15 tips for defending against unauthorized network access in manufacturing

unauthorized access

Proper network security involves administrative, physical, and technical strategies. To prevent unauthorized access attempts, manufacturers must combine all three. Here are some of the top defenses they can use.

1. Leverage the Latest Technology

The digital advancements of 2023 are unparalleled. Evolutions in artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) opened up many new possibilities for cybersecurity. Now, manufacturing professionals can use these technologies to improve their network defense.

Machines can prevent unauthorized access better than humans because they have higher processing speeds and can work around the clock. Some technologies can even be custom-developed for this specific use case. For example, machine learning models trained to monitor networks can classify traffic with over 99% accuracy on average.

2. Physically Monitor the Router

Defending against unauthorized network access involves more than adding new hardware to a tech stack. Manufacturers must also consider physical security. To be safe, they should install cameras where they keep their routers.

This act would protect against insider threats like disgruntled former employees, phishing victims, and negligent workers. At the very least, it gives managers a record of every person who intentionally or accidentally interacted with the device.

3. Limit the Attack Surface

People typically access networks on multiple devices, which puts their employer at a greater risk of unauthorized intrusion. After all, every gadget they connect broadens the company’s attack surface and makes it easier for cybercriminals to find security weaknesses.

Manufacturers can minimize their attack surface by limiting what connects to their network. For example, they can restrict access to specific roles or IP addresses. Alternatively, they can create a workplace policy regulating what devices employees can bring.

4. Limit Network Authorizations

The principle of least privilege is the idea that people only need minimal access to do their jobs. Manufacturers apply it to data and physical security using various policies and technologies. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, many use the same strategies.

For one, businesses typically restrict network privileges to those who need them to carry out their everyday duties. Also, they often revoke access when the person doesn’t immediately need it. Allowing anyone unlimited possession of sensitive documents or systems can only increase security risks.

5. Automate Network Defense

More often than not, preventing unauthorized network access is a challenging responsibility. After all, threat monitoring and identification require substantial time commitments — and the manufacturing industry will be over 2 million jobs short by 2030. Because of this situation, automation remains one of the most effective strategies available.

If professionals use automation technology for repetitive duties like network monitoring and traffic classification, they can remain secure while accomplishing more elsewhere. These devices can operate around the clock, minimizing the chances of someone trying to gain entry without authorization. Further, they can easily outpace a human during incident response if it comes to that.

6. Keep Software Up to Date

Outdated software is highly vulnerable to exploits because attackers know precisely what vulnerabilities to search for. Despite this, many facilities don’t consider their routers when scheduling updates. If it misses even one patch, unwelcome intruders have a much higher chance of securing unauthorized network access.

Facilities must ensure they keep all of their software up to date — especially their routers. They should routinely check if the device manufacturer has released any recent patches. If they find out they’re behind, they should immediately schedule an update to resolve the conflict.

7. Audit Third-Party Vendors

The manufacturing industry is particularly susceptible to supply chain attacks because it relies on many vendors. Unfortunately, outsourcing some responsibilities to streamline operations is a risky trade-off. Globally, around 98% of companies use third parties who have experienced a recent data breach.

Most manufacturers can’t simply give up their relationships with their vendors since they don’t have the resources to take on the additional duties. Fortunately, they can implement routine check-ins instead. Audits ensure third parties comply with basic cybersecurity etiquette, minimizing the chance of someone accessing the network without authorization.

8. Change the Router’s Credentials

Sometimes, facilities keep the default credentials their routers come with. Because of this, they open themselves up to the risk of unauthorized network access. Attackers don’t even need special tools to take advantage of this mistake. For starters, they can use Shodan — a search engine that finds connected devices — or look up the public password information online.

Manufacturing professionals must change the default credentials on their router to something strong. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommends passwords be 16 characters or more and have unique characters spread throughout. Additionally, they suggest the use of a management program since it’s challenging to remember a string of nonsensical text.

9. Adopt Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication requires manufacturing professionals to verify their identity before accessing networks, devices, or systems. Although it’s a relatively simple solution, it’s incredibly effective. Even if an attacker is initially successful, they won’t be able to do anything without hacking someone’s device, meaning they have virtually no chance of gaining entry.

While multi-factor authentication is relatively straightforward, manufacturers should be aware it’s only effective with the right policies behind it. It becomes one of the leading network misconfigurations if they only recommend it instead of requiring it. They need to ensure no one can bypass it and audit for compliance to ensure it works as it should.

10. Secure the Router

Routers are visible on Shodan and often have outdated firmware, frequently one of the weakest entry points in an entire facility. Manufacturing professionals have to secure it if they want to defend their network against unauthorized access.

To do so, they can use Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 to enable encryption. It’s a security standard that provides unique encryption keys for every device on the network. It can protect data in transit, preventing attackers from gaining anything useful. They should also turn off remote management options to prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access anywhere in the world.

11. Raise Workplace Awareness

Considering the manufacturing industry faces a labor shortage, many professionals believe they can’t afford to spread their resources thin by scheduling ongoing training sessions. However, it’s necessary to their network security. After all, human error is responsible for 95% of cybersecurity incidents on average.

Employees can quickly learn basic security practices in a short period. However, if managers or human resource professionals can’t find time to schedule facility-wide training, posters and email reminders can help raise awareness of the proper procedures.

12. Encrypt Server-to-Server Traffic

In 2022 alone, manufacturers in the United States experienced 250 data breaches, with each incident costing nearly $4.5 million on average. Even if data is encrypted internally, it’s not secure in transit.

Professionals should ensure they encrypt server-to-server traffic to prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access while data is in transit. This approach would drastically reduce potential security complications when dealing with third-party vendors.

13. Segment the Network

Manufacturers must plan for an inevitable intrusion if they want to protect themselves fully. Their goal should be to prevent lateral movement. In other words, they should aim to restrict the attacker’s activity to minimize the potential damage.

Segmentation splits the entire network into smaller sub-networks, preventing the attacker from gaining access to everything simultaneously. Manufacturing professionals should use this strategy to separate sensitive operations from high-risk ones. For example, they could move every IoT device — like equipment sensors or lockout/tagout wearables —  to its location.

14. Monitor Network Activity

Of course, manufacturing professionals should monitor network activity to identify when someone’s trying to gain entry without authorization. They should look for unusual activity — like repeated access attempts or logs with odd time stamps — to detect a potential attacker. They can prevent cybersecurity incidents if they pay close attention and stay proactive.

15. Limit Third-Party Access

In 2022, nearly 50% of organizations experienced a cybersecurity incident because of a third-party intrusion. Even though routine security compliance audits can substantially reduce the chances of this happening, manufacturers would be much more secure if they restricted their vendors’ network access.

Professionals should implement strict policies regarding when, why, and how their vendors can gain entry or transmit data. Additionally, they should establish privilege controls to ensure every third-party access attempt is valid and necessary.

Network Protection Requires Strategization

These strategies are only as good as their implementation processes, meaning manufacturing professionals need to be strategic about adopting them. For one, they should use routine audits to ensure compliance. Additionally, it’s in their best interest to track the effectiveness of each approach to see how much it improves their network security.