Thursday, November 6th, 2014

As Manufacturing Renaissance Continues, Hackers Take Note

SPI continues to fight the misconception of manufacturing as a dated, old-fashioned industry, an image of the sector that’s as potent as it is false. But unfortunately for many manufacturers, there’s at least one constituency that’s become fully aware of the technological complexity and inherent value contained within the modern factory: hackers.

When guessing what industry is most frequently targeted by hackers, most people would probably guess banking or financial services, and that might be close, PackExpoMainbut it’d also be wrong. “Manufacturing is the most hacked industry right now,” said Doug Bellin of Cisco, delivering a presentation on the Internet of Things in the Center for Trends & Technology at this year’s PACK Expo. Citing a report published in the Wall Street Journal, Bellin said that 75% of all major manufacturing companies had admitted to being hacked at some point, but noted that he felt the problem was in all likelihood much worse. “There’s a key word in that statistic: ‘admit,’” he said. “The number is probably closer to 100%.”

Security has become paramount for all manufacturers as they’ve become more technologically advanced and adopted “Internet of Things” philosophies that aim to find value in a form of intra-organizational connectedness that goes beyond mere machine-to-machine communication to include items like marketing, human resources and health and safety management, among others.

“Three years ago if I said ‘security’ no one would care, but security now is key to anything that we say,” Bellin said. “Previously manufacturing had security by obscurity because it wasn’t connected. The door wasn’t open. Now you’re saying you need to have the connectivity because you’re going to see value from that,” he added, noting that efforts to facilitate this sort of value-driven connectivity between a company’s systems can amount to a doubling of critical infrastructure, which in turn increases entry points for hackers who in many ways have come to replace intellectual property (IP) thieves. “It’s no longer about IP theft,” Bellin said. “They don’t steal the plans. They use information from the PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and they reverse engineer the code on there to create the same thing.”

Nonetheless, preventing attacks like this isn’t hopeless and the benefits of interconnectivity can often yield immensely positive results, so long as the company in question remains continually diligent about its safeguards. “What scares people is that, in theory, this is now on the internet, ensuring that you can get to the data,” Bellin added. “But security’s not something you implement once and it’s done.”

As the manufacturer maintains and constantly stays on top of its security procedures, however, applying the concept of connectivity can help address many manufacturers most seemingly intractable problems, leading to increased efficiency, increased customer satisfaction and even increased employee loyalty and better hiring and retention practices. Bellin noted that, in many ways, manufacturing as an industry is aging, and that fewer young people are entering to take their place, but that the reasons and realities behind this phenomenon can be put to use as valuable pieces of intelligence in order to keep that process moving forward, ensuring that the older employees’ knowledge and experience are being used to their fullest and that the new people entering the company are able to learn and grow as well.

In a way the advent of big data allows manufacturers to apply older philosophies to plant optimization on an organization-wide basis, to their and their customers’ benefit. “The reality is that manufacturing has been doing sensors for a long time. The problem was they weren’t connected and you had islands of information out there,” Bellin said. “Now just getting to the data isn’t enough. You need to add a layer of intelligence.”

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