New Report Details How Smart Manufacturing Is Vulnerable to Attacks

A report from Trend Micro demonstrates how proprietary systems can be exploited.

A new report from Trend Micro Research illustrates how advanced hackers are using unconventional attack vectors against smart manufacturing environments. Smart manufacturing technology generally operates through proprietary systems, which use their own proprietary language. However, these systems also still run on the computing power of traditional IT systems. While typically designed to function independently from other systems, it’s this particular loophole that leaves these systems vulnerable to IT threats.

“Past manufacturing cyberattacks have used traditional malware that can be stopped by regular network and endpoint protection. However, advanced attackers are likely to develop operational technology (OT)-specific attacks designed to fly under the radar,” said Bill Malik of Trend Micro. “As our research shows, there are multiple vectors now exposed to such threats, which could result in major financial and reputational damage for Industry 4.0 businesses. The answer is IIoT-specific security designed to root out sophisticated, targeted threats.”

Working in partnership with Politecno di Milano, Trend Micro used real-time equipment from its Industry 4.0 Lab to demonstrate how malicious threats can potentially exploit these systems in an Industrial IoT (IIoT) environment. According to the report, the system languages can be easily “abused to input malicious code, traverse through the network, traverse through the network, or steal confidential information without being detected.” Due to its isolated nature, integrity checks are limited—subsequently making the system unprotected against certain risks and malicious activity.

Manufacturing execution systems (MES), human machine interfaces (HMIs), and customizable IIoT devices were identified as the most vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.

To combat these threats, the report recommends a number of defense and mitigation measures, such as:

  • Deep packet inspection that supports OT protocols to identify anomalous payloads at the network level
  • Integrity checks run regularly on endpoints to identify any altered software components
  • Code signing on IIoT devices to include dependencies such as third-party libraries
  • Risk analysis that extends beyond physical safety to automation software
  • Full chain of trust for data and software in smart manufacturing environments
  • Detection tools to recognize vulnerable/malicious logic for complex manufacturing machines
  • Sandboxing and privilege separation for software used on industrial machines

Trend Micro stresses that failing to address these potential weak links could result in damaged goods or malfunctions, as well as disrupt workflows, resulting in the manufacture of defective products.

To view the full report, visit Trend Micro Research’s website here.

For more news and stories, check out this report on how the electrical sector is vulnerable to cyberattacks here.