Securing Digital Infrastructures

Security Threats in Smart Factories and Industry 4.0

Harnessing the power of connected devices and systems shouldn’t work against securing enterprises

Nandita Bery
Security Threats in Smart Factories and Industry 4.0

It was 2010 when the industrial sector had a wake-up call in the form of Stuxnet, a destructive malware that spread across production networks via removable USB media using a 3rd party attack aimed at gaining access to a 1st party edge device.[1] It was an early look at how cyberattacks can wreak havoc on industrial machinery.

Over a decade later, many companies find themselves in the thick of the fourth industrial revolution, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0; it’s driving digital transformation in manufacturing. Enabled by the industrial internet of things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 converges information technology (IT), operational technology (OT), and intellectual property (IP), as embodied by “smart factories.”

Why Industry 4.0? Manufacturing companies are looking to improve operational efficiency and gain competitive advantage; converging IT and OT across operations helps achieve just that. The reality is that convergence can be challenging, considering that IT and OT are distinct environments with separate risks. Threat actors also know the critical role the manufacturing industry plays in global supply chains; disrupted operations could impact multiple sectors.

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In this blog, we will look at some of the security threats associated with the physical and digital aspects of Industry 4.0 and discuss how to mitigate them.

What are the threats to assets in manufacturing environments?

In Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and big data and analytics are only a few key indicators of a manufacturing company undergoing a digital transformation. The innovation and interconnectedness of systems expand the attack surface, making it an appealing target for attackers looking to move laterally across networks.

Information technology (IT)

Manufacturing network environments have a persistent problem of legacy systems, which include operating systems that are outdated or no longer supported but are still in use due to the long replacement cycle for hardware. These are prone to unpatched vulnerabilities, which are the top attack vector in manufacturing, just waiting to be exploited.

IBM’s report in 2022 also revealed how ransomware is the top attack type in manufacturing—outpacing financial services as the top attacked industry—most likely due to its low tolerance for downtime.[2] Similar threats, such as phishing emails and documents containing malware, can quickly propagate throughout manufacturing networks, just like any enterprise system.

Operational technology (OT)

OT equipment should run with minimal interruptions, which could be a sticking point for patching systems. Manufacturing components like industrial control systems (ICSs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are known for being publicly exposed and are thus more vulnerable. Publicly searchable internet-connected devices and systems can be prone to malicious activities like targeted attacks that can result in operational disruption and sabotaged processes.

Intellectual property (IP)

Threat actors have much to gain when they get their hands on intelligence associated with patents, products and technologies, such as blueprints, technical specifications and detailed processes. Many hacking groups conduct years of reconnaissance to collect valuable information and then leak or sell it. Poor security configurations can lead to attackers gaining access to proprietary information and learning about the critical inner workings of the company. Industrial espionage can also come into play if attackers target suppliers related to the sector.

How do you secure smart manufacturing systems?

Given the array of threats that are prevalent in the manufacturing industry, it is fundamental to address common concerns starting with measures such as:

  • Know your systems. Having inventory of what you have and where is critical. You cannot protect what you don’t know you have.
  • Employ the principle of least privilege. Restrict user access to necessary files and systems. Specify whether individuals need to create, modify, or read files.
  • Establish awareness of cyber threats. Every connected device presents a potential risk. Identify your IT and OT assets and secure them accordingly. Practice cybersecurity measures tailored to smart factories, which include the secure handling of IP information.
  • Incorporate security as early as possible. Many smart factories in their infancy can benefit from optimizing their projects to include risk assessments and security controls, such as data encryption, robust backup systems, network segmentation and secure remote access.
  • Limit communications between IT and OT networks. Apply restrictions to which IT devices can communicate with OT equipment. Disable anything that may be unnecessary or unused to avoid use as jumping-off points for attacks.
  • Align with industry standards. Companies involved in the IIoT space can look into recommendations outlined in NIST’s special publication on protecting ICS environments [3] and the IEC 62433 [4].

Enabling secure Industry 4.0 on Platform Equinix

Equinix understands that agile and secure digital transformation is essential to support innovation in both IT and OT. Converged environments can be powerful and highly advantageous to companies when done right; getting IT, OT and IP in sync is essential. Interconnected infrastructures are core to Platform Equinix, enabling companies to securely share and migrate IoT data and workloads across multiple clouds and sites.

To learn more about how you can secure Industry 4.0 operations on Platform Equinix, read Secure Your Business with a Holistic OT Cybersecurity Platform.

Interested in learning more about cybersecurity? Read about our insights on what’s to come for developers and the importance of a secure software development life cycle.


[1] CSO Online, “Stuxnet explained: The first known cyberweapon.” August 2022.

[2] IBM, “X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2022.” 2022.

[3] National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Protecting Information and System Integrity in Industrial Control System Environments: Cybersecurity for the Manufacturing Sector.” March 2022.

[4] ISA. “ISA/IEC 62443 Series of Standards.” 2023.

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Nandita Bery Director of Awareness and Education, Infosec Team
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