Digital technologies have become an invaluable source of productivity and financial growth for organizations around the world, but the push for increased IT investment has also introduced a wide range of security concerns. The growing frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks has 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 are still struggling 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 on the rise, 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 a 2019 survey from Thales, around 67% of organizations believe their systems were breached at some point in the previous year, which demonstrates the urgency of cybersecurity reform. But how often do cyber attacks occur and which industries are at the greatest risk?
Surveying the Modern Cyber Threat Landscape
To quantify the near-constant rate of cyber attacks, researchers at the University of Maryland looked into the behavioral patterns of hackers who use brute force tactics to gain access to poorly secured networks. The study found that, on average, a cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds, though this 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
- Man-in-the-middle attacks
- Cross-site scripting
- SQL injection
Keeping track of these techniques has been a major 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.
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 own 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 important to get a complete picture of your company’s attack surface. This 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 always springing up, it’s crucial that you perform risk assessments regularly. Some of the other preventative tasks manufacturers should perform include:
- Create a knowledge base for all internet-connect devices
- Check the status of firewall and antivirus protocols
- Identify specific cyber threats (data loss, unauthorized access, malware, etc.)
- Categorize each threat on the basis of 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 come with default settings and credentials that hackers can easily exploit. Once an unauthorized user gains access to your IoT equipment, they can download harmful programs that will add your devices to their botnet or destroy them completely. For example, researchers from Akamai recently discovered a new strain of malware that is able to wipe out IoT devices’ storage, drop firewall rules, reset network configurations and halt all internal operations, ZDNet reported. The only way to prevent these sort of attacks is to change the username and passwords of all internet-connected devices before they are deployed, as a single unprotected endpoint could cause major disruption.
Step 3: Aggressively manage access privileges
When hostile actors gain access to your network, their first 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 largely rely on your employees’ knowledge and awareness. This 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 the important role every employee plays in protecting critical assets and business data.