Securing private networks of connected devices, management systems and end users against digital exploitation has become a chief concern for manufacturers over the past several years. According to research compiled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, around 34% of all documented cyberattacks target manufacturing firms. In such a climate, companies of all sizes have started questioning whether their existing threat and vulnerability management programs are capable of keeping pace with emergent hacking techniques. The truth is, even the most cutting-edge network security tools cannot 100% ensure an organization will be protected against data breaches, malware infections, phishing scams and more – effective cybersecurity is not a static benchmark, it's a continual process of assessment and adaptation.

One of the best ways manufacturers can ward off costly cyberattacks is to develop thorough threat and vulnerability management procedures that emphasize proactive network security tasks, such as penetration testing. While advanced antivirus software may be able to detect threats on your PCs, laptops and sever, they are often incapable of identifying specific security vulnerabilities. From outdated firmware to lackluster authentication, there are a variety of IT issues that can lead to a large-scale incident if left unresolved. Instead of relying on automated systems alone, manufacturers should strive to build a threat intelligence infrastructure that combines data-driven insights with human ingenuity. However, since risk management often begins with a detailed vulnerability assessment, it's important to understand which cyber threats are most common and how they can impact modern manufacturing environments.

3 Common Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

As the manufacturing industry as a whole becomes more digitized, the need for active vulnerability management processes grows increasingly dire. A single security breach can not only lead to dropped productivity and unplanned downtime, it can also damage a company's reputation and profitability. According to a recent study by Radware, a cybersecurity software developer, the average cost of a cyberattack now exceeds $1 million, representing a 52% increase from 2017. Mitigating these losses is no easy task, as new cyber threats emerge on what feels like a weekly basis. That said, learning more about the most common vulnerabilities can help manufacturers reduce their risk exposure and prioritize their network security activities. Here are five common cybersecurity vulnerabilities every manufacturer should look out for:

  • Zero-day exploits: These types of software vulnerabilities pose a major threat to manufacturers' network security posture, as cybercriminals often exploit them before the weaknesses are made public. When end users discover a security flaw in a piece of software, they typically report the vulnerability to the developer or post about it online. While software companies do their best to quickly patch these issues, hackers can exploit the software bug before a fix is made available.
  • Weak authentication: One way manufacturing companies insulate their critical applications and sensitive data is to set up an authentication process that verifies users' identities. This practice helps ensure unauthorized users, whether internal or external, cannot access key data stores or interact with a network's configuration manager. However, a well-designed phishing scam or brute-force attack can allow hackers to gain access to computer systems and data repositories that are not protected with two-factor or biometric authentication.
  • Untrained users: Unfortunately, end users often represent the most vulnerable access points for computer systems, private networks and business-critical applications. An employee who is unfamiliar with cybersecurity best practices might accidentally download harmful malware, ransomware or a virus by clicking on an infected link or downloading a malicious email attachment. Phishing scams are another serious threat, as cybercriminals have become quite prolific at tricking users into handing over their personal information, including usernames and passwords.

These are only a few of the common cybersecurity vulnerabilities that pose a serious risk to manufacturing firms, which demonstrates the importance of proactive threat intelligence and vulnerability assessment activities. Staying one step ahead of cybercrime of all types – malware, ransomware, data theft, phishing, etc. – requires the right set of security configurations and risk management processes. But what specific cybersecurity practices can help manufacturers shore up their digital fortifications?

Businessman clicks on cybersecurity lockEffective cybersecurity starts with assessing key threats and vulnerabilities before an incident occurs.

Leveraging Threat and Vulnerability Management

First, it's important to note that while threat and vulnerability management typically overlap, they are actually two distinct categories within the broader network security sphere. For one, companies often have no control over external threats. In contrast, manufacturers do have the ability to directly manage their vulnerabilities and minimize the risk of a large-scale attack. This, of course, requires an ongoing, concerted effort to identify new software, hardware and web application vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate their impact. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, manufacturing executives cited the following "near-term cyber initiatives' as critical to their long-term security posture:

  • Enterprise cyber risk assessments: Vulnerability assessments supply IT administrators with greater visibility over potential exploits. These system-wide investigations are usually conducted through vulnerability scans, network mapping and penetration testing, which offer a detailed look at existing and emergent security flaws.
  • Data loss prevention programs: While manufacturers rarely collect the type of personal information cybercriminals are hoping to steal, they often possess large data stores filled with intellectual property, such as component schematics and production strategies. Protecting this data from theft and loss is crucial, as many manufacturers rely on these repositories to keep their operations running smoothly.
  • Increased employee training and awareness: As mentioned previously, end users are often the most vulnerable link in a company's IT security chain. Ensuring employees understand best practices in cybersecurity can help reduce the risk of phishing attempts and malware attacks, among many other targeted threats. That said, these sort of training activities must be offered on a regular basis to keep pace with new methods of digital exploitation.

In terms of long-term initiatives, manufacturers should strive to develop a comprehensive threat and vulnerability management program that can be updated over time. While every manufacturer will likely have their own unique IT management processes and security configurations, there are some general best practices for implementing and maintaining an effective vulnerability assessment and remediation framework. According to the Center for Internet Security, the following five core process steps are crucial to building a sustainable threat and vulnerability management program:

  1. Understand the current IT environment.
  2. Create clear standards for all hardware and software components.
  3. Remain vigilant for new vulnerabilities in third-party software, applications and networking equipment.
  4. Mitigate the effects of known vulnerabilities in relation to their risk and exposure potential.
  5. Monitor the IT environment continuously to locate vulnerable IT assets and take decisive action.

Developing a truly effective cybersecurity program takes time, effort and professional insight. To learn more about how threat and vulnerability management can protect your manufacturing firm from cybercrime, visit Certitude Security's website or schedule a consultation today.