Industrial companies are in the midst of the digital transformation. It’s a major transition that presents many opportunities for both large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) if they deploy technology such as artificial intelligence (AI). For example, machine learning (ML) can teach a system to detect an impending failure before it brings an entire array of production machines to a halt. AI systems can also help identify defects during quality control and thereby reduce production waste.
The digital transformation also has its drawbacks, however. After all, everything that is digitalized and networked is also a potential target for cybercriminals. This is making the issue of security even more important – especially when production facilities in a smart factory are connected to the company network.
Organizations of all sizes are at risk. According to a study on security in medium-sized companies by the consulting firm Deloitte, however, SMEs tend to feel quite safe overall because very few cyberattacks on such firms have been publicized so far. That feeling is deceptive, though. The report finds that cyberattacks on medium-sized and family-owned companies have increased considerably, especially since 2019. The most recent example involves the machine manufacturer Mahr, whose operational processes were disrupted at the end of last year after the company’s IT infrastructure suffered an online attack.
Service providers handling security tasks for SMEs
When it comes to security, awareness often isn’t the only thing lacking; there’s also the matter of corresponding expertise. Online attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. According to Max Weidele, founder of the knowledge platform Sichere Industrie, a variety of security measures are required to protect the new, more flexible network architectures of a digitalized industrial sector. “It starts with safeguarding terminal devices and extends all the way to network access solutions and tools that regularly check the firmware of controllers,” Weidele explains. The first solutions are already available, with a number of providers offering services designed specifically to handle security tasks for small and medium-sized enterprises.
SMEs can rely on managed services to monitor network security or back up data, for example. Providers of such services also offer their own failsafe networks to which Internet traffic can be redirected after an attack on a company’s website. Managed services are available from major players such as Cisco or IBM, as well as from small regional system vendors. The main advantage of the latter is that they can meet with their medium-sized customers on more of an equal footing. Meanwhile, IT isn’t the only point of view from which security demands present a challenge for SMEs. They can also cause headaches for those responsible for safety – that is, safeguarding automation technology on a production line. Risk analysis and corresponding certification must be carried out for each application where a robot is used. The aim is to ensure that the robot does not endanger human employees during its work. And with every new application, the security concept also needs to be adapted. This can be a big hurdle for smaller companies.