24 May 2022

Cybersecurity challenges in discrete manufacturing environments

Gary DiFazio, Director of Marketing, Industrial Cybersecurity at Belden, introduces a white paper which tackles how to tackle cybersecurity risks in discrete manufacturing.

Like other innovative industrial organizations around the world, many discrete manufacturing facilities such as those in the automotive, aerospace and electronics sectors are strongly benefiting from access to real time production data flowing from the plant floor, strategically applying this intelligence to increase yields, improve quality, reduce waste and more. Further, many such organizations are poised to cull even greater benefits as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to evolve, and new and more powerful technologies and subsequent opportunities emerge.

However, with this increase in connectivity comes a resulting increase in risk. Previously isolated control networks are now potentially accessible to outsiders through increasing numbers of touchpoints, including the global Internet itself. This can open up the production environment not only to the danger of hacking attacks and malware of many kinds, but also equipment failures, human errors, malicious internal events and other cybersecurity related incidents that can significantly impede production and even degrade safety performance on the factory floor. Such issues can be especially impactful in the discrete manufacturing environment, where unscheduled downtime can often be calculated at a cost of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per hour or higher – and excessive waste or product recalls can add even more.

Discrete manufacturing facilities are highly vulnerable to cyber incidents. In a discrete manufacturing facility, operations professionals are charged with meeting challenging objectives and quotas, taking a diversity of raw components from a multitude of sources, transforming them, and getting large quantities of finished product out the door on time and in the highest quality, with minimal variation and optimum on-target specifications. To do so, they rely upon the data that they are receiving from networked components at each step of the production process all the way through final quality control inspection.

However, what if any of this data has been compromised? Further, the typical discrete manufacturing plant floor contains myriad dangers to human life and safety, with light curtains, motion detectors, sensors and other technologies ever vigilant to help ensure that everyone gets home at the end of the day. What if any of these failsafes have been compromised? Can we trust them if they are responding inappropriately to data or responding to false data?

Fortunately, discrete manufacturers have many options to significantly reduce the potential for cybersecurity issues at their facilities and minimise the possibility of suffering from the type of events that have had huge negative impact on productivity, quality, safety, profitability and even brand reputation in untold production operations around the world.

Today’s operations technology (OT) professionals can readily enjoy the best of both worlds: maintaining and expanding the use of data-driven technologies that enhance production goals, while simultaneously proactively protecting against the vulnerabilities that threaten the integrity of the operation.

The white paper Cybersecurity Challenges in Discrete Manufacturing is intended to educate the reader as to the true extent and diversity of cybersecurity threats that are being experienced in today’s discrete manufacturing environment, as well as introduce the possibilities that exist to limit exposure. These include practicing good cybersecurity hygiene; optimizing the strategic use of smart cybersecurity configurations in existing network equipment; understanding and initiating cybersecurity best practices such as Tripwire’s comprehensive three step “Visibility Protective Controls Continuous Monitoring” approach; and deploying innovative third-party tools specially designed and proven to optimize cybersecurity performance.