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02 Apr, 2020 / BY Neil Sharp

5 ways to combat cyber risk in UK electronics manufacturing

cybersecurity-uk-electronics-manufacturingAs UK electronics manufacturers continue to adapt and evolve in response to multiple waves of technological change, the need for stringent control of cybersecurity has never been more vital.

The increased emphasis on digital connectivity, the adoption of sensor technologies, and the shift to an iCloud infrastructure offer many advantages - from better production visibility and improved predictive maintenance to higher product quality and reduced downtime.

But this burgeoning digital connectedness also brings with it an increased risk of cyber attacks, with manufacturing featuring among the top eight industries that reported data breaches in the past twelve months. 

So what steps should electronics manufacturers be taking to protect their productivity and their processes?

A critical pillar of Industry 4.0

For the past ten years the Annual Manufacturing Report has played a pivotal role in helping to shed light on the health and wellbeing of the UK manufacturing sector.

One of the central themes of the 2020 report focused on the increasing cybersecurity threat that manufacturers are experiencing as a result of the rapid advancement of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The study revealed that the vast majority of UK manufacturers perceive cybersecurity to be a "critical pillar" of Industry 4.0, with a substantial 85% of those surveyed highlighting it as being a key element of their digital transformation blueprint and 82% having a clearly defined cybersecurity strategy.

IT/OT convergence

Manufacturers were also questioned about their attitudes towards maintaining a consistent level of cybersecurity across the breadth of their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) environments.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said that their companies are bringing together IT and OT to digitise their business.

As software and data capture become increasingly embedded in manufacturing OT, the report also suggests there may even come a point where there is no longer a distinction between the two.

Cyber risk in the supply chain

While the majority of manufacturers expressed confidence in their own cyber security defences, they were less certain when it comes to dealing with their supply chain partners.

Just 11% of respondents reported that they insisted on their suppliers providing evidence of their cyber safety defences , whether as part of their supply chain negotiation, contracting or the agreeing of quality and payment terms.

Shared responsibility for cybersecurity

What the survey also emphasised was the importance of maintaining cohesiveness across the entire IT landscape - from the programmable logic controllers used on the factory floor to the integration of cloud-based machine learning.

Gone too are the days when cybersecurity was perceived as the sole preserve of the IT department, with eighty-four percent of respondents saying that the responsibility for cyber protection was shared by everyone within their business.

The Annual Manufacturing Report 2020 laid out the cybersecurity risk in no uncertain terms, with the VP and Chief Security Officer of Palo Alto Networks, Greg Day, commenting:

"Don't underestimate the cost of being hacked. From downtime to loss of production, damaged equipment, loss of reputation or even ransom demands, it can be immense - and it can happen to anyone."

5 ways to combat cyber risk 

So as the manufacturing landscape becomes evermore connected, what can manufacturers do to shore up their cybersecurity defences?

The report highlighted five strategies that manufacturers should be putting in place as part of their digital transformation process:

  • Ensuring that your company's IT and OT environments are unified, and that there is a company-wide commitment to shared responsibility in protecting against cyber threats
  • Upholding business continuity and the availability of manufacturing operations
  • Being vigilant in the protection of your intellectual property or valuable intellectual intelligence
  • Verifying the integrity, confidentiality and availability of your entire supply chain and insisting that suppliers provide evidence of robust cybersecurity defences
  • Following best practice in order to secure new routes to market and increase customer engagement

The Annual Manufacturing Report 2020 sourced its findings from a December 2019/January 2020 survey conducted by The Manufacturer magazine in partnership with Palo Alto Networks.

Survey respondents were asked to select between diametrically opposing points of view, with their responses being graded on a Likert scale to conclude the relative strength of opinion.

In addition, some respondents were also interviewed to add qualitative feedback to the quantitative research.

Just under a quarter of the businesses surveyed reported employee numbers of 1000 or more, while 30% had employee figures of between 1 and 50.

Twenty-three percent of participants reported annual turnover in excess of £250 million, with a further 22% reporting turnover of between £10 million and £50 million annually.

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