Manufacturers globally are leveraging technology to streamline processes and overcome production challenges. They combine information and operations technologies into a flexible, reliable, interconnected smart factory.

The smart factory enhances performance in all facets of manufacturing and supply chain by exploiting interconnected, agile and proactive digital resources for continuous improvement and self-learning.

A standard smart factory has the following elements:

  • Robotics
  • Internet of Things (IoT) and big data
  • Cloud technology

These technologies work in unison to achieve peak efficiency of physical systems, collaborating with emerging trends, such as additive manufacturing and augmented reality, to optimize manufacturing value chains. Smart factory technology aims to enable companies to:

  • Maximize asset availability
  • Optimize safety 
  • Autonomously detect and rectify quality issues 
  • Strengthen sustainable manufacturing practices

Before shifting to the smart factory mode, companies must identify operational gaps and relevant technologies to address them. A company should implement these solutions in small steps, scaling them once they yield positive results. It is also highly recommended to train or acquire new talent to manage these resources. 

With the increased use of technology and data systems, however, there comes the issue of security. What security considerations should companies make when transitioning to the smart factory model? 

Potential security risks when switching to smart factories

Security is a big concern for companies implementing advanced digital technologies. Cyberattacks on manufacturing systems can cripple operations and deny companies access to critical data. In extreme cases, attacks even cause physical damage to critical infrastructure.

Manufacturers must understand the type and nature of potential security risks to enable them to establish and enforce effective security measures. Potential security threats to a smart factory include:

Vulnerability exploitation

The smart factory contains several interconnected systems and devices often sharing the same network. Criminals may identify system vulnerabilities and exploit them to attack companies. They capitalize on these vulnerabilities to propagate attacks throughout the company.

Hacking and data theft

Some hackers target exposed networks to steal proprietary or employee information from companies. They identify shortcomings in human-machine interfaces and leverage them to access private information. They can also steal information on the real-time performance of different production assets recorded by industrial IoT sensors. A cyberattack may also tamper with the functioning of physical devices, causing them to transmit inaccurate information.

Malware attacks

Cybercriminals can introduce different kinds of malware to an insecure industrial network. Malware can be in the form of Trojans, ransomware or rootkits, among others. They could potentially leverage social engineering, phishing or watering hole attacks to attack interconnected facilities.

Denial-of-service attacks (DoS)

A DoS attack disables industrial networks and devices. When this happens, manufacturers lose control over processes compromising workflows and exposing assets and employees to safety risks.

Mitigating security risks when switching to a smart factory

Cybersecurity awareness is the first step toward establishing robust measures to combat security threats when transitioning to the smart factory. These measures are vital for detecting and defending against malicious attacks on industrial networks and equipment. Here is an overview of these measures.

1. Establish and enforce encryption and system access control measures

Smart devices and networks are revolutionizing operations in manufacturing facilities. However, these devices can become primary sources of attacks if not properly secured. Companies must establish strict measures for accessing and safeguarding these systems. They should employ industry-standard encryption algorithms to protect and guarantee real-time data integrity.

Companies can utilize digital signatures and cryptographic hash functions to authorize system access by specific individuals within the organization. Each facility should adopt several encryption methods to avoid abuse by individuals who may want to facilitate internal or external system attacks. 

2. Adhere to recommended technological regulations

When shifting to the smart factory, companies implement new technologies. The transition process leverages innovative devices and solutions with varying industry standards and regulations. Some companies may disregard existing regulatory specifications regarding the integration of digital technologies, thus exposing facilities to security risks.

Companies must adhere to recommended technological solutions as it encourages the formulation of best practices for optimum security of the smart factory.

3. Consider intrusion detection systems

Companies can intercept cyberattacks before they propagate through the entire network. Facilities managers can consider intrusion detection strategies that continuously monitor data packets to identify system vulnerabilities. This approach can prevent internal and external attacks by performing regular data inspections on IoT nodes or leveraging historical data to spot anomalies.

Advanced intrusion detection systems use artificial intelligence and machine learning to comb through massive datasets to detect and predict security threats. It enables companies to develop risk models to prioritize threat detection and elimination.

4. Train employees and establish a recovery plan

Cybersecurity training complements other security mitigation measures established by companies. It ensures employees are aware of prevailing security compliance standards and regulations. In addition, it equips them with the requisite technical skills to detect and neutralize system attacks. The employees should understand how to report and document attempted intrusions.

The company must establish a recovery plan if cybercriminals manage to penetrate or compromise existing security systems. The recovery plans can facilitate the timely restoration of services to minimize production losses.

The shift to the smart factory is inevitable as more companies race to implement technology to reduce operational costs and remain competitive. Strengthening security for smart factories requires extensive planning and continuous improvement to ensure networked systems and devices are foolproof. Companies should not shun digital technologies fearing internal and external breaches. Instead, they should focus on establishing effective mitigation measures and staff training.