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The Top Five Data Security Risks in Manufacturing

We might not think of factories as repositories of sensitive information, but increasingly they are. From superconductors to sunflower oil, the goods made in production plants are relying more and more on interconnected digital supply networks and data-intensive processes. Meanwhile, manufacturers are handling vast amounts of confidential material, from proprietary designs and intellectual property to customer details and financial records.

As a result, data security has become a top concern for manufacturers, who are under increasing risk from cyberthreats. To combat these threats, it’s crucial to understand where they’re coming from and how they’re impacting the manufacturing sector.

What are the top data security risks in manufacturing?

There’s a wide variety of threat vectors to contend with, from nation-state attacks to data spillage and more. These cyberthreats can target any stage of the manufacturing process, from its supply chain and third-party vendors to its factory employees.

Today, we’ll break down the top five data security risks that manufacturers face:

  • IP theft
  • Supply chain attacks
  • Operational sabotage
  • Ransomware
  • Phishing

1. IP theft

Intellectual property (IP) theft poses a significant threat to manufacturers, who rely on confidential R&D information, CAD files, and other sensitive material to stay in business.

To carry out IP theft, outside hackers may exploit vulnerabilities through tactics like phishing and malware, remaining undetected while they obtain sensitive data. Alternately, employees within the company may use their data access to steal research information and other trade secrets.

The consequences of IP theft for manufacturing businesses can be disastrous. Competitors who obtain stolen IP can gain an unfair edge in developing new technologies without the costs of research and development. Proving instances of IP theft can also be challenging, making it crucial for companies to prevent unauthorized data access before it happens.

2. Supply chain attacks

Because manufacturers today are interconnected with so many suppliers, shippers, and other vendors, supply chain attacks can come in a myriad of types. For example:

Even if their own factory has secure practices and technologies, manufacturers can be exposed to significant risks from weak cybersecurity practices elsewhere along the supply chain. That’s because attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in partner systems to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.

“Managing the cybersecurity of the supply chain is a need that is here to stay,” noted one author of the NIST’s revised Cybersecurity Supply Chain Risk Management Practices publication.

3. Operational sabotage

Also known as equipment sabotage, operational sabotage might be what first comes to mind when we think of damage to factories. However, instead of physically attacking machines, today’s operational attackers use modern communication systems and network infrastructures to harm equipment.

To give an example, one 2017 Triton malware attack targeted a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia by exploiting a vulnerability in the plant’s safety instrumented system (SIS). From there, the attackers gained the ability to manipulate the system’s safety controls with the intention of blowing up the plant. The malware was only discovered when an anomaly was detected and initiated a fail-safe shutdown.

Operational sabotage can vary in its aims. Some attackers might use older machines as entry points into a secure network, while others might simply shut down or damage the machine. But, as the Triton example shows, the destructive potential of equipment sabotage can’t be underestimated. Manufacturers need to employ strong data security solutions and monitoring tools to make sure that potential vulnerabilities in machinery are addressed.

4. Ransomware

Ransomware is known for causing immense damage in higher education, healthcare, and more. But many people don’t realize that manufacturing was the top target for ransomware in 2022. That’s largely because factories are both vulnerable and profitable for cybercriminals.

Ransomware is particularly effective in the manufacturing industry because of the slowdowns and shutdowns it can cause. Delays are extremely costly in manufacturing, especially with companies employing just-in-time production models that are highly sensitive to time constraints. When ransomware shuts down critical data, businesses often just opt to pay the ransom so they can meet their contractual obligations.

With its long, interconnected chains of suppliers, logistics companies, and other partners, the manufacturing sector is also rife with opportunities for triple extortion ransomware, with ransom demands extending far beyond the original target.

5. Phishing

One of the most common attack vectors, phishing uses social engineering — and, increasingly, help from AI tools like ChatGPT — to trick employees into downloading malicious software or providing access to secure networks.

Phishing allows malicious actors to gain access to secure networks and, from there, plant malware like trojan horses or worms. Hackers can also use their access to exfiltrate valuable information — making phishing a common first step for both IP theft and ransomware attacks.

Manufacturing companies are often vulnerable to phishing because their long supply chain and use of third-party vendors opens up multiple entry points for attackers. But they’re also susceptible because they employ teams with widely different levels of technical expertise. Employees at small manufacturing plants that haven’t been well trained on phishing techniques are shown to be particularly likely to fall for phishing.

Stopping security threats before they stop the assembly line

Manufacturers must prioritize data security to protect their trade secrets, IP, and other sensitive data. Implementing strong monitoring systems, conducting regular audits, and fostering a culture of security education and training are all helpful steps to safeguard valuable data.

But manufacturers should also invest in strong data security and resilience solutions to protect their facilities from the wide range of cyberthreats they face. ShardSecure’s platform offers a way for companies to keep their manufacturing data secure from unauthorized access — be it a cloud provider, a third-party supplier, or a cybercriminal.

With robust data resilience, multiple data integrity checks, and a self-healing data feature, ShardSecure also keeps data safe from the impact of ransomware, including double and triple extortion attacks. We help manufacturers maintain high availability and avoid costly downtime, all while keeping sensitive data confidential and secure.

To learn more about ShardSecure for manufacturing, visit our website today.


The Smart Factory: Responsive, Adaptive, Connected Manufacturing | Deloitte

The Top 8 Cyber Threats Facing Manufacturers |

Stuxnet Explained — The Worm That Went Nuclear | NordVPN

The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History | WIRED

NIST Updates Cybersecurity Guidance for Supply Chain Risk Management | National Institute of Standards and Technology

The Hacker Group Behind the Triton Malware Strikes Again | TechCrunch

Manufacturing Was the Most Targeted Sector for Ransomware Attacks in 2022, Says IBM |

Why Ransomware is a Major Threat to Manufacturing | Manufacturing Business Technology

How Integrated IT Security Can Resist Top 11 Manufacturing Industry Cybersecurity Risks | ECS Office

Manufacturing a Defense Against Phishing | Infosecurity Magazine


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