Smart Factory Security

· 7 min read
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What is smart factory concept?

An interconnected network of machines, communication mechanisms, and computing power, the smart factory is a cyber-physical system that uses advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to analyze data, drive automated processes, and learn as it goes.

Smart factory security challenges and threats as cyber attacks increase

By definition, the digital transformation of manufacturing and Industry 4.0 are highly connected phenomena on various levels. The same goes for smart factories.

In somewhat more mature stages, smart manufacturing is an ecosystem play, connecting various stakeholders on levels of processes, business models, and technologies.

Moreover, the technologies enabling streamlining processes, data-sharing, and developing digital business models in smart industry are all about connecting what needs to be connected. It’s about building digital bridges on all levels: from the essential layers of architecture and digitization up to the pillars of the digital transformation strategy.

In manufacturing – and the smart factory – this degree of interconnectedness goes even further with the integration of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).

Factory security in the age of IIoT and expanding attack surfaces

This integration of IT and OT and the usage of the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT are essential to realizing the purposes of the smart factories several manufacturers build.

Yet, in such an environment, cyber risks increase as well and smart factory security is hard to realize without a mature strategy that looks at all elements from the very start. With ever more IoT technology, connected devices, and smart sensors, the attack surface and digital footprint expand, whereby attack surface management and third-party cyber risk management become more important in a smart factory security context.

As a matter of fact, third-party risk management becomes more critical in the context of smart factories and smart manufacturing overall, beyond the ‘cyber’ and ‘digital’ dimensions. Think about sustainability and ESG, for instance. And about supply chain disruptions and ample other risks that arise once you start working in increasingly connected ways, leveraging the power of ecosystems.

Last but not least, the highly connected environments which smart factories are, bring us to the challenges of hardware and software supply chain risks in a complex IT and OT integration environment whereby smart factory security can’t be an afterthought.

It’s not a secret that there is still much work regarding cybersecurity in smart factories and OT cybersecurity. And it’s definitely not a secret that cyber attacks have been on the rise in industrial markets.

The disconnect between smart factory security awareness and preparedness

In a smart factory security context, the outlook regarding cyber attacks isn’t too rosy either. According to a report by Capgemini Research Institute (PDF), little over half (51 percent) of industrial organizations believe that cyberattacks on smart factories will likely increase in the next twelve months.

More importantly, 47 percent of manufacturers said cybersecurity in their smart factories is not a C-level concern today. And that seems a major problem, especially since only some manufacturers have mature practices concerning “the critical pillars of cybersecurity” per the Capgemini Research Institute report. In other words, there’s a lack of preparedness, even if awareness exists.

And all this while, as mentioned, the inherently interconnected nature of smart factories exponentially increases cyber risks and cyberattacks, requiring cybersecurity practices to be built in from the very start.

Before the pandemic’s start, data readiness and cybersecurity already ranked second as significant challenges for manufacturers to scale smart factory deployments per Capgemini Research Institute, which we covered earlier. And while smart manufacturing continues to be – rather slowly – adopted per the 2022 ISG Global Smart Manufacturing Pulse Survey, many challenges persist, as recently mentioned. We can definitely add the lack of a mature, intelligent factory security strategy to it, even if there are differences between various verticals.

Everything will start with C-level awareness and involvement and a clear smart factory strategy whereby security is considered from the beginning.

Or, as Geert van der Linden, Cybersecurity Business Lead at Capgemini, puts it: “The benefits of digital transformation make manufacturers want to invest heavily in smart factories, but efforts could be undone in the blink of an eye if cybersecurity is not baked-in from the offset. The increased attack surface area and number of operational technology and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices make smart factories a prominent target for cybercriminals. Unless this is made a board-level priority, it will be difficult for organizations to overcome these challenges, educate their employees and vendors, and streamline communication between cybersecurity teams and the C-suite”.

C-suite involvement, communication/collaboration, and awareness are only some of the critical intelligent factory security aspects to consider. But it’s clear that the C-level is really key. As a reminder: per Gartner, cybersecurity should be treated as a business decision, and de facto is often viewed as a business risk by boards of directors now.

Smart factory: security issues, challenges, and solutions

Recently, due to the population aging and the fast development of information and communications technology (ICT), the number of laborers has remarkably decreased. This has created a demand to improve the productivity and product quality of companies and manufacturers. Besides, Smart Factories are expected to meet those requirements as consumers' needs are diversified, demanding personalized production and rapid and accurate manufacturing innovation rather than traditional manufacturing firms. The term “Smart Factory” means an intelligent factory that integrates ICT into the traditional manufacturing industry. This applies to the entire process of planning, requirement analysis, design, production, distribution, and sales. Smart Factory broadly covers level 4 areas that deal with general information technology (IT) and level 0–3 areas that deal with operational technology (OT). Thus, information covered in OT areas can cause problems not only for a company but also for its country if it is leaked to the outside world as a company’s core asset. Therefore, it is important to identify and respond to potential security threats in a Smart Factory environment. To this end, in this paper, we research the components of major Smart Factory architecture. Subsequently, we discuss security issues and problems that may occur before the establishment of a Smart Factory. Finally, we propose a Smart Factory security model and a secure response to cyberattacks to address security issues.

Why Cyberattacks Are a Great Danger to Smart Factories

Manufacturing has been known for years as a field slow to adopt new ways of working and thinking. Traditionally, manufacturing was recognized as an industrial production process where raw materials were turned into finished products and sold in the marketplace. But those days of manufacturing are long gone. Today’s manufacturing methods have become an integrated concept involving all types of machines, production systems, and processes to create an entire business-level operation.

One area of growth the manufacturing industry has adopted over the past few years is cloud technologies. Many manufacturers have been hesitant to adopt cloud technologies due to concerns about the comparative security of on-prem vs. cloud. However, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based tools to help with supply chain management and remote collaboration.

With this rapid adoption of modern tech tools, cybersecurity breaches now occur. This adversely impacts smart factories’ performance, particularly those associated with the control systems used to manage industrial operations. Cyberattacks are becoming prevalent as smart factory environments expose technology, people, physical processes and intellectual property to these risks.

Let’s discuss how cyberattacks are impacting manufacturers today, what types of risks manufacturers are facing and how they can address today’s cybersecurity risks.

The proliferation of cyberattacks

Financial, retail and healthcare industries have been the main targets for cybercriminals for several years. However, manufacturers are increasingly becoming a more attractive target for intellectual property theft and business disruption.

In the past stages of the industrial revolution – mechanization, internal combustion and electronics  — manufacturing facilities didn’t offer much for thieves to target. And while modern operations in the fourth stage of revolution –digital– often aren’t in charge of large amounts of money, they do harbor vast amounts of information that cyber attackers can use for financial gain.

Malicious internal behaviors allow attackers – which could be third-party vendors, current or former employees – -access to the organization’s physical or digital assets. These attacks map out networks in search for critical information and assets which, if accessed, can expand rapidly within the organization. For this reason, detecting insider threats becomes more difficult than outside attacks and takes longer for manufacturing facilities to identify.

This digital stage of the industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, opens manufacturing facilities to more elaborate risks.

According to Deloitte, Industry 4.0 promises a new age of connected, smart manufacturing and tailored products and services. Through its adoption of autonomous technologies, Industry 4.0 operations marry the digital world with physical action to drive smart factories and enable advanced manufacturing. While this interconnectedness of computers, devices and machines combined with supply chain operations offer significant benefits, it also adds to the complexity of cyberattacks these facilities face and must defend against. Amidst Industry 4.0, an potential lack of security measures opens enormous opportunities for internal or external cybercriminals to attack.

The biggest threat to smart factories

While industrial cyberattacks are nothing new, manufacturing companies are seeing an increase in cyber-related incidents. With the adoption of smart factory initiatives, the asynchronous management of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT)  can expose companies to unknown vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Malware installed on a smart factory’s industrial network can compromise industrial control systems (ICS). ICS strengthens the cybersecurity of its computer-controlled systems. Today, only a few known malware examples target ICS, such as Triton, Industroyer, Havex and others. Additionally, other malware can include ransomware attacks, rootkits, and cyber-warfare operations that can permanently disable ICS and OT systems.

Surveillance and information theft are other significant threats to intelligent factories. By gaining unauthorized access to a network, cyberattackers can steal information on equipment behavior such as measurements and other regularly collected data, ultimately sabotaging production systems and endangering overall operations. Criminals can hold operations hostage, too, promising not to compromise or share the manufacturing intelligence only in exchange for ransom payments.

Evolving Threats Require Modern Security Solutions

As smart factory initiatives continue to proliferate across the manufacturing industry, cyber risks are only expected to increase. Therefore, manufacturers need to have cyber security in place that continuously protects against current threats, new threats, and vulnerabilities in development.

Manufacturers need to implement a holistic cyber management approach that can rapidly prevent, repel and remediate cyber threats. This proactive programming should protect all endpoints across the enterprise, including IoT devices and cloud networks.

Cybersecurity will not be a one-and-done occurrence. As technology advances, manufacturers must invest in modern security tools such as a comprehensive XDR solution that allows smart factories to monitor all of their machines and endpoints so threats can be quickly detected and responded to 24/7/365.

By partnering with a knowledgeable cybersecurity solution smart factories can leverage the expertise of industry experts who are detecting and defending against a wide range of attacks. This can help the smart factory be up-to-date on the latest threats to their infrastructure without having to rely on a small team of internal full-time staff members who may leave the organization, take a vacation, get sick, and have limited bandwidth to detect and respond to threats.

About the Author
Greg Scasny is chief technology officer at Blueshift Cybersecurity and has over 20 years of experience in information technology and security. He is a graduate of Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Technology, focusing on networking, security, and communications. Scasny takes complex business and security problems and creates innovative scalable solutions to be deployed quickly and efficiently.