Friday 14 Jun 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on March 25, 2024 - March 31, 2024

Manufacturing contributes nearly 30% to Malaysia’s GDP, positioning it as the country’s second-largest business sector. This prominence makes it a prime target for cyberattacks, says Peerapong Jongvibool, Southeast Asia and Hong Kong regional director at Fortinet.

Historically, he says, manufacturing has relied on outdated technologies, assuming they were immune to cyber threats. However, this misconception has led to numerous vulnerabilities.

Recent data by Fortinet indicates a concerning trend where viruses are the primary threat detected in Malaysia, numbering around 38 million incidents and constituting approximately 1.3% of global attacks.

“Botnets are also prevalent, with substantial numbers identified in recent quarters. It is important to note that fluctuations in attack rates do not signify a decrease in hacker activity; rather, they indicate shifts in tactics or targets. Therefore, while there may be occasional declines, hackers continually adapt their strategies, making cybersecurity a constant concern for manufacturing companies,” says Peerapong.

“Government involvement is paramount in establishing regulations and laws to safeguard these critical infrastructures that span sectors like power plants and manufacturing [that are] vital for citizen welfare. Each country may prioritise different sectors but manufacturing consistently ranks [highly] among them. This highlights the critical need for heightened cybersecurity measures within manufacturing, an aspect often overlooked by many.”

Manufacturing’s contribution to Malaysia’s GDP is significant. In 2022, the manufacturing sector witnessed a notable expansion of 8.1%, driven by increasing global demand and the expansion of domestic industries. Export-oriented sectors, comprising 69.2% of the manufacturing sector, experienced a growth rate of 7.1%, while domestic-oriented industries saw an even higher increase of 10.3%.

IT infrastructure has evolved significantly since previous generations. In the past, the concept of infrastructure may have revolved around simple server rooms and LAN cables. Connectivity relied heavily on physical connections and security measures were comparatively straightforward.

However, today’s technological landscape is vastly different. Networks have expanded exponentially, surpassing anything seen in previous years. Applications now transcend traditional server setups, with many operating within the cloud or through third-party data centres.

The traditional notion of office work has also shifted, with remote work becoming increasingly prevalent. This shift introduces new vulnerabilities as data flows across various networks and devices, ranging from computers to tablets to Internet of Things devices.

“The extensive use of these devices and the adoption of digital transformation initiatives have greatly increased the attack surface available to hackers. Consequently, it is imperative for manufacturing companies to adapt their cybersecurity strategies to address these evolving challenges.”

Manufacturing companies face several cybersecurity risks, foremost among them being downtime and compromised critical information, Peerapong shares.

Depending on the nature of their operations, such risks can result in damage to the factory itself or even pose a threat to residential areas. For instance, while the disruption of bicycle manufacturing may not have significant immediate consequences, the same cannot be said for essential services like power plants which directly impact people’s lives.

Hackers target manufacturing companies for various reasons, typically driven by specific motives rather than mere amusement.

“These motives often include business disruption, financial gain or even state-sponsored espionage. Recent events, such as those involving Russia and Ukraine, exemplify the sensitivity and complexity of such cyber threats,” he says.

“Therefore, manufacturing companies must prioritise cybersecurity measures to mitigate these risks and safeguard their operations, critical data and infrastructure from potential threats and attacks.”

Peerapong suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) plays a crucial role in enhancing cybersecurity defences for manufacturing industries, leveraging its capabilities in data analytics and machine learning. By analysing vast amounts of data, AI can identify patterns and anomalies indicative of potential cyber threats. This proactive approach enables organisations to anticipate and prepare for attacks before they occur.

AI enables rapid response to cyber incidents by automating certain processes. Unlike humans, who may struggle to keep pace with multifaceted attacks involving multiple vectors, AI can react swiftly and efficiently. It can detect, analyse and mitigate threats in real-time, reducing the likelihood of significant damage or downtime.

Its ability to continuously learn and adapt enhances its effectiveness over time. As it encounters new threats and attack techniques, AI algorithms evolve to better detect and counter them, strengthening the overall cybersecurity posture of manufacturing companies.

“AI can empower manufacturing industries in their cyber defence journey by providing advanced threat detection, rapid incident response and ongoing adaptive capabilities, ultimately helping to mitigate risks and safeguard critical operations and data,” says Peerapong.

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