Protecting manufacturing’s invisible links


Take a look at your smartphone. Even though you might take it for granted, it’s probably the most important piece of technology you own. Think about how many things you do every day that rely on you owning a smartphone. Now take a moment to think about how it was made.

Hundreds of components, with origins all around the globe, have to be brought together with exact precision to ensure that you can affordably carry the world’s information in your pocket. Every step linking the processes together has to run smoothly and on time. The same is true for your smartwatch, your TV, your car, and any of the other manufactured goods you use on a daily basis.

If any of those links (almost entirely invisible to us as consumers) are broken, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. Take down a few of them and you could do serious damage to a big company, or even an entire sector. And yet these supply chain links are all too often the weakest points in any cybersecurity framework. If manufacturers are serious about protecting their ability to do business, as well as their data and that of their customers, they need to ensure the securing of those links.

Innovation without security

There is no doubt that the manufacturing industry is at the forefront of innovation. It drives innovation in products, the manufacturing process itself, and overall development within the industry to compete within the global market. And new trends, such as large-scale investment in Intellectual Property (IP), exploration of digital manufacturing and increased interconnectivity within the ecosystem as well as increased adoption of smart tech, IoT to drive customer service mean that those processes are more digitally centric than ever before.

Unfortunately, innovation can often outpace advances in cybersecurity. From a consumer perspective, most of us are probably familiar with this disconnect with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Maybe you’ve heard of vulnerabilities in things like smart bulbs potentially giving cyber criminals access to home and business networks. Or maybe you know that smart fridges and other IoT devices have been used in some of the biggest cyberattacks in history.

If those vulnerabilities exist in the end product, you can be confident that they also exist at various points in the manufacturing process. And those points can easily be interrupted to cause follow-on chaos across the rest of the process. Even taking down the logistics software that ensures components get to where they’re needed on the assembly line floor could be potentially catastrophic.

Counting the cost of business interruption

Business interruptions can be incredibly costly. In 2022, the average total cost of a breach in the United Kingdom was US$5.05 million. Bear in mind that these figures are averaged across a broad range of businesses, meaning that costs may be significantly higher for manufacturers. And that’s to say nothing of things that are more difficult to cost in, such as reputational damage.

Given that 60% of UK manufacturers were reportedly in danger of closing as a result of soaring energy bills as recently as September last year, it should be clear that the sector cannot afford any major interruptions.

And yet, 2022 research conducted by Make UK and BlackBerry found that nearly half of Britain’s manufacturers have been a victim of cybercrime over the last 12 months. Worryingly, the majority of research respondents (54%) had done nothing to boost their cyber-defence capabilities despite adding technological capabilities to the manufacturing process.

If this is  to turn around, a serious shift in mindset and practices is needed from manufacturers.

Choosing the right security partner

 Fortunately, manufacturers don’t have to go it alone. Having the right cybersecurity partner in place can go a long way to ensuring that the most vulnerable links in a manufacturer’s supply chain are properly secured. That doesn’t just mean that those links are less likely to fall victim to an attack, rather that any business interruptions that result from a successful attack are likely to be less severe.

The right partner will proactively look for vulnerabilities in a manufacturer’s supply chain and help address them. But it will also research the latest techniques used by cybercriminals against manufacturers and make its clients aware of them. Equally, that partner will help its manufacturing clients come up with effective disaster response plans so that they can quickly get back up and running again in the aftermath of a successful attack.

Shifting priorities

Ultimately, it should be clear that manufacturers need to place as much focus on security as they do on innovation. This is particularly true at a time when they’re experiencing accelerated digital transformation. Of course, they won’t get it right themselves from day one. After all, security isn’t their primary area of expertise. As such, it’s vital that they find security partners that have extensive experience in the manufacturing sector and who are properly equipped to keep all of their business-critical applications running, without disruption.