Smart Manufacturing…Productivity At The Price Of Security?

by Tim English - VP Superior Business Solutions on April 19, 2016

Security in Smart Manufacturing

#4 in a Series: What You Need To Know About Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing offers so much potential, it is clearly the future of industrial productivity.  As I mentioned in the post introducing this series on smart manufacturing, smart manufacturing allows machines to basically control the production process by themselves, maximizing their own efficiency by making adjustments on the fly to yield the best possible results.

But the “big data” that is fueling this dramatic change is also the source of perhaps the biggest potential problem with the concept. Smart manufacturing is built upon the blizzard of data that individual machines feed to a company’s IT systems and to the “cloud” for storage and analysis. It is precisely this data that makes it all possible. Unfortunately, that data also introduces a serious vulnerability to the entire system.

Productivity At The Price Of Security

I saw a recent article that addresses this issue head on. It starts by citing comments from the Department of Homeland Security about the importance of the critical manufacturing sector – which includes electronics, pharmaceuticals, transportation equipment and more – to the economic prosperity of the United States.

The irony is obvious. Maximizing productivity in those industries is clearly in our best national interests, and smart manufacturing is the way to do that. Unfortunately at the same time, the volume of data put in play by “smart” machinery can put those industries at great risk.

Smart manufacturing is all about connectivity. I recently wrote a series on IoT  explaining that more and more devices are collecting and reporting information about their own performance through internet connections. In manufacturing facilities, machines (operational technology, or OT) connect to a company’s information technology (or IT) systems. This has generated another new term: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The problem is that OT systems do not carry the sophisticated protections common to IT systems.

The Idea – And The Threat – Is Precise Control

The data generated by machinery in a smart manufacturing system is sent to internet and IT systems for one reason; to allow for nearly instantaneous refinement and revision to production protocols to improve workflow based on real time analysis.

Unfortunately, by making that “control” available without a human component, it also could enable cyber criminals to wreak havoc in many different ways. Those critical manufacturing industries so important to our country’s security and economic well-being could be targeted by malicious individuals looking for opportunities to launch terrorist acts,  effect large-scale product sabotage, or steal precious industrial secrets. Let’s consider those possibilities.

Damage and Down-time

The same information collected to help maximize productivity could be used by hackers to do just the opposite, causing lines to be slowed or shut down entirely. In the worst-case scenario, it could be used to cause significant damage to the machines themselves, or even to the factory itself.

Product Manipulation and Tampering

Obviously, an unauthorized person with the ability to control the production process could manipulate machines to create defective products. This, of course, has dire implications for facilities manufacturing essential electronic, communications and transportation equipment; the safety of the military, first-responders and the general public could easily be compromised. And the threat posed to lines producing drugs and other medications is frightening.  Many deaths could result from altered formulas.

Theft of Proprietary Information

With vital information circulating throughout an unprotected network connection, important corporate information could also be stolen quite easily. Competitive advantages earned through years of diligent research and carefully managed corporate performance could disappear with one cyber-theft.

This may not seem as traumatic as an act of terrorism, but the disruption and economic distress it could cause for a company and its workers and the community in which it does business could be devastating. On a larger scale, it could have an impact on financial markets and easily cause ripples across the region and the county.

As companies begin to embrace the Industrial Internet of Things, they must take great care to implement state of the art security measures to protect themselves and their customers at the same time. And while your business may not be involved in aerospace or a similarly high-profile industry, the security of your information is no less important.

We Can Help

Superior Business Solutions can help you determine the state of your information security. Click here for a free white paper and document security analysis. It will ask you some tough questions that could reveal gaps in your document security protection.

If you have any other questions, or would like to chat about your level of document security, give me a call.  I know many business owners comfort themselves, thinking “that stuff is for the big-name companies; nobody’s going to mess with my little business.” That may or may not be true; crimes of opportunity often find the paths of least resistance. Whether you have entered the world of smart manufacturing or not, it is only smart business to protect your information as well as possible.

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