Cybersecurity Best Practice Policies, Training, and Education in Manufacturing

Cyber-hacking is one of the most significant threats to the security, production, profits and reputation of companies throughout the manufacturing sector. Despite this, many insurance companies have balked at offering cyber-insurance, due to the high costs and frequency of data breaches.

cyber security

Why Cybersecurity Is So Important in Manufacturing

The problem is most of all troubling to manufacturing companies, which are subject to 27 percent of all cyber-intrusions. In 2016 alone, 40 percent of all manufacturing companies were subject to some type of cyber-attack. With such high stakes involved, it is more important than ever for manufacturers to implement complex cyber-safety measures.

All Company Data Needs to Be Protected

manufacturing data protection

All companies have private data, the importance of which can range from mundane to critical. Nonetheless, all data contained within a company system is of some value. Therefore, data protection is of utmost importance across all corners of a business operation. Regardless of the size or scope of your company, the data contained in your system is likely to include the following:

  • Account information
  • Contact information
  • Payroll files
  • Social Security numbers
  • Bank account information
  • Personal emails

Additionally, the information in your system could also contain financial records, product designs, and tax records, all of which demand complete security from cyber intrusions.

General Tips for Improvement 

Protect Company Data

When companies transfer data from one computer or server to another, it becomes vulnerable. For the company that does not enact cybersecurity measures, the only way to ensure safe data is to store it on a single computer with no Internet connection and guard that computer at all times. For the vast majority of businesses, however, that is not a practical solution. In all likelihood, you need to upload company data to servers to perform the following functions:

  • Access customer information
  • Share information with colleagues
  • Back up crucial designs and documents
  • Analyze marketing info

The list goes on and on, but in any case, the security of company data is at risk each time it passes from one party to another, be it among colleagues or between partners.

company security

Determine Which Parties Have Access to Select Data

Within a company infrastructure, different types of data are appropriate for different departments and tiers along the chain of command. For example, there is no reason for salespeople to have access to a company’s payroll account and state/federal tax information. Therefore, businesses need to selectively restrict access to data to secure it from cyber-attacks. To that end, it is important to take inventory of the types of data your company stores, and to make a list of the personnel who are authorized to access each specific type of data.

Create a Privacy Policy

The bedrock of any business is the trust of customers and partners. To that end, it is crucial all parties you interact with are 100 percent confident in their ability to share private information — without having to worry whether the data will be misused or leaked. Therefore, it is critical to establish a privacy policy that outlines the terms in understandable language for the consent of all parties involved.

The terms of your policy should cover the following:

  • How the personal information of customers will be used
  • Who will have access to said information

If you wish to share select information with partnered entities for any reason, you should only do so after getting the express permission of the subjects in question.

sharing information

Protect Data Gathered Online

The Internet has made the collection of data easier than ever. However, all information collected on the Internet — be it through sales pages or customer inquiries — must be stored on a secure server. If you operate your own server, you must enact safety steps to ensure unauthorized personnel never leak or access the information.

If you use a third-party server, study their privacy terms to ensure their server is breach-proof and secure from within, so no hackers or rogue insiders can access the data you store on their server.

Implement Layers of Data Security

The protection of data is a multi-layered process because you cannot rely on a single protocol for security. If the only thing standing between a hacker and the data is a password, the data becomes vulnerable the moment the hacker succeeds at cracking the account. Therefore, it is crucial to implement a series of security protocols that recognize the importance of each data type.

Best Practices for Policy, Training, and Education in Manufacturing

Inventory of Data

With any company, there are different categories of data. The larger a business grows, the harder it becomes to keep track of all the data stored within a company system without an up-to-date inventory of the data on hand. To prevent any possible confusion or oversight regarding the data in your system, keep an inventory of all the layers of data your company stores.

keep inventory of layers of security

Identify Highly Sensitive Data

Every company stores a vast range of data on their server. Granted, while all data is of some value, not all data is of equal importance. Therefore, you should break data down into hierarchies of importance, and give top priority to the most sensitive data.

Here’s an example of a possible data hierarchy breakdown:

  • Confidential — This category would include all the private information of customers, such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, bank routing numbers and street addresses.
  • Sensitive — This tier would include all private information of your company, such as tax and audit records, that should only be accessed by select personnel.
  • Internal — This grouping would cover all information intended to be shared among staff, but not with outsiders, such as designs, recipes, formulas and other company secrets.

An established data hierarchy makes it easier to keep track of how your company secures confidential data at all times.

Control Data Access

With the data hierarchy established, you need to determine which parties have access to what data. For sensitive company data, provide access exclusively to the departments authorized to view such data. To ensure each department or set of employees understands their privileges, make a list of who has access to select bodies of data.

Secure the Data

To minimize the risk of data breaches, create passwords with at least 10 characters that contain both lower- and upper-case letters, as well as numbers and symbols. Change passwords on a regular basis. For utmost security, choose a two-tiered login process, such a password that also requires a PIN or thumbprint.

create passwords for protection

Another crucial aspect of security is encryption, which scrambles passwords to render them hack-proof. An encryption code requires a “key” to unlock the data. Encryption can be applied to an entire hard drive, select folders or select files.

Keep Data Backed Up

If you maintain only one copy of each data file, it could be lost or stolen at any time. To prevent the possibility of data loss due to fire, hard drive failure or disc theft, keep all data backed up at all times. The safest way to back up data is on an encrypted cloud server, where the data is stored offsite. This way, if your physical files are stolen or damaged due to a fire or natural disaster, your company data will still be retrievable.

Once you establish a backup plan, implement a policy of how to handle the data. Things to specify include:

  • Who is in charge of data backup
  • Where the data is stored
  • Who has access to backed-up data

Backing up data is an easy and affordable process that is well worth the small amount of effort required when you consider the potential consequences of not doing so.backing up data process

Have an Emergency Protocol for Data Loss

One of the most harmful things that can happen to any company is a data breach. When confidential info is leaked or compromised, it can ruin the trust of thousands of customers. Each year, security breaches hit companies of all sizes. In many cases, the authorities never identify the perpetrators, yet the affected businesses are still subject to lawsuits. Therefore, even with all the steps you implement to protect your data, it is still crucial to establish emergency procedures in the event of data loss.

If your company is ever hit by a cyber-intrusion, report the matter to the appropriate security party immediately. All company personnel must understand the necessary steps so they can take action the moment they realize there is a breach, whether it happens in the daytime or in the wee hours of the morning.

Even in an internal breach involving the loss of a hard drive by a company employee, it’s essential to report the problem immediately. With an established set of emergency protocols, it is easier to coordinate recovery efforts and prevent problems from spreading too far out of hand.

Beware of Social Engineering

One of the most deceptive threats to the security of a business is social engineering, which would account for any ruse cyber-thieves devise to trick employees into giving up information that could render a company vulnerable. Thieves have successfully pulled off social engineering ploys in various forms across a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

cyber thieves in manufacturing

A common tactic among perpetrators of social engineering schemes is to trick employees into downloading fake antivirus software that contains spyware. Simply by downloading one of these software programs, an employee could subject a computer — and possibly all computers on the company network — to a cyber-intrusion. Therefore, it is crucial to train employees on how to spot social engineering and not be taken in by such scams.

Protect Contacts From Online Fraud

The security of information goes both ways when it comes to dealing with customers. In some cases of cyber-theft, perpetrators will prey on customers by posing as legitimate companies. Even if your company has no prior dealings with the victims in question, instances of fraud committed in your company name can hurt your brand, be it through bad publicity or negative word of mouth.

Create a company messaging script for all phone and email exchanges to ensure your company has a recognizable and consistent style of communication. This step allows customers to quickly familiarize themselves with your company’s “voice” and avoid imposters.

Protect Against Phishing

Cyber-thieves often obtain classified data through a tactic known as phishing, which involves the use of deceptive emails that trick readers into clicking on malware links or giving up private info. Phishing scams are often related to news events and seasonal themes to sound legitimate. When cyber-thieves phish customer info from businesses, their goal is typically to pose as a company representative and scam customers out of money in the company’s name.

Make sure all company personnel know how to spot phishing schemes. The biggest red flags are emails that directly request personal info, or that send recipients to links with instructions to fill out personal info. Never click a link in an email message from an unknown or unverified source.

Reject Phony Antivirus Offers

One of the more deceptive methods cyber-thieves use to set up malware on computers is with the use of “scareware” ads that masquerade as legitimate computer warning messages. If a message box suddenly pops up on your screen saying your memory is full or that the machine is about to crash, and claims you must click a link to download an antivirus program, the message is a fraud.

Instruct all staff in how to distinguish fake antivirus offers from real ones, and to report any instances immediately. It’s also a good rule of thumb to train staff in how to recognize legitimate pop-up warnings that come from the computer’s operating system, versus the malicious pop-ups of hackers and malware creators.

Verify the Identity of Parties That Seek Information Over the Phone

Aside from the Internet, the primary channel through which social engineers operate is the telephone. A common tactic is to phone businesses posing as customers to bilk company representatives out of sensitive or confidential data.

Instruct all company personnel not to reveal private or proprietary information of any kind to incoming callers. To verify an incoming call is from a real customer and not an imposter, the employee should take down the caller’s contact info and then place an outgoing call to said customer before proceeding with the exchange.

Update Antivirus Software and System Programs Regularly

To ensure maximum network security, regularly update your computers. Each time an update of a trusted antivirus or database software program becomes available, have the update downloaded and installed across the network. For uniform functioning, replace all computers in your network at the same time to ensure each machine is compatible with the latest updates.

update for manufacturing security

Establish Safe Browsing Policies

To protect your internal network from viruses and malware, limit onsite Internet access among employees to websites that are relevant to your company’s business concerns.

Don’t Insert Unknown Thumb Drives Into Company Computers

An external storage device from a third-party source could potentially contain dangerous malware. To protect your internal network from becoming infected, only accept thumb drives and external hard drives of known origin. Instruct staff to only use company thumb drives, and only when directed.

Clarify Which Content Goes on the Company Website

Believe it or not, cyber-thieves can often access private data about a company directly from the company’s website. In some cases, the info comes from a repository page accessible to anyone with sleuthing web skills. In other cases, the information comes straight off the company profile page.


Establish a policy on what is safe to place on your website. Never put the following types of information on your site:

  • Company security
  • Details about a company’s information system
  • Architectural drawings of building layouts and installations
  • Information that implies security vulnerabilities
  • Information subject to local, national or international privacy laws

To ensure none of this type of mission-critical information appears in regular or small print on your company website or any of its back pages, verify all staff who manage your website understand the policy of what they can and cannot publish online.

Data Protection for IoT Settings

As manufacturing companies adopt the Internet of Things (IoT), in which moving and stationary mechanical devices are connected with computer systems, it is now crucial to ensure the security of each device linked to a company’s system. In 2016 alone, 34 percent of organizations around the world earmarked a fourth of their security budgets for IoT development, which in turn led to a 458 percent spike in IoT security scans and analysis.

When implementing IoT within your company infrastructure, inspect each new device’s security capabilities before linking it to the company system. Equip each accepted device with updatable software or firmware and reset mechanisms. Moreover, any company that implements IoT should establish contingencies for worst-case scenarios involving the storage and transfer of data through such devices.

The Future of Cybersecurity in Manufacturing

As IoT takes over in the manufacturing sector, hackers could potentially find new ways to hijack a company’s production processes. For example, an external party seeking to botch a line of products could remotely access robotic production machinery. The intrusion could easily go undetected, as the party in question might download, alter and re-upload the configuration file.

The change could cause the robotic arm to place assemblies just slightly off measurement. Though the alternation might not be noticeable to staff along the production line, the difference could ultimately compromise products and lead to a costly recall.

In the manufacturing of motorized machinery, a hacker could alter the heat setting of welding equipment along the production line and prevent pieces from bonding with sufficient tightness. Once again, the difference might initially go undetected, but the finished products could ultimately be unsafe. Depending on how much time passes between the intrusion and its discovery, a company could face untold financial loss and branding damage.

Take a Defensive Approach to IoT Security

Given the twofold issue of increased security threats and the new range of vulnerability IoT entails, the manufacturing sector must implement an advanced set of cyber-protocols. The basic steps toward eliminating risk should start with the following:

  • Identify potential entry points — As your IoT infrastructure grows, examine how each new computerized device could potentially be hacked by cyber-intruders. Submit each new device to penetration testing. Examine all connections, both internal and external, between each device and the overall system.
  • Conduct routine vulnerability scans — To keep your system miles ahead of the hackers who seek to find and exploit vulnerabilities in successive generations of patches, always implement the newest patches and updates.
  • Establish access control — Take measures to ensure an intrusion through one vulnerable device or entry point does not lead to a full-system hacking.

As a world leader in industrial electronics, Global Electronic Services is always on top of the issues that impact the manufacturing sector. Subscribe to our blog or follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the manufacturing industry.

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