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What do the latest industrial cyber security measures mean for manufacturers?

12 August, 2021
Cyber security is a pressing concern for manufacturers.
Cyber security is a pressing concern for manufacturers.

With 203,000 new strains of malware created every day according to the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA)’s 2020 threat landscape report, Cyber security is a pressing concern for manufacturers. Industry and academia must work together to solve this issue. The Christian Doppler Laboratory on Security and Quality Improvement in the Production Systems Life Cycle (CDL SQI) in Vienna, Austria, is helping to achieve this. Reinhard Mayr reports.

Today’s cyber attackers most commonly seek out security vulnerabilities that already exist in industrial systems. But, as component manufacturers close these gaps, this strategy will change. It’s predicted that, in the future, cyber attackers will attempt to compromise the engineering and operational processes of industrial production systems.

By attacking engineering systems, rather than devices, hackers can embed vulnerabilities into future industrial systems. Making it much easier to access in the future — after all, exploiting vulnerabilities you’ve created yourself is much quicker and simpler than finding new ones. But can anything be done to prevent this?

The CDL SQI is a research laboratory at the University of Vienna working with industrial partners, including COPA-DATA, to investigate information security, particularly the quality improvement of engineering processes in software-intensive systems — often referred to as production systems engineering (PSE).

This research will help minimize the risk of espionage and intellectual property (IP) theft, protect production from system failure, loss of confidential data, quality losses and rising costs due to sabotage, and ensure security issues are considered during development, operations and maintenance.

While this research will prove incredibly valuable for future secure industrial control systems, what about the current situation?

The challenges for manufacturers

Implementing security measures is not without its challenges. Historically, industrial control systems operated entirely offline, thus further removed from threats. Now though, the appetite for data to monitor and improve production systems, schedule maintenance and avoid downtime, has driven manufacturers to connect legacy systems and devices to the internet.

Greater connectivity brings advantages, but also risk. Now that these systems or devices are connected, their vulnerabilities, which previously didn’t matter, become prime targets for cyber attackers. With many manufacturers gradually adding smart devices over time as the need arises, all of different ages with different security protocols, operational technology (OT) systems can be incredibly difficult to secure.

Plus, industrial control systems have long lifespan compared to the norm — think consumer electronics or business software — therefore they are much harder to update. It’s therefore essential to come up with a strategy to protect industrial control systems from attack, both now and in the future.

All this requires a change in mindset. It’s no longer enough to set up security systems and leave them running. It must become a daily routine to check for risks, plan counter measures and perform updates. For best practice, it’s far better to act as if you’ve already been hacked, you just aren’t aware of it.

The role of software

To overcome these challenges, manufacturers should look to software to help build up an information security concept for the OT environment. COPA-DATA’s zenon 10 industrial software is one such platform.

zenon addresses security issues by ensuring all systems across a manufacturing plant uphold the same security standards. Designed to meet IEC62442 standards, zenon can encrypt communications, ensure binaries are signed and support the regular updates and security patches.

Software offers real-time monitoring of all production processes and can be integrated seamlessly with existing systems. One major fear for manufacturers is touching a running system — who wants to risk downtime and system failure, when something is already working? But the threat of cyberattack means this approach is no longer feasible, any gaps in security need to be patched quickly.

Thankfully, zenon can be updated even while production is underway, without any need for downtime, meaning you can continue to benefit from up-to-date security standards.

Looking to the future

When implementing cyber security measures, it’s essential to prepare for the future. Production systems will become more interconnected, even across different sites around the world, they’ll also continue to incorporate more and more smart devices. Which poses a greater risk.

To support your information security strategies, zenon is an excellent choice. zenon 10 already offers the features manufacturers need to protect their production systems — for example, encrypted data transfer and secure communication.

Unprecedented numbers of cyber-attacks mean that cyber security is something that manufacturers simply can’t continue to ignore. Looking to the future, COPA-DATA will focus more strongly on engineering processes, joining with academic research partners, including the CDL SQI, to secure worldwide project communication and infrastructure.

Reinhard Mayr is head of Information Security and Research Operations at COPA-DATA

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