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Why Hackers Target Small Manufacturing Companies

  • News
  • 6 min read

How You Can Protect Your Organization

CNC Laser cutting of metal, modern industrial manufacturing technology.

Cyberattacks can cause devastating consequences for your organization. For instance, ransomware attacks can cause you to lose important data unless you pay a hefty ransom. Data breaches often cause harm to a company’s reputation, but worse, they can result in hefty fines that can force you out of business.

For small manufacturing companies, the threat is even greater. In addition to common cybersecurity threats, small manufacturing companies need to be aware of the threat to their industrial control systems (ICS).

Controllers on the machinery used for production are often IoT-enabled and connected to a network. When a hacker gains control of those controllers, it’s game over.

Why would hackers target small companies?

Contrary to popular belief, hackers target small businesses more often than large corporations. Hackers know that most small businesses don’t have strong cybersecurity measures in place and that makes them easy targets. The hackers are right – most small business owners have a weak cybersecurity posture.

According to data published by Security Boulevard, in 2018, 67% of small-to-medium sized businesses experienced a cyberattack; 58% experienced a data breach. Worse, 47% of companies that were attacked said they didn’t know how to protect their organization from future attacks. Those numbers don’t look good.

There have been several huge data breaches in the manufacturing industry in recent years; some targeted major corporations like Boeing, Hanes, and Dupont. However, smaller companies were also targeted.

The reality is, hackers will target anyone they can and attempt to access any data they can get their hands on. If they can’t use the data they obtain, they will either hold it for ransom or sell it. Some hackers aren’t even looking to make a profit – they just destroy businesses for fun.

Half of industrial control systems have been targeted by cyberattacks

Poor cybersecurity has led to cyberattacks against half of all industrial control systems across various industries, including manufacturing. In addition to stealing sensitive data, hackers frequently shut down networks with ransomware attacks. Sometimes these ransomware attacks disrupt the machinery enough to cause physical damage from a total system breakdown.

Unlike restoring data and databases to bypass a hacker’s damage, it’s not so easy to replace compromised controllers. This is why it’s critical for small manufacturing companies to have a strong cybersecurity posture and enforce policies across the board.

What is the biggest security risk for small manufacturing companies?

Cybercriminals targeting manufacturing companies.

Technically, people are the biggest security risk since hackers gain unauthorized access almost always through an oversight. However, many attacks are facilitated by old operating systems with known vulnerabilities.

Portable media storage devices pose a big threat to a manufacturing company’s network. Even when the company’s systems aren’t connected online, malware on a storage device can destroy the system.

Unfortunately, phishing schemes are still a large threat. There always seems to be at least one person on a team who can’t distinguish a hacker’s email from a real email. These people unwittingly give away usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information thinking they’re corresponding with a legitimate company official.

On top of that, there are ways hackers can install keystroke loggers on devices to capture login credentials. There are also professional, organized hacking operations that work as a team targeting industrial organizations

How small manufacturing companies can protect against cyber threats

Even though cyberattacks are serious, a strong cybersecurity posture makes it relatively easy to recover from an attack. At minimum, you need end-to-end encryption, automated threat detection, and daily (or hourly) offline backups.

Here are some specific ways to protect your organization from cyberthreats:

Secure all devices physically and virtually. Any piece of equipment, from large-scale production equipment to an iPad, needs to be secured if it’s going to connect to the network. This means requiring employees to use company devices and not allowing them to connect to the network with their personal devices. When everyone uses a company device, you can control their access completely.

Maintain patches and updates. All software, including operating systems, needs to be updated the moment a new update is released. Patches are especially critical and should be installed immediately by an IT professional.

Educate and train all team members on cybersecurity. When people think of hackers, they usually picture people using complex algorithms to crack authentication credentials and bust their way into a network. While that happens sometimes, it’s not usually the case. In most instances, the hacker has already obtained login credentials by tricking staff through phishing emails or obtaining the information through other means.

It’s easier to prevent attacks by training staff members and raising awareness than it is to stop a determined hacker. While it’s equally important to have tools like automated threat detection in place, trained staff can prevent a large portion of attacks simply by being aware of how those attacks happen. For instance, when team members know how phishing schemes work, they’ll be more likely to pause before responding to emails requesting sensitive information that appear to be from another team member.

Create strict work-from-home cybersecurity protocols. Unfortunately, cyberattacks against manufacturing companies have increased now that more people are working from home. It’s imperative for small manufacturing companies to introduce and enforce strict cybersecurity policies for remote workers.

A good policy should prohibit working from public, unsecured wireless networks and use an authentication system that recognizes users by their device rather than simply by a username and password. This will prevent unauthorized people from using stolen login credentials.

Use multi-factor authentication. Using multi-factor authentication for logging into the company network is a must. When a user needs to enter their username and password and enter a code sent to their cellphone, it won’t matter if someone’s login details are stolen; they won’t be able to access the network without retrieving the code.

Use end-to-end encryption. Encrypted data can be stolen, but it can’t be read, which means it’s useless to a hacker and won’t result in fines from governing bodies. If more organizations encrypted data on their servers and in their databases, most of the data breaches that occur would be fruitless endeavors for hackers.

Protect your industrial control systems with strong cybersecurity

Data is easy to protect. Encrypt it and back it up offline and you can recover from any cyberattack. However, protecting industrial control systems requires a strong cybersecurity posture with policies that are enforced to the letter.

When you run a small manufacturing business, you are a target for cyberattacks. Connect with a professional IT security team to find out how you can improve your security and keep your networks, data, and controllers secure.

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