Ask an MSP ExpertQ: My MSP is located in an industrialized city and an increasing amount of our clients are manufacturing facilities. What can we do to keep our manufacturing clients safe?

First of all, congratulations on posing the question — this means you are already on the way to protecting your client. Each industry has its unique security needs, and manufacturing is no different.

Before we get into cybersecurity, though, let’s explore what the average manufacturing facility is in the United States. When one thinks of manufacturing, images arise of sprawling factories with towering smokestacks, employees operating assembly lines, and rows of semis at loading docks. But that’s not the reality. The average American manufacturing operation only employs  around 30 people.

In an operation that lean, the organization is going to be hyper-focused on turning out the product, not keeping out hackers. So as an MSP, you need to not just keep your client’s systems running, but also keep them safe.

The CEO of a pencil plant may want your MSP to only focus on making sure their network is up, and IoT functions are running. However, you need to make a strenuous case for cybersecurity. Once you’ve made that case, what steps should you take to secure your manufacturing client’s systems?

To find out, Smarter MSP reached out to cybersecurity expert Hussain Aldawood, a lecturer at the University of New Castle in Australia.

Plan for the worst

When anticipating a cyberattack on your manufacturing client, “It is not about if, it is about when,” warns Aldawood. “Plan your response well in advance, and response plans should be tested prior to an actual event.”

Sometimes, the most useful answers are the most logical, but the most straightforward steps are also the ones most often overlooked. Having a cyber-attack plan in place is no different than a fire drill, but you’d be surprised how many manufacturers overlook this. Like any other drill, you also hope you never need it, but if you do, you’ve done the training.

Secure the data

When looking at manufacturing, it’d be tempting to focus just on sensors and security cameras, but most plants have something more valuable that hackers are after: data. Data could be something like customer credit card orders for the pallets your client’s factory turns out, or drawings, plans, and proprietary product information.

Consider the recent attack on AirBus as a prime example of manufacturing vulnerability, where hackers were found to have penetrated systems and stole proprietary design information.

“Manufacturers have secrets of their innovation, which is part of their data. Manufacturers need to secure their data,” advises Aldawood.

In addition to the most stringent onsite protocols such as multifactor authentication, firewalls, and an update-to-date patching regimen, having data duplicated in secure off-site silos is crucial.

Strengthen the human firewall

The essential firewall is the human firewall. A cyber hygiene plan needs to be in place to strengthen it. Aldawood knows the dangers of complacency from experience. In 2012, Aldawood worked at ARAMCO, Saudi Araba’s state-owned oil giant. The organization had a sprawling manufacturing and industrial office complex.

“We did not have very strong cybersecurity protocols and policies in advance. We woke up the next day, and there was a huge attack. That is what happens to a lot of companies, they don’t expect themselves to be attacked,” recalls Aldawood. All it takes is one successful spear-phishing campaign, as was the case in ARAMCO, to cause a complete disaster.

“If one employee is not educated well in the cybersecurity domain, they can click a link or download an attachment from an email, and that causes an infection to the whole organization,” details Aldawood.

The ARAMCO cyberattack was arguably much more destructive than the dramatic physical attack on the facilities by drones last month. ARAMCO had to replace 50,000 hard drives, and its operations were crippled for weeks, whereas the oil giant repaired its facilities swiftly after the drone attack and was back online within days.

A range of options for MSPs and manufacturing

Aldawood says that all manufacturers are a target in today’s digitized world, but there are many options MSPs have at their disposal to protect their client. He recommends that only crucial employees (of the MSP and the manufacturer) have access to the whole company network.

“Limit access only to the areas the employee needs,” recommends Aldawood.

Always advise companies and IT professionals to keep their operating software and systems updated with the latest patches. The critical thing is to have that security plan in place.The essential #firewall is the #HumanFirewall

“By talking in detail with your client, you can always minimize risk,” states Aldawood.

Prevention costs far less than clean-up

One of the most challenging and crucial tasks that MSPs have is simply persuading manufacturers that cybersecurity is needed. To make that case, you need to explain to your client how expensive it is to clean up a mess after the fact.

“It is worth investing in cybersecurity before you face an incident because it costs much less in updating and securing your data compared to recovering your system after the fact. We saw it; we lived it, we suffered,” notes Aldawood.

Healthcare and finance industries make cybersecurity practices routine, but manufacturing lags. You need to persuade your manufacturing client that cybersecurity needs to be as much a part of their ecosystem as conveyor belts and pallets. Anything less, and they could find themselves facing a costly disaster down the road.

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Photo: kung_tom / Shutterstock

Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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