Digitalisation is driving harmonisation of the IT systems and the technologies that control and operate plant equipment. At the same time, manufacturers are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Here we explain the threats – and the opportunities.
Factory IT and data systems traditionally coexisted separately from the operating technology (OT) systems that control equipment operation and automation. This is changing as IT and OT converge in response to trends like industry 4.0, digital manufacturing and the connected factory.
Convergence creates optimisation opportunities for producers. But it also poses risks and challenges. Prime among these is the rapid growth of industrial cyberattacks. These present a serious threat to manufacturers in all sectors and can cause massive losses and disruption.
Food and beverage producers are not immune from this worrying trend. In 2021 a “ransomware” attack that crippled production at North American brewing giant Molson Coors was followed by a huge attack on US software company Kaseya that affected an estimated 200 customer companies. These included Swedish supermarket chain Coop, which was forced to close many of its 800 stores for days after its payments system was disabled.
Ransomware attacks occur when hackers install malicious code to jam a victim’s computer systems. In return for unlocking, the hackers demand a ransom payment. Such demands can run into exorbitant sums – $70 million in the case of Kaseya.
Determined ransomware hackers use multiple ways to compromise a target’s systems. For individual businesses, vulnerabilities vary from outdated antivirus or malware protection to individual employees being careless with PC security or using a compromised smartphone or USB stick.
Many targeted companies tend not to report attacks because of their negative brand impact, which is why industry experts believe the number of publicly known cyber breaches may be only the tip of the iceberg.
What, then, can food and beverage companies do to protect themselves? As technological complexity grows and the threat of cyberattacks grows, hiring a specialist partner to integrate and manage IT and OT systems can be a smart response.
Given the complexities involved, partnering with an external expert that can detect and fix threats in real time is often the best option to minimise vulnerability. Often, a cloud-based cybersecurity solution will offer superior protection. This is because cloud-based services often store remote backups of a client’s IT and OT systems that can be deployed in the event of a breach, allowing the victim to sidestep locally infected software and hardware.
An outsourced, integrated IT/OT solution is also a pathway to digitalisation and innovative connected solutions that can add great value. It can also make financial sense: by removing expensive assets from the balance sheet, it is possible to avoid large upfront investments and simply pay a monthly management fee.
Externally managed IT/OT also reduces a customer’s internal need for IT and OT knowledge, enabling manufacturers to sidestep the time, expense and difficulty of recruiting qualified staff in these areas and to concentrate on core business.
In other words, a sensible business move with a solid operational case that may just help you to sleep more soundly at night, too.