Securing Smart Manufacturing


“Alexa, turn on the TV.”

”Get it yourself.”

This nightmare scenario could play out millions of times unless people take steps to protect their IoT devices. The situation is even worse in industrial settings. Smart manufacturing, that is, Industry 4.0, relies on tight integration between IT systems and OT systems. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has evolved into supply chain management (SCM) systems, reaching across organizational and national boundaries to gather all forms of inputs, parting out subcomponent development and production, and delivering finished products, payments, and capabilities across a global canvas.

Each of these synergies fulfills a rational business goal: optimize scarce resources across diverse sources; minimize manufacturing, shipping, and warehousing expense across regions; preserve continuity of operations by diversifying suppliers; maximize sales among multiple delivery channels. The supply chain includes not only raw materials for manufacturing, but also third party suppliers of components, outsourced staff for non-core business functions, open source software to optimize development costs, and subcontractors to fulfill specialized design, assembly, testing, and distribution tasks. Each element of the supply chain is an attack surface.

Software development has long been a team effort. Not since the 1970s have companies sought out the exceptional talented solo developer whose code was exquisite, flawless, ineffable, undocumented, and impossible to maintain.  Now designs must be clear across the team, and testing requires close collaboration between architects, designers, developers, and production. Teams identify business requirements, then compose a solution from components sourced from publically shared libraries. These libraries may contain further dependencies on yet other third-party code of unknown provenance. Simplified testing relies on the quality of the shared libraries, but shared library routines may have latent (or intentionally hidden) defects that do not come to life until in a vulnerable production environment. Who tests GitHub? The scope of these vulnerabilities is daunting. Trend Micro just published a report, “Attacks on Smart Manufacturing Systems: A Forward-looking Security Analysis,” that surveys the Industry 4.0 attack surface.

Within the manufacturing operation, the blending of IT and OT exposes additional attack surfaces. Industrial robots provide a clear example. Industrial robots are tireless, precision machines programmed to perform exacting tasks rapidly and flawlessly. What did industry do before robots? Factories either relied on hand-built products or on non-programmable machines that had to be retooled for any change in product specifications. Hand-built technology required highly skilled machinists, who are expensive and require time to deliver. See Figure 1 for an example.

Figure 1: The cost of precision

Non-programmable robots require factory down time for retooling, a process that can take weeks. Before programmable industrial robots, automobile factories would deliver a single body style across multiple years of production. Programmable robots can produce different configurations of materials with no down time. They are used everywhere in manufacturing, warehousing, distribution centers, farming, mining, and soon guiding delivery vehicles. The supply chain is automated.

However, the supply chain is not secure. The protocols industrial robots depend on assumed the environment was isolated. One controller would govern the machines in one location. Since the connection between the controller and the managed robots was hard-wired, there was no need for operator identification or message verification. My controller would never see your robot. My controller would only connect to my robot, so the messages they exchanged needed no authentication. Each device assumed all its connections were externally verified. Even the safety systems assumed the network was untainted and trustworthy. No protocols included any security or privacy controls. Then Industry 4.0 adopted wireless communications.

The move, which saved the cost of laying cable in the factory, opened those networks to eavesdropping and attacks. Every possible attack against industrial robots is happening now. Bad guys are forging commands, altering specifications, changing or suppressing error alerts, modifying output statistics, and rewriting logs. The consequences can be vast yet nearly undetectable. In the current report on Rogue Robots, our Forward-looking Threat Research team, collaborating with the Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI), analyzes the range of specific attacks today’s robots face, and the potential consequences those attacks may have.

Owners and operators of programmable robots should heed the warnings of this research, and consider various suggested remedies. Forewarned is forearmed.

The Rogue Robots research is here:

The new report, Attacks on Smart Manufacturing Systems: A Forward-looking Security Analysis, is here:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, or @WilliamMalikTM.

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