The manufacturing industry is ripe for digital transformation. Over the past 18 months, manufacturers have had to assess and reassess their operating models, processes and more—just to maintain productivity. These challenges have evolved into opportunity, as these businesses are taking what they have learned and are accelerating plans to adopt emerging technologies like IoT and 5G to gain visibility into their operations, improve efficiencies in their processes and enable new revenue opportunities.

A recent survey revealed that 95% of companies agree that digital transformation of manufacturing is essential to their company’s future success. However, jumping in without a clear cybersecurity plan can doom a project before it even gets off the ground.

Initiatives to enhance connectivity and analytics inadvertently expand the attack surface and risk for a breach in an organization’s network. With manufacturers playing a critical role in the development of the global economy, especially as they supply other key industries including healthcare and retail, the impact of not properly protecting these enterprises can be far reaching.

When it comes to cybersecurity protections, it’s irresponsible for this sector to ignore its technological supply chain. For an organization to benefit from the advantages of these digital technologies, a sound cybersecurity strategy is important to help protect critical infrastructure.

Connected but not protected

The effects of the pandemic resulted in information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) digital connectivity on a broader scale than ever before as manufacturers instituted new options to enable and extend the remote business activity for employees. Manufacturers and their suppliers have developed more connectivity within their networks and embraced more digital applications and online services to improve overall business efficiency. With OT becoming less isolated, organizations have been faced with the additional cybersecurity challenges created by potentially exposing their OT systems to internet criminals. 

IoT devices continue to be easy targets. The re-emergence of the malware Mirai and variants has helped widen the spread of IoT attacks – a risk for smart factories and supply chains. Old vulnerabilities remain an active target. In addition to conventional cybersecurity measures that protect information assets, OT security techniques that protect critical assets and provide business continuity must also be considered part of a continuous approach to cybersecurity and risk management.

Manufacturers must think of each new connection as a potential vulnerability to their attack surface.

Smart and secured with Zero Trust

Collaboration between IT, business, and OT teams is essential to embedding security in products and services across the supply chain and safeguarding of data on IoT devices. As IT and OT networks continue to converge and the attack vector increases, manufacturing organizations must amplify the need for cybersecurity measures – which is where Zero Trust comes in.

Organizations globally are adopting the “never trust, always verify” model, which insists on protection at every wired and wireless node as part of validating all endpoint devices. Zero Trust is crucial to defend the cyber-physical environment with the risk dynamics introduced today by enabled sensors for OT systems and exponential growth. 93.9% of respondents surveyed in the 2021 AT&T Cybersecurity Insights Report indicated they are researching, implementing or have completed a Zero Trust initiative.

To elevate trust and establish a consistent security access baseline, it’s equally important to practice the principle of least privilege across both internal and external communications. A more robust security paradigm became imminently critical to protect the connected OT/IT environment.

Balancing cybersecurity with digital transformation

The manufacturing sector is highly dependent on a secure supply chain. Companies powering this sector are acutely aware of how a cyber-attack on any part of a supply chain can bring their business to a screeching halt. As manufacturers continue to digitally transform to achieve efficiencies and gain a competitive advantage, they must find a balance between having a secure network in place and scaling their digital capabilities.

Whether deploying Zero Trust as part of a digital transformation initiative or to protect an increasingly distributed network and workforce, this framework allows manufacturers to recognize supply chain failings across the creation, manufacturing, testing and delivery of products, without ceasing or interrupting operations.

You can hear more about the growing importance of cybersecurity in manufacturing from AT&T’s Bindu Sundaresan and Jush Danielson by listening to SME’s Advanced Manufacturing Now – the podcast for manufacturing professionals.

AT&T Cybersecurity serves as a trusted advisor who can take a holistic approach to helping secure digital and business transformation in manufacturing, helping to make it faster and safer to innovate. For more information, visit AT&T Cybersecurity for manufacturing.