the key sectors already benefitting. The rush towards data-driven systems combining IoT smart sensors, cloud-based analytics, storage and management, and other technologies including virtual reality, AI and robotics offers tantalising benefits. Smart factories could help drive new productivity and efficiency benefits, cutting costs and improving business agility in the process. It’s no surprise that manufacturing was the leading global industry in terms of IoT investment in 2017 ($183bn) and is expected to hold this position until 2021, according to IDC.

But here’s the problem. As manufacturers become more dependent on digital systems, there are more opportunities for hackers. For one thing, there are more endpoints — computers, mobile devices, and IoT systems — connected to the public internet, where attackers can probe vulnerabilities in their software. The end goal might be theft of sensitive IP or customer data, extortion via ransomware, or even to sabotage manufacturing processes by hijacking IoT devices and industrial control systems.

A study by EEF earlier this year had some concerning findings. Nearly half (48%) of manufacturers polled said they’d suffered a cyber incident in the past, with a quarter (24%) claiming losses as a result. A further 45% claimed they don’t have access to the right security tools.

It doesn’t help that many firms may be running a patchwork of security products from multiple vendors. Hackers are past masters at finding the gaps between different solutions. Sometimes the gaps exist in the increasingly complicated supply chains manufacturers must manage. That’s how the infamous NotPetya ransomware first spread — via infected accounting software used by Ukrainian businesses.

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Focus on patching

Focusing more effort on effective cybersecurity should therefore be a no-brainer. Security is a vital pre-requisite for digital transformation and competitive advantage. It’s also increasingly demanded by regulators, like those monitoring GDPR compliance. And it’s a growing requirement of partners and customers. Over half (59%) of respondents to the EFF poll said they’ve been asked by a customer to demonstrate or guarantee the robustness of their cybersecurity processes.

The good news is that effective cybersecurity comes down to getting the basics right. That means starting off by protecting software with regular patching. Given that it’s designed by humans, it’s impossible to develop software 100% error-free: that means there will always be vulnerabilities in it for the bad guys to exploit. The older the software, the more chance these flaws will be uncovered and exposed — but even newer systems are at risk if you don’t keep them up-to-date. WannaCry and NotPetya flourished because organisations didn’t apply a patch already provided by Microsoft.

Cornwall-based Bott Ltd— a leading manufacturer of workshop and in-vehicle equipment and workplace storage solutions — offers a great example of how to get started. With 10,000 customers worldwide, its large fleet of workstations and servers needed protecting. UK government customers also demanded compliance with security standard Cyber Essentials, which advocates a best practice approach to patching. 

Bott chose Ivanti Patch for Windows for hassle-free, centralised patch distribution every fortnight. A central console scans for new and/or any missing patches and displays relevant information such as security bulletin name and affected files. IT admins are alerted which OS and application patches have become available since the last update and the solution prioritises critical patches, setting distribution for after work hours so staff productivity is not impacted. All endpoints on all sites are covered, with bandwidth consumption minimised because Patch for Windows only downloads updates once.

Patch for Windows provides granular visibility to Bott Ltd on exactly which apps and versions are running across its Microsoft estate. It will even spot any unauthorised app downloads and provide remediation. That’s functionality which has freed up the firm’s IT staff to focus on more strategic tasks, whilst enhancing overall security and compliance.

A layered approach

Patching is a vital first step for any manufacturer serious about minimising cyber risk. But it’s not the only necessary step, especially if patching is impossible due to compatibility issues with legacy systems. As part of a layered approach, organisations should therefore also consider application whitelisting and privilege management to block applications that don’t get patched. Layer up further with user education to spot phishing attacks, properly configured Windows firewalls to help to prevent the spread of ransomware, and more.

The thriving cybercrime economy has made it cheap and easy for virtually anyone to launch attacks against any organisation connected to the internet. Defence-in-depth, beginning with patch management like Bott Ltd, is the best way to fight back.


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