Digital technologies have become an invaluable source of productivity and financial growth for organizations worldwide. Still, the push for increased IT investment has also introduced a wide range of security concerns. The growing frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks have left many companies scrambling to modernize their network and system infrastructures, insulate their critical assets, and ward off large-scale data breaches.

Despite these efforts, businesses of all sizes still struggle to keep pace with the evolving threat landscape and make meaningful changes to their cyber attack prevention strategies. Considering cybercrime could cost the world an estimated $6 trillion annually by 2021, per research from Cybersecurity Ventures, there’s never been a better time to reassess your IT posture.

In the past, most companies relied on a response-driven approach to cybersecurity that emphasized detection and recovery. While this mindset did help IT professionals mitigate the impact of data breaches and brute-force attacks, it often limited their ability to anticipate emergent threats and take proactive security measures.

Now that cybercrime is rising, many security experts have shifted their focus to cyber attack prevention and vulnerability assessment to help organizations reduce their exposure to malicious software, phishing scams, data theft, and more. According to the 2019 survey from Thales, 67% of organizations believe their systems were breached in the previous year, demonstrating the urgency of cybersecurity reform. But how often do cyber attacks occur, and which industries are at the most significant risk?

Surveying the Modern Cyber Threat Landscape

Researchers at the University of Maryland looked into hackers’ behavioral patterns who use brute force tactics to access poorly secured networks to quantify the near-constant rate of cyber attacks. The study found that, on average, a cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds, though the estimate does not factor in phishing attempts and other common hacking methods.

In most cases, the malicious actors used basic scripting programs to run through a list of default usernames and passwords in hopes of finding a vulnerable entry point. Generally speaking, the more internet-connected devices an organization deploys, the greater the risk of these types of brute-force attacks. Other high-impact cyber threats companies should prepare for include:

  • Malware infections
  • Phishing scams
  • Ransomware
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks
  • Cross-site scripting
  • SQL injection

Keeping track of these techniques has been a significant pain point for organizations in nearly every industry, especially those that regularly collect and store their customers’ personal information. However, companies in the manufacturing space have seen a notable uptick in security incidents over the past few years.

According to research from Deloitte, more than 40% of manufacturing firms experienced a cyber attack between 2018 and 2019. What’s more, 38% of these firms suffered over $1 million in damages. This increased activity is, in part, a result of internet of things innovation and the rising prevalence of connected technologies. The lack of standardization within the IoT industry has only compounded the issue, as every unprotected endpoint represents a potential access point for would-be hackers.

Computer hardware impacted by data breach.A single security breach can lead to significant data loss, dropped productivity, and missed business opportunities.

4 Steps for Improving Cyberattack Prevention

The only way to meaningfully reduce cyber attacks is to aggressively eliminate vulnerabilities, monitor network and system infrastructures, and ensure employees understand their company’s cybersecurity policies. While it’s true that every production environment has its unique challenges, there are a variety of general practices that can help manufacturers avoid data loss, production disruptions, and network outages. Here are four steps for improving your cyber attack prevention plan:

Step 1: Conduct a full-scale risk assessment

Before you start rolling out new security measures, it’s crucial to get a complete picture of your company’s attack surface. This effort involves taking stock of every IoT sensor, workstation, laptop, and router, along with any other internet-connected devices deployed in your production line.

After you’ve mapped out your environment, the next step is to verify that all devices have the latest firmware and security updates, as unpatched hardware is an easy target for hackers. Since new cyber threats are constantly springing up, you must perform risk assessments regularly. Some of the other preventative tasks manufacturers should perform:

  • Create a knowledge base for all Internet-connected devices
  • Check the status of firewall and antivirus protocols
  • Identify specific cyber threats (data loss, unauthorized access, malware, etc.)
  • Categorize each threat based on the potential impact

Step 2: Update IoT device credentials

While most IT professionals tend to focus on network-level security, manufacturers must also pay close attention to the risks posed by IoT devices themselves. Nearly all environmental sensors, wireless security cameras, and smart appliances have default settings and credentials that hackers can easily exploit. Once unauthorized users gain access to your IoT equipment, they can download harmful programs that add your devices to their botnet or wreck them.

For example, ZDNet reported that Akamai researchers recently discovered a new strain of malware that can wipe out IoT devices’ storage, drop firewall rules, reset network configurations, and halt all internal operations. The only way to prevent these attacks is to change the username and passwords of all internet-connected devices before deployment. A single unprotected endpoint could cause significant disruption.

Step 3: Aggressively manage access privileges

When hostile actors gain access to your network, their priority is to secure elevated privileges that allow them to connect to sensitive systems and data. In most cases, these access privileges are obtained through stolen credentials or by leveraging flaws in your network administration protocols.

Manufacturers that provide employees with equal access to critical assets and databases are at the highest risk of perimeter exploitation, which is why strong cybersecurity hygiene is essential. One of the most effective safeguards is to adopt the principle of least privilege, which limits users’ access rights to the bare minimum. IT administrators should also take a systematic approach to credential management by forcing users to rotate their passwords and keys, sign in with two-factor authentication, and log any suspicious activity.

Step 4: Train employees on cybersecurity best practices

One of the most common cybersecurity threats is the practice of “phishing,” where a hostile actor sends fraudulent emails to convince users to hand over their passwords or click on a link that will download harmful malware onto their computer. Unlike other forms of exploitation, phishing can be extremely difficult to combat through network and device protocols alone, as any mitigation strategy will primarily rely on your employees’ knowledge and awareness.

This exposure accounts for why many IT experts advocate for end-user cybersecurity education and tech training initiatives. Generally speaking, the best cyber attack prevention plans take a unified approach to network, system, and device security that recognizes every employee’s important role in protecting critical assets and business data.

If your company wants to improve its IT posture and prevent costly cyber attacks, reach out today.

As a proud supporter of American companies, Certitude Security® is working diligently to inform leaders and facilitate essential asset protection priorities for manufacturers and supply chains throughout the United States.

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