The pandemic was a catalyst for many industries to go through a once-in-a-generation digital transformation, and manufacturing was no exception. However, the manufacturing sector is also a prime target for cybersecurity criminals and nation-state threat actors. To combat such a challenge, manufacturers need consistent and robust cybersecurity strategies that protect data and assets. By Terry Burgess.

Manufacturing is one of the largest markets for Internet of Things (IoT) devices – second only to the IoT devices used in buildings and for security systems. Conventional methods of data security aren’t enough to keep up with the demands of modern manufacturing. As manufacturers progressively expand past local roots, subsequently creating a global market of suppliers and customers, how can organisations keep up with this increasing need for data-sharing while minimising vulnerabilities?

A central component to managing complex value chains is with identity security. Visibility across the organisation is crucial in knowing who has access to what information and when.

Manufacturers can have the strongest cybersecurity framework in place, but a partner could unintentionally create gaps, exposing internal data to potential threat actors. Contractors – or even some remote employees – may join full- or part-time staff across a wide range of roles on the factory floor, along with vendors, customers, auditors and regulators among others. This results in multiple access points being created, so it’s crucial that employee’s identities and their access to applications, data, and systems are managed and maintained.

In order to maintain the integrity of a factory, a secure lifecycle of systems and machines need to be established and maintained along with the data generated. By implementing identity security, it will securely connect, automatically integrate and reconcile all users that are inside and outside the organisation with the correct access and permissions to connect between different ecosystems of services and employees.

The rising complexity of the modern manufacturing industry has led to an evolving business model, thus, the need to abide by multiple data protection standards and regulations. Historically, manufacturers are often removed from the customer as products go through distribution entities before getting to the final end-user or consumer.

Now, many manufacturers are shortening their time to market, with some choosing to sell directly to the end-user. However, access to personal identifiable information (PII) and customer information will increase. It is crucial that the manufacturing sector be prepared to protect new types of data while remaining compliant.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have the ability to learn and evolve as changes in the organisation occur. Its application for identity security across an organisation means that a manufacturer can confidently develop new go-to-market strategies, knowing that the influx of new data and high volume of information is automatically protected and only accessible by authorised users to ensure compliancy while keeping the business secure. This is essential, particularly when expanding into new markets and regions, or creating new partnerships.

Traditionally, the implementation of technology within the manufacturing sector has had a strong focus on improving performance and safety. As cybercriminals become increasingly sophisticated, it is paramount that manufacturers evolve alongside by utilising advancements such as ML and IoT to identify and close any gaps as new technology is integrated.

A cyberattack can infect and majorly disrupt a factory’s processes, causing stoppages, bottlenecks, and potentially permanent damage to equipment, thus, leading to financial damage that could cost a company thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars. It’s possible for these cyber intrusions to migrate and compromise associated systems such as customer data, value chain partners, employee information or other aspects of operations.

Research shows that manufacturing executives indicate that four of the top 10 cyberthreats facing their organisations are directly attributable to internal employees. This includes, but is not limited to, phishing, direct abuse of IT systems, and use of mobile devices. Having automated identity security processes in place can help mitigate these risks and reduce human error.

It’s important to perform regular cyber risk assessments and be transparent about the results across the business. Engaging in dialogue will not only drive increased cyber-awareness but it may lead to positive changes in attitudes towards strengthening cybersecurity posture. Increasing organisational vigilance is key to improving an organisation’s ecosystem.

Consistent and robust cybersecurity strategies are necessary to protect data and assets. Elevating security processes with the use of AI and ML to complement the digital transformation of the manufacturing industry is pertinent to staying competitive while mitigating cyber risks. The challenges of overcoming cyber risks are constantly evolving, but by streamlining identity security processes, it expands the company’s security capabilities, reduce IT costs and drive overall value.

Terry Burgess is Vice President, APAC at SailPoint.