IIoT vs. Industrial Cyber-Crime

What if...?

Ryan E. Day

May 2, 2019

More and more, manufacturers are becoming the target of hackers, but what can they do about it, if anything? It seems every month, maybe even every week, we hear about some sort of data breach or cyberattack. Think Facebook, Google, and Marriott. As consumers we’ve almost become inured to the idea that our data are not really all that secure. But it isn’t just consumer companies and consumer data that are at risk; manufacturers are under attack as well. According to one report, manufacturing has surpassed any other sector, including financial services, as the greatest industry susceptible to cyber threats.

According to Information Age, in 2018 almost half of UK manufacturing companies were subjected to cyber attacks, and the problem may be similar in the United States. Although most of us may tend to think of cybersecurity on a personal level, hacking or data theft is just as important for manufacturers. So, how big of a problem is cybersecurity amongst manufacturers, and what can they do to protect themselves against attacks?

“Cybersecurity is important for manufacturers on multiple levels,” explains Jennifer Kurtz, cyber program director at Manufacturers Edge, a NIST MEP Center in Colorado. “One level has to do with the the safety—basically the sanctity—of their customer and their employee information, but there are other levels as well because manufacturers often have intellectual property that they don't necessarily recognize as being special.”

In addition to at the MEP center in Colorado, Kurtz is a representative of the MEP national network. Kurtz works with entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector to help companies comply with information security standards.

“Another area in which we’re beginning to see some some very scary stuff happening is in factories because you have technology that was never intended to be connected to the internet in production facilities,” says Kurtz. “So now that these things are connected, they’re hackable.”

As if data theft and industrial spying aren’t bad enough, the fact is that some of the connected safety devices on machines in production facilities are now vulnerable to cyber attack in a way that that might disable those devices.

“Those are some big areas in which manufacturers are vulnerable in ways that, say, a retailer is not,” warns Kurtz. “In this case it would be the physical safety of machine operators at risk.”

Although the industrial internet of things (IIoT) enhances increased efficiency, when it comes to data hacking, more connectedness equals more opportunities for rivals to wreak havoc with each other. Humans caught up in the fervor of business competition have been known to engage in some pretty devious behavior. For instance, what would happen if one organization hacked into a rival’s inspection equipment? Would it be possible to alter the CNC programming in real-time? What if....

Check out the full interview on our April 19, 2019 Quality Digest Live podcast.

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20-lb tabby cat at his side.