How Vulnerability Management Secures Supply Chain and Production in Manufacturing

Two co-workers talk on the manufacturing floor

Manufacturing is one of those industries that seems like a natural fit for vulnerability management, in part because these companies can be such easy targets for cyber criminals.

Manufacturers in many cases operate far-flung, global facilities including factories, warehouses, and other distribution points. Increasingly, these different facilities are connected as companies look to modernize their operations through digital transformation. One of the drivers is the move toward Industry 4.0, including the deployment of smart technologies and an emphasis on automation, machine learning, and the use of real-time data from factories and other locations.

Vulnerability Management Issues in Manufacturing

Manufacturers often have complex supply chains, relying on a multitude of materials and equipment suppliers as well as providers of infrastructure components such as heating, lighting, IT, and others. They also work closely with distributors and retailers to get their products into the hands of customers.

This all creates a huge ecosystem that can be subject to a variety of attacks, and managing and controlling such an environment can be extremely challenging. Adding to the complexity is the Internet of Things (IoT), which has become an increasingly important component of the IT infrastructure in manufacturing.

IoT Complicates Vulnerability Management in Manufacturing

Research firm Markets and Markets has projected that the global IoT in manufacturing market will grow from $33.2 billion in 2020 to $53.8 billion in 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 10% during the forecast period. The major factors driving the growth of the market, according to the report, include rising demand for industrial automation; increasing need for centralized monitoring and predictive maintenance of assets; and the growing need for reliable, secure, and high-speed network connectivity.

IoT security remains a concern, however. IoT is vulnerable to threats that could result in substantial financial and data loss, the report noted. Every endpoint, gateway, sensor, and smartphone or other device is a potential target for hackers.

As research firm Gartner has noted, the amount of information being transmitted from things continues to rise, and much of this data originates outside of the enterprise.

“The scale of security risks in the IoT era is therefore much greater than in the pre-IoT environment, and the ‘attack surface’ is much larger,” the firm said. “Most sensor-based things have minimal computing resources, and the opportunities for antivirus, encryption, and other forms of protection within things are more restricted.”

In manufacturing, IoT often takes the form of Industrial IoT (IIoT), which is interconnected sensors, instruments, and other devices networked together with industrial applications such as manufacturing and energy management.

In some cases, security threats against manufacturers can be the result of software vulnerabilities, including the software used in operational technology (OT) systems. Bad actors can exploit such vulnerabilities to access industrial networks to steal data or interrupt operations.

Vulnerability management enables manufacturers to identify, prioritize, and remediate vulnerabilities before they become problematic. Given the growing importance of software throughout the manufacturing process—including software used for IoT—companies need to implement vulnerability management strategies and tools.

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