Until recently, talking about IT infrastructure with a manufacturing professional likely focused on automation, performance, efficiency, or worker safety. But a sharp increase in internet connectivity—driven by factors like increased globalization and a pandemic that redefined how workers use technology—has sparked a new concern: Cybersecurity.

Just as banking, insurance, and government leaders were forced to quickly ramp up cyber defenses in the past few years, manufacturing professionals must today make securing their technologies, production lines, facilities, and processes a top priority. As companies expand their connectivity and reliance on cloud computing, major security gaps emerge. And that means the potential for big problems.

In fact, threats now include phishing attempts, sabotage, information theft, and major ransomware incidents that can cost manufacturers millions of dollars. 

In 2021, for example, one of the world’s largest meat processors was extorted to pay a ransom of $11 million. And IBM reports the average cost of a data breach in the United States stands at a whopping $3.92 million in losses and fines.

Another rising trend is insider threat—where a disgruntled employee steals proprietary data or disrupts the network with a few clicks on a keyboard. On a production line, such a breach could be catastrophic.

 In fact, a recent manufacturing industry survey reports that unplanned downtime outages of even average length (four hours) can cost an average of $2 million.1 What’s more, unplanned downtime erodes customer trust and productivity, with 46 percent of respondents unable to deliver services to customers.

So what do security experts recommend that manufacturers do to level up their cybersecurity practices? Start by reinforcing digital defenses and implementing powerful identity authentication management (IAM). Here are four key steps to consider.

1. Understand your vulnerabilities

The first step is a comprehensive audit of all business and manufacturing systems that could be susceptible to attack. Understand who owns each process and focus on gaining total visibility over the overall technology infrastructure including both IT and OT (operational technologies) which run automated processes.

Experts point out that many manufacturers may use outdated hardware and software that leave their “smart systems” more open to threats. Because these systems are highly connected, highly distributed, and connected to a cloud-based platform, they are key targets for cyber criminals. A thorough threat analysis with a trusted consultant can help spotlight areas that need reinforcement.

Look to organizations such as the International Society of Automation (ISA) for compliance standards around secure manufacturing. All embedded devices, network components, host components, and software applications should meet today’s increasingly rigorous security standards for secure manufacturing.

2. Develop a comprehensive security strategy

The goal with any cybersecurity strategy is to prioritize gaps and mitigate risks of direct and indirect attacks. Typically, this requires the implementation of advanced security technologies that continuously monitor plant assets and employee IT resources. 

For manufacturers, this goes beyond simple malware prevention applications, requiring expert service providers and advanced tools that focus on identifying and neutralizing threats as early as possible.

In addition to preventative protocols and tools, companies should always plan for worst-case scenarios. This means creating a back-up plan for possible IT failure, generating hard copies of key orders and contracts, and devising a process to regularly test the system for effectiveness.

3. Focus on every employee

A Zero Trust workplace is especially important on the manufacturing floor, where a single bad actor with access to internal systems can cause rapid and extensive damage.

Every interaction that an employee has with a laptop, tablet or smartphone opens the door to risk. It’s important to establish and follow fundamental security practices that begin with employees, rather than computer networks. 

Unfortunately, cybersecurity for manufacturers and the security practices that many still follow—including stringent password policies—just aren’t good enough anymore. Consider that a full 80% of data breaches are caused by stolen, weak or default passwords. And more than 70% of these breaches can go undetected for weeks or even months.

4. Prioritize identity access management

Forward-looking manufacturers bridge the gap between their internal IT security and external OT systems by implementing identity access management solutions that provide an array of benefits across the company. Selecting and implementing the right IAM solution is essential.

WAVE ID® multi-credential readers help ensure that only trained, authorized and trusted users can access tools, equipment, process controllers, and other critical systems—all while providing a complete audit trail.

By contributing to multifactor authentication access control protocols, these readers give manufacturers the ability to create safe and efficient identity access management solutions by tracking employee training, limiting equipment use, and strengthening end-to-end security.

Adding IAM provides a first line of defense against both external and internal cyber threats wherever they can occur. That’s why WAVE ID® readers are designed in form functions that fit workstations, PLCs, HMIs, process controllers, forklifts, tool cribs, secure printers, time clocks, cafeteria POS systems, common areas, and more.

Because WAVE ID® readers are compatible with existing cards and new mobile credentials, they can be introduced seamlessly and cost-effectively. Manufacturers can also expect reliable performance across many hardware types.

In fact, WAVE ID® readers meet ODVA Certification for Common Industrial Protocol (CIP™) Security. Meeting this open-standard secure protocol for EtherNet/IP communications means users of CIP™ Security-enabled devices can quickly and thoroughly strengthen control system cybersecurity and deliver data authenticity, integrity, and confidentiality across multiple industrial applications. 

Studies show that more than one-third of exploitation of inadvertent weaknesses involve Man in the Middle (MitM) attacks that intercept communications to steal information or change asset configurations. CIP™ Security-enabled devices, such as those provided by rf IDEAS, can support a comprehensive defense strategy.

It is critical to prevent access violations of unauthorized users and minimize the potential exposure to threats from internal resources by controlling access and implementing policies to determine who, what, where, and when access is allowed to manufacturing applications and control system equipment. Authentication readers from rf IDEAS allows manufacturers to attain this level of identity access management everywhere it is needed.

Whether mounted on a desktop, attached inconspicuously to a laptop, embedded into manufacturing equipment, or featuring biometric fingerprint reading capabilities, WAVE ID® readers eliminate the reliance on notoriously insecure passwords and PINs. In addition, IP67 protection ensures the readers are dust-tight and hose-down ready.

Based on the spread of cybercrime and the importance of sustaining a trusted, productive manufacturing industry, it’s only a matter of time before multi-factor authentication becomes a legal requirement for manufacturing facilities. Fortunately, WAVE ID® readers offer a secure and simple identity solution right now.

Begin with trust

Together with world-class ISV partners and the industry’s most trusted physical and mobile WAVE ID® credential readers, rf IDEAS can help you secure your manufacturing facility with confidence.

Our expert team is always ready to provide the information, insights, and product knowledge you need to build a formidable cybersecurity capability with identity authentication management at its core.

To learn more, contact an rf IDEAS representative here.