Helping to demystify industrial
digitalisation in UK manufacturing

Operational data – the new gold!

05 November, 2019

As the manufacturing sector continues to expand its reliance on digital technology, data has become a valuable form of currency to potential hackers. Last year, the Chinese government was accused of repeatedly hacking a company to try to steal and replicate the design of a turbofan engine for commercial jetliners, highlighting the value often lurking in plant environments. Lee Carter, Industrial Network and Cyber Security product manager at SolutionsPT, looks at how early threat detection is crucial to prevent prolonged access to sensitive data and to protect valuable assets.

By enabling quick and effective data gathering from massive numbers of machines and devices, digital technologies enable manufacturers to work faster and more efficiently while simultaneously reducing costs, and have become invaluable to the UK’s manufacturing industry in recent years.

Central to all digital technologies is the combination of data and connectivity. By providing companies with an understanding of how their operations are performing in real time, it enables business to improve decision making, efficiencies, consistency and risk assessments in their plants, as well as ensuring unscheduled downtime does not disrupt production. In the era of Industry 4.0, it’s no exaggeration to say that the way companies use their data can be the difference between success and failure.

While recognising the value of data, it is also vital to understand the potential threat it poses. It has become so important to organisations, who will go to great lengths to keep it secure, its value to hackers has skyrocketed and, as a result, cyber attacks targeting manufacturers’ OT infrastructures and attempting to access their data are becoming increasingly common and high-profile.

One such example occurred in 2018, when Chinese spies were charged with commercial espionage for allegedly attempting to steal sensitive information relating to the development of new turbofan engine technology during a five-year hacking campaign.

Using numerous online techniques, hackers infiltrated the computer systems of several aerospace companies who were collaborating to manufacture the engines. Once the hackers gained access to the systems, they successfully stole the jet engine’s blueprints before passing them on to a rival aerospace company.

Examples like this highlight the value of data which companies hold and indicate that would-be data thieves are willing to target any manufacturer, regardless of its size. According to networking hardware company Cisco’s 2018 cyber security report, almost a third (31%) of UK manufacturers experienced a cyber attack on their OT infrastructure in 2018, with as many as 69% expressing concern that their OT infrastructure had become a viable attack vector.

Meanwhile, the impacts of successful hacks are becoming more and more devastating. In addition to the financial impact - which may include having to pay compensation to a customer whose data is stolen or receiving a fine for breaching GDPR - companies may also suffer disruption to their operations that negatively affects productivity and profitability while they attempt to undo the damage done by the attack. Furthermore, time, resources and more money will need to be spent identifying, repairing and recovering any affected assets and, if any of the compromised data belongs to customers, manufacturers will have to spend time regaining their trust and rebuilding their relationship with them.

Large data losses can be particularly devastating for small companies, with as many as 70% of small firms going out of business within a year of suffering a large data loss incident.

The importance of keeping OT environments protected and secure has never been greater, so how can manufacturers protect their data and assets and prevent dangerous outside sources from accessing them, while also providing guaranteed uptime?

Speed is incredibly important here. To keep their data protected, manufacturers need to deploy an effective anomaly detection solution that can detect any risks to their OT networks swiftly. This is particularly vital as new hacking techniques are constantly being developed, meaning breaches can still occur even after all reasonable precautions have been taken. By identifying and nullifying any threats quickly, businesses can prevent an attack before it takes place and stop long lasting damage from occurring.

Effective anomaly detection solutions should also:

• Enable continuous threat detection to take place

• Deliver deep visibility into the company’s network, and

• Guarantee secure remote access.

Modern anomaly detection solutions deliver extreme visibility into Industrial Control System (ICS) networks, which enables users to quickly respond to critical process disruptions and system abnormalities. By also providing on-going visibility into the status and connections of industrial network endpoints, users can protect and secure their ICS networks more effectively.

In today’s ‘always on’ culture, manufacturers also need a continuous threat detection solution to ensure their operations are protected around the clock.

With many organisations allowing employees and contractors to access their network remotely, it is important to proactively manage remote access and control who has access to what. By allowing users to control who can access which parts of a network and monitor and record interactions, this removes an important attack vector.

Anomaly detection solutions can deliver an enterprise-wide view of networks, bringing multiple sites or plant locations into one single operations view for a consolidated overview of all assets. With no agent to install, they can be easily deployed and implemented without causing any plant downtime or impacting availability.

For the first time, manufacturers can stop worrying about data loss and OT network security and leave cutting-edge solutions to do it for them.

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