The Importance of Data Security in the Manufacturing Sector

August 15, 2023 - Emily Newton

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Cybersecurity is a leading concern for businesses today but most often in information industries. The importance of data security in heavy industries like manufacturing may not be as immediately evident, but it’s equally, if not more, pressing.

Even though manufacturing is likely not the first sector people associate with cybercrime, it faces more cybercrime-related pressure than many others. If manufacturers don’t improve their cybersecurity posture, it could have far-reaching consequences.

Why Is Data Security Important for Manufacturers?

Understanding the importance of data security for manufacturers is the first step to minimizing related risks. Rising cybercrime rates affect all sectors, but manufacturers face a more severe risk landscape than most. Here’s why.

Manufacturers Are Vulnerable

The biggest factor making cybersecurity so important for manufacturers is that many businesses in this industry are easy targets. Because digital tools are relatively new to the sector, many organizations don’t understand how to secure them. As a result, less than half of manufacturers have company-wide security policies.

Despite this lack of understanding of how to protect digital assets, manufacturers are digitizing rapidly. Many companies know the benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies, so they rush to embrace them, but doing so also introduces cyber risks these businesses previously didn’t have to worry about.

The industry’s adoption of data-centric and digital technologies has far outpaced its knowledge of the risks this tech can introduce. Consequently, the wave of digital transformation that’s swept the sector has left many manufacturers vulnerable to attack without them realizing it.

Manufacturers Are Popular Targets

The importance of data security for manufacturers is more than a theoretical concern, too. Cybercriminals have taken note of these widespread vulnerabilities and are acting on them in increasing frequency and severity.

Manufacturing accounted for nearly 25% of all cyberattacks in 2022, making it the world’s most-targeted sector. Industries like finance and government that seem like more typical targets may have more valuable data at stake but also often have stronger defenses. Manufacturers — whose data is increasing faster than their knowledge of how to protect it — offer a better chance at a payout for cybercriminals.

Rising Industry 4.0 adoption will likely accelerate this trend, too. More digitization leaves manufacturers with more sensitive information and potential entry points for hackers, drawing more criminal attention.

Attacks Against Manufacturers Can Be Devastating

Another factor making cybersecurity a more pressing issue for manufacturers is the scale of these attacks. Successful cyberattacks against manufacturers can cause widespread damage as their effects ripple throughout the supply chain.

If a manufacturer uses a digital supply chain management solution, hackers could access sensitive information about partners and customers by breaching it. Alternatively, if a cyberattack takes some machines offline and shuts down production, it’ll lead to delays, shortages and price hikes down the supply chain. In both cases, a single attack can affect hundreds, even thousands, of parties.

In 2022, a ransomware attack forced Toyota to shut down production for a day after targeting one of the automaker’s parts suppliers. Despite being a relatively small-scale attack, it led Toyota to fall 13,000 vehicles behind production targets and caused the company’s stock to fall behind the rest of the industry. 

Steps to Improve Data Security in Manufacturing

Given these factors, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of data security in the manufacturing industry. Thankfully, improvement is possible. Here are some best practices the industry must implement to improve its security posture.

Train Employees

Awareness is the first step toward better security, especially in this industry, where many insiders don’t understand data risks and best practices. It’s also worth noting that 85% of data breaches are the result of human error, so better employee training is crucial.

Manufacturers should train all employees — regardless of their role and access privileges — in basic cybersecurity controls. That training should cover how and why to use strong, unique passwords, how to spot phishing attempts, how to report potential breaches and why to never use personal devices for work purposes. Steps like this may seem simple, but manufacturers could fall victim to devastating attacks without them.

Employees with higher-level access privileges should receive more in-depth training and frequent refreshers. Manufacturers with lots of sensitive data should also periodically simulate attacks to ensure everyone knows how to respond appropriately.

Secure the IoT

Internet of Things (IoT) technology plays another critical role in the importance of data security for manufacturers. One of the reasons manufacturers are so vulnerable is their rising IoT adoption. IoT devices often have weak built-in protections and can make once-air-gapped systems open to hacking, so they deserve attention.

IoT devices typically ship with weak default passwords, so manufacturers must change these and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) if available. Turning off automatic connections and similar unnecessary defaults will further reduce IoT-related risks.

Manufacturers must also encrypt all IoT traffic to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks, where cybercriminals intercept data traveling between endpoints. Enabling automatic updates to ensure all IoT devices have the latest software patches is similarly important. Real-time network monitoring may also be necessary to catch suspicious IoT activity before it leads to a breach.

Be Proactive About Cybersecurity

Given the high importance of data security in manufacturing, businesses must be proactive about their protections. Attacks against manufacturers are too disruptive and costly to simply respond to incidents as they arise. Organizations must actively look for threats to address risks before they cause any damage.

Part of being proactive means installing firmware and software updates as soon as they’re available. Regular penetration testing, which reveals potential weaknesses in a security system so companies can patch it before a cybercriminal takes advantage of it, is also necessary.

Automated network monitoring is another critical part of proactive approaches to cybersecurity. Artificial intelligence (AI) can recognize and isolate suspicious activity faster than human employees, letting manufacturers find and stop potential breaches before losing any sensitive data or experiencing other losses.

Understand the Importance of Data Security

Many manufacturers today are both profitable and easy targets for cybercriminals. That must change if the industry and all other companies that rely on it hope to minimize costs and protect their data.

Recognizing the importance of data security is the first step to minimizing digital risks. When more manufacturers realize the need for better cybersecurity, the industry as a whole can improve its defenses to prevent disruptive data breaches.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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