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Why Software Updates Are Crucial for Manufacturing Cybersecurity

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    Manufacturing workplaces are more connected than ever before. Managers know which production systems are failing, sometimes before the line workers do. Because of these interconnections, the manufacturing sector faces unique challenges and vulnerabilities that make it a prime target for cyberattacks. The most effective way to safeguard against these threats is to keep software updated with current patches. 

    Regular software updates are essential to protect companies from cyber threats like ransomware, social engineering, and data breaches. This article explains the importance of maintaining updated software in the manufacturing sector and the potential risks of neglecting this critical aspect of cybersecurity.

    Cybersecurity in manufacturing: Why it matters

    The manufacturing sector is increasingly reliant on digital technologies, from automated production lines to smart factories and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. While these advancements bring numerous benefits, they also expose manufacturing systems to various cyber threats.

    Ransomware attacks, social engineering schemes, and data breaches are among the most significant risks facing manufacturers today. Let’s break these threats down below.

    Ransomware attacks

    Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim's data and demands a ransom for the decryption key. Manufacturing companies are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to their reliance on continuous operations. A successful ransomware attack can halt production, leading to substantial financial losses and reputational damage. 

    Ransomware attacks in the manufacturing sector have significantly increased in the past four years. According to the latest Sophos Report, 64% of manufacturing companies have been attacked by ransomware.


    Social engineering

    Social engineering involves manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. In the manufacturing sector, social engineering tactics can be used to gain access to sensitive systems or information, potentially leading to data breaches or sabotage. 

    In a recent social engineering attack on Marriott, hackers were able to obtain between 300 and 400 customer credit card numbers. The attack, which likely involved the perpetrators posing as Marriott technical support staff, tricked an employee into providing access credentials or setting up a remote desktop connection. This method is part of a broader trend in which attackers bypass advanced security measures by exploiting human vulnerabilities. 

    The rise of such social engineering attacks underscores the need for comprehensive security awareness training and updated technological defenses to protect against these sophisticated schemes​​.

    Data breaches

    Data breaches occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to confidential information. For manufacturers, this can include intellectual property, trade secrets, customer data, and other sensitive information. Data breaches can result in significant financial losses, legal liabilities, and damage to a company's reputation.

    Example 1: Brunswick Corporation

    In June 2023, Brunswick Corporation, a leading marine recreation manufacturing company, experienced a significant IT security incident. This breach affected various systems and facilities worldwide, forcing the company to pause operations in some locations. It exposed sensitive information belonging to employees and customers, including names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and more. 

    The company estimated losses of up to $85 million due to the disruption of operations, particularly in its Propulsion and Engine Parts & Accessories segments. Production was halted for several weeks, significantly affecting its financial results for the second quarter of 2023.

    Example 2: Topgolf Callaway Brands Corporation

    In August 2023, Topgolf Callaway Brands Corporation, a prominent golf equipment manufacturer, experienced a significant data breach that affected over 1.1 million customers. The breach involved unauthorized access to sensitive customer data, including full names, shipping addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and more. 

    The incident was detected early, and the company took immediate action to contain it. Topgolf Callaway forced a password reset for all affected accounts and provided detailed instructions to help users secure their information. Additionally, the company implemented additional security measures to prevent future breaches and continues to offer free credit monitoring services to those impacted. 

    Despite early detection and rapid response, the breach has raised concerns about the security practices of even well-established companies, highlighting the need for robust cybersecurity measures and prompt communication with affected individuals.

    The importance of manufacturing software updates and patches

    Software updates and patches play a crucial role in mitigating these cybersecurity threats. They are designed to fix vulnerabilities, enhance security features, and improve the overall functionality of software systems. 

    Here are several reasons why keeping software updated is vital for the manufacturing sector.

    1. Closing security vulnerabilities

    Cybercriminals almost always exploit known vulnerabilities in software to gain unauthorized access to systems. Software updates and patches address these vulnerabilities, making it more difficult for attackers to exploit them. By regularly updating software, manufacturers can close security gaps and protect their systems from most attacks.

    2. Enhancing system stability and performance

    Software updates not only address security vulnerabilities but also improve the stability and performance of systems. In the manufacturing sector, where downtime can result in significant financial losses, maintaining optimal system performance is crucial. 

    Regular updates ensure that systems run smoothly and efficiently, minimizing the risk of unexpected failures. They keep systems running smoothly and efficiently, reducing the risk of unexpected failures. However, older systems may need outdated software to function properly. In these cases, it is usually possible to host the older operating system and software on a virtual machine (VM) and/or a virtual private network (VPN), which can safeguard these systems, even though they may not have the latest software updates available.

    3. Compliance with industry standards and regulations

    Many industries, including manufacturing, are subject to strict cybersecurity standards and regulations. Regularly updating software helps companies comply with these requirements, avoiding potential fines and legal penalties. Additionally, compliance with industry standards demonstrates a commitment to cybersecurity, which bolsters a company's reputation and trustworthiness.

    4. Protection against zero-day exploits

    Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities that are unknown to the software vendor and, therefore, have no immediate fix. While it is challenging to protect against zero-day exploits completely, keeping software updated with the latest patches can help mitigate the risk. Vendors often release patches to address zero-day vulnerabilities as soon as they are discovered, so timely updates are critical.

    The risks of neglecting manufacturing software updates

    Failing to keep software updated can have severe consequences for manufacturing companies. Here are some of the risks associated with neglecting software updates:

    • Increased Vulnerability to Cyberattacks: Outdated software is more susceptible to cyberattacks, as it may contain unpatched vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. This increases the likelihood of ransomware attacks, data breaches, and other security incidents.

    • Operational Disruptions: Cyberattacks targeting outdated software can disrupt manufacturing operations, leading to significant downtime and financial losses. In some cases, production lines may be halted for extended periods, affecting supply chains and customer satisfaction.

    • Financial and Reputational Damage: The financial impact of a cyberattack can be substantial, including costs associated with incident response, recovery, legal liabilities, and potential fines. Additionally, a successful cyberattack can damage a company's reputation, eroding customer trust and potentially leading to a loss of business.

    • Regulatory Failure: Failing to keep software updated can result in non-compliance with industry regulations and standards. This can lead to legal penalties, fines, and increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies. Maintaining updated software is a critical component of regulatory compliance and demonstrates a commitment to cybersecurity best practices.

    Best practices for managing software updates

    To effectively manage software updates and ensure the security of manufacturing systems, companies should implement the following best practices:

    1. Develop a patch management strategy. Establish a comprehensive patch management strategy that includes regular scanning for updates, testing patches before deployment, and scheduling updates during planned maintenance windows to minimize disruptions.

    2. Automate updates where possible. There are many tools that will help automate the patch management process. Utilizing automated tools to manage software updates and patches ensures timely updates and reduces the risk of human error.

    3. Prioritize critical updates. Apply critical security patches as soon as they are released. Prioritizing updates based on their severity helps address the most significant vulnerabilities first. Hackers are aware that most of the industry attempts to apply patches on a monthly cycle, so they also know the best chance they have for success is within the first 30 days a patch is released (when it is likely not yet to be deployed on production systems).  

    4. Monitor and audit systems regularly. Continuously monitor systems for signs of vulnerabilities or potential threats. Conduct regular audits to ensure that all software is up-to-date and compliant with security policies.

    5. Educate employees. Provide ongoing cybersecurity training for employees to raise awareness about the importance of software updates and how to recognize potential security threats. Educated employees are better equipped to follow best practices and avoid falling victim to social engineering tactics.

    The path to cyber resilience for manufacturers

    In the manufacturing sector, keeping software updated with current patches is a critical component of cybersecurity. Regular updates help close security vulnerabilities, enhance system performance, ensure compliance with regulations, and protect against various cyber threats, including ransomware, social engineering, and data breaches. By implementing a robust patch management strategy and following best practices, manufacturing companies can safeguard their operations, protect sensitive information, and maintain their reputation.

    As a connected workforce software provider, L2L is committed to keeping customers’ data safe from cyber threats and helping customers meet regulatory requirements. For more information on L2L’s commitment to security, see our Security and Compliance information or reach out to support@l2l.com.