The importance of data security in manufacturing

Tanmaya Varma
- Technology - Mar 21, 2017

The manufacturing industry is now one of the most frequently hacked industries, coming second only to healthcare, according to IBM’s 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index. The vulnerability often lies in businesses believing that they’re not likely targets because they don’t hold vast amounts of consumer data and therefore, they don’t concentrate on cybersecurity.

But if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that the industry is far from immune. Only in August, researchers at Kaspersky Lab revealed a sophisticated cybercrime operation targeting more than 130 manufacturing, industrial and engineering firms across the world. Operation Ghoul used email phishing tactics to spoof letters from banks in an attempt to get unsuspecting recipients to hand over sensitive corporate information.

With the rise of the Internet of Things in manufacturing, the impact on security only gets more complex. For example, what would it mean to BMW if their customer’s car is sending over data on diagnostics, allowing remote control and potential hacking? It’s no longer traditional computers that are the gateway to a business; cars, thermostats and home appliances all need to be considered.

Without wanting to be alarmist, a good place to start for a business reviewing its security provision is to consider the impact of any potential hack. Manufacturing is a broad church but every company is going to have its own set of “crown jewels”, the loss of which would be devastating. In a world in which competitive advantage is everything, imagine sensitive customer information, or a design that you’ve spent millions developing over several years suddenly getting into competitors’ hands. According to a report by Sikich, the cybersecurity risks to the manufacturing sector include everything from operational downtime, to physical damage, product manipulation and the theft of intellectual property and sensitive data.

It would be fair to say that, as a sector, manufacturing has been slightly slower than some to react to the threats of cyber-attacks and hacking. This may well be due to its deep roots, its traditions and history and the perception that what matters most is the quality and cost of your product rather than the IT systems. Of course, this is a generalisation and there are many high-end manufacturers for whom cutting edge computing is not just a business support but is central to everything they do. However, for the smaller company, a simple decision about where you save all the files and customer information, a decision that can have significant consequences for data security, may not have had the due-consideration that the modern world demands. 

Perception is also a significant factor here. No manufacturer works in isolation and a reputation for lax security is going to be potentially harmful to all manner of crucial relationships. If you are manufacturing items on behalf of someone else then secure IT systems are an absolute must; in a buyer’s market, you simply can’t afford to appear more vulnerable than a competitor. Likewise, if your company is looking for investment, then you’re going to be an inherently less attractive prospect if you’ve a history of poor security.

So what steps can a manufacturer take to prevent a serious hacking attack or data breach? Firstly, it’s vital for data security to be treated as a business issue, as opposed to just an IT problem. This is about more than just changing passwords regularly; time and should be taken to develop a comprehensive information security plan. Employees should be trained and certified as required, and the possibility of an insider threat should not be underestimated. The ubiquity of email brings with it is own set of security problems so ensure that staff are briefed on the basics and report any suspicious attachments or links.

Another crucial piece of advice would to be consider what customer data is stored in proprietary cloud-based systems. One of the main concerns for organisations is that information stored in the public cloud is beyond its control. Imagine investing in the best security tools and having the most sophisticated authentication protocols, but still being at the mercy of your cloud vendor’s security mechanisms for managing your most precious asset, your customer data. Your top-notch information security team has no visibility into those security controls, and you have no way to move to another CRM cloud vendor if those security mechanisms are challenged or, worse, fail. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Couple the loss of control with the media’s constant reporting of embarrassing high-profile data breaches and the unease about having customer data exposed grows. This is understandable, given the obvious consequences: compromised reputation, lost business, and fines levied for regulatory violations.

At SugarCRM, we’ve met this challenge head-on and by partnering with IBM Cloud our technology can be deployed across bare metal cloud servers, dedicated off-premise clouds or private cloud environments behind the firewall, all of which provide a level of security far beyond what’s available via public alternatives.

This is of course just one option amongst many but I’m confident that our customers can get on with running their business without worrying about the vulnerability of their CRM data. I’d wish the same for all companies, large and small, within the manufacturing sector. Once you’ve achieved peace of mind about your IT systems then, regardless of the headlines, you can dedicate your time to overseeing the success of your business; and there’s little more satisfying than that.

Tanmaya Varma, Global Head, Industry Solutions, SugarCRM

 

Follow @ManufacturingGL and @NellWalkerMG

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