What sort of risks does IoT present to the manufacturing sector?

November 1st, 2019
What sort of risks does IoT present to the manufacturing sector?


The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most significant developments in the manufacturing sector. It’s the driving force behind what’s often dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, an era of great change on a level that hasn’t been seen since the rise of computers in the first place. Today, IoT presents important benefits to the industrial and manufacturing sectors such as enabling predictive maintenance, real-time analytics, improved workplace safety, and asset monitoring.

While these connections can streamline operational efficiencies and add value to every facet of the modern business, they also add risk if not managed correctly. That’s because everything connected to the internet is another device that can potentially be compromised; a new single point of failure that can leave an entire supply chain exposed. That’s why it’s never been more important to adopt a cohesive cybersecurity strategy.

The threats go beyond data breaches

Manufacturing facilities traditionally relied on so-called “air gaps” to keep their systems secure. With a lack of connectivity between systems on the factory floor and the outside world, things like malicious software and other threats had limited opportunities to compromise the internal systems. Without internet connectivity, a hacker would either need to be physically present or an employee would have to upload malicious software via external media. Today, the greatly increased accessibility of connected technology is both its greatest benefit and its biggest drawback.

While data breaches are the bigger threat in most businesses, manufacturing firms face even more dangerous threats. For example, a hacker may gain access to critical infrastructure, potentially bringing down an entire electrical grid. Attacks of this nature are an increasing risk in manufacturing, which are popular targets for state-sponsored attackers and hacktivists. In worst-case scenarios, attacks can literally be life-threatening, particularly if a critical safety-related system is compromised by a remote access attack.

IoT security threats to look out for

Other IoT security threats include device hijacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Hijacking attacks are notoriously hard to detect since compromised devices tend to keep operating in their usual fashion but are, in reality, being controlled by hackers and used to compromise other devices on the network. For example, a hijacked smart meter might infect other devices connected to the system enabling hackers to gain control over the entire energy system.

DDoS attacks are another common threat, and while they’re always disruptive, they can end up being downright dangerous in manufacturing. Any connected device is a potential target of DDoS attacks, which rely on overloading a server or other machine with requests until it slows to a crawl or even crashes. Some attacks aim to permanently disable the device. Such attacks usually stem from hacktivists, state-sponsored attackers, and ruthless competitors. For critical manufacturing systems, a DDoS attack can alter core processes and create dangerous threats to public safety. Imagine, a DDoS attack shutting down an IoT-powered building’s ventilation, elevators, and security cameras.

How to cope with IoT security risks

IoT systems present risks, but that doesn’t mean you should stay clear of using them on the factory floor. After all, security shouldn’t be considered a blocker of innovation. For the most part, the challenge is a human one, one that can be resolved with ongoing security awareness training and simulated attacks.

IoT infrastructures must also be centrally managed to ensure complete visibility into every device connected to the network and monitored with multiple layers of security both inside and outside the organization. Other steps include changing the default passwords, regular vulnerability testing, proper product life cycle management, vendor management, device segmentation, and correct firewall settings.

Netcom Solutions provides expert guidance and round-the-clock monitoring services to help manufacturing firms overcome the challenges of security in the age of Industry 4.0. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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