Why Upgrading to Industry 4.0 Offers a Cybersecurity Opportunity

Manufacturers should view upgrading their factories as a chance to revisit their cybersecurity and data governance practices.

The smart technology revolution that is currently taking the manufacturing sector by storm brings with it a range of operational advantages the full scope of which have yet to be fully grasped. From advanced robots that are able to perform complex and delicate operations in the blink of an eye, to big data analytics delivering nuanced insights into production processes, many factories are still looking for ways to incorporate these technologies to their greatest potential. And, as these technologies continue to evolve, the efficiencies they provide will only grow along with them.

However, if there is one stumbling block to the adoption of Industry 4.0, it is that many manufacturers have not yet taken the initial step of upgrading their IT systems and cybersecurity protocols. These outmoded systems have left the manufacturing sector unusually vulnerable to attack. The broad footprint of a modern factory, with its hundreds of Internet-enabled machines, is an added complication, because without comprehensive cybersecurity practices in place, one breach could compromise the broader system.

While this may seem like a cause for alarm, it is in fact an incentive to reassess data governance and cybersecurity practices more broadly. Here’s why meeting cybersecurity compliance standards and upgrading your automated factory systems are mutually supportive goals.

1. Strong cybersecurity practices offer protection against broader business threats.

To start, let’s review why industrial cybersecurity should be an operational priority for manufacturers. Even though stories break every day about large scale data breaches, security hacks, and infectious malware, many business owners continue to view security threats as something that could happen to others, but not themselves.

However, an investment in cybersecurity can save a business from more than just embarrassment. It can:

  • Retain customer trust. Consumers are growing increasingly weary of having their own private information compromised due to another entity’s negligence. When large-scale business operations are at stake, a breach of a partner’s identifiable information can mark the end of that relationship.
  • Avoid legal challenges. Businesses can be held accountable for financial damages if it is discovered that a security breach or data hack happened due to their own negligence. Documenting both your security practices and evidence that you followed them can save you from legal trouble.
  • Protect valuable IP and confidential information. Cybersecurity is more than a PR move. Your own information—including technical blueprints and operational details—can also be compromised. Moreover, industrial espionage often targets OEM suppliers on the assumption that they will be a weaker link.
  • Safeguard operations on the factory floor. Computer viruses don’t just target data. They can also hack operational equipment, either causing that equipment to malfunction, or holding it for ransom.

Reading the above, you may be tempted to think that you can avoid these threats by not investing in the newer technology. However, many older machines still run on exploitable operating systems, even if they aren’t connected to the Internet. For instance, in 2010, a virus passed through a USB drive was responsible for a cyber attack on an Iranian nuclear facility—proof that staying offline won’t save you.

Instead, make sure your modern factory can keep up with modern cyber threats. In the current cybersecurity arms race, most attacks search for weak links. Keeping your systems robust will deter would-be hackers who know there are easier targets elsewhere.

2. Meeting cybersecurity compliance prerequisites allows manufacturers to bid on more projects.

Anyone who has bid on government contracts, particularly for the Department of Defense, is familiar with the compliance standards required to handle this kind of work. The DoD isn’t the only one, however. Many other companies include cybersecurity requirements to protect their intellectual property, guard customer data, and to ensure confidential information about their operations stays safe.

Manufacturers may be used to highlighting features of their own facilities when bidding on contracts, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that robust cybersecurity practices—and the documentation to back them up—are just as strong a selling point. It’s not just about protecting against security threats, either. The business who can demonstrate the attention to detail required to guard against cyber attacks and data leaks can reasonably argue that this care applies to other aspects of their business as well—from quality control to process management.

3. Adopting advanced manufacturing processes strengthens factories competitively.

By now, it’s well established that factory automation increases a manufacturing plant’s output, improves the quality of the final product, and reduces waste. As a result, modern plants are able to cut down on operating costs, mitigate the risk of broad product recalls, and offer lower prices to consumers. In some cases, factory automation can even enhance a product, by making possible various processes that are otherwise incompatible with a human-operated assembly.

Many of the most exciting Industry 4.0 advances, such as large-scale data collection or the Industrial Internet of Things, must be safeguarded against security threats. However, they are also better equipped to run more sophisticated cybersecurity programs. Just like keeping your operating system software up to date is essential for receiving security patches, keeping your factory technology up to date also helps you take advantage of new security features.

The advantages of advanced factory automation are too great to be undermined by poor cybersecurity.

The reality is that even manufacturers who haven’t fully upgraded their technology are not immune to cyberattacks. In fact, those running older systems are even more exposed to security threats given the known vulnerabilities of these systems, and the absence of the more sophisticated protections built into newer devices. This means that a factory upgrade presents a first-class opportunity to also bring in expert guidance to review your company’s data governance and cybersecurity policies and give them an upgrade as well.

Eagle Technologies specializes in advanced industrial automation, including high-end robotics, IIoT technology, and assembly process simulation. If you would like to learn more about how our technology can help your company succeed, contact us today.

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Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI

Eagle builds the machines that automate manufacturing. From high-tech robotics to advanced product testing capabilities, Eagle offers end-to-end manufacturing solutions for every industry.

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