What is your company’s competitive advantage? A decade ago, competitive advantage was rooted in physical machines and products. Today, this advantage has shifted to information. A company’s proprietary data and intellectual property are vital to its survival. In the oil and gas industry here in Houston, for example, the loss of proprietary exploration and extraction data could cripple a company.

Automation and integration with cloud-based systems have streamlined operations and given businesses a competitive edge. But this integration is also creating new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Today’s complex systems interface with demand planning, procurement, production, warehousing and distribution. One breach is all it could take to infect an entire system– jeopardizing plant operations and information integrity.

Cybersecurity is a top priority for manufacturing companies in 2018. These are four steps to take today to mitigate risk:

  1. Understand Vulnerabilities.
    You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists. A threat assessment audit is an essential first step towards shoring up cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Keep in mind this isn’t a one-and-done exercise; these audits are necessary on a regular basis as technology changes and as updates are introduced into the system. At smaller manufacturing companies, consider bringing on a cybersecurity expert to conduct this audit.
  2. Create a Disaster Plan.
    Even with the best firewalls, endpoint security, and other tools, a breach is not a question of if but when. Just as with natural disasters, manufacturing companies need a plan in place that covers immediate steps to take should systems be breached. For example, if the system is hacked and robots in the production line are compromised, what should the quality manager do next? The response plan, particularly for manufacturers regulated by federal agencies, needs to be readily available so that product quality is not compromised. A response plan helps limit the disruption to your organization and day-to-day operations as well as protect the end product that has your name on it.
  3. Educate Employees on Cybersecurity Threats.
    It doesn’t take much to create a breach. A single spear phishing email or malware-laden file could open up a door for attackers. Regularly conduct awareness training so that employees know what these scams look like and what to do in the event of a breach. Don’t limit the training to your IT team. Education can empower leaders throughout the company to prevent and mitigate breaches.
  4. Source Specialized Cybersecurity Talent
    You need experienced talent running their financial and managerial operations, the same goes for cybersecurity. These professionals have specialized skill sets that range from integrating security software to testing and beyond. Industry recruiters can help manufacturers find top talent. If your company is smaller, bringing someone on full-time may not make financial sense. In this case, a recruiter can help match you with contract talent for a short-term project. Contractors can also be helpful for companies with immediate project needs that can’t afford to spend time engaged in a lengthy search for a permanent hire.

With the threat landscape evolving rapidly, the question is no longer if a system will be breached but what happens when this breach occurs. To mitigate risk and fall out, manufacturers must understand their vulnerabilities, create an action plan, and educate employees. There’s no need to go it alone: the right cybersecurity talent can help your company get up to speed quickly and stay protected.