The 5G manufacturing industry can be transformational, but how do we ensure security?

Author: Poornima Apte

The 5G manufacturing industry is already taking shape. Its fundamental premise—that real-time data drives efficient, cost-effective operations—can run a smart factory with nearly closed-loop automation. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is promising but needs strict and continual oversight of security protocols.

Once such risk mitigation systems are in place, the potential gains in productivity are immense. It's no wonder the global market for smart manufacturing, already valued at $236.12 billion, is forecast to grow at an annual clip of 12.4% at least until 2028, according to Grand View Research.

The 5G manufacturing industry

Advanced technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), multi-access edge computing (MEC) and the cloud, are working together to make manufacturing more transparent and less wasteful. Manufacturing is rapidly seeing an alignment between operational technology (OT) and IT. IoT-based manufacturing, especially in the most critical applications that drive machine operations, needs the low-latency, high-bandwidth connectivity that edge computing and 5G can deliver.

Data is the vital currency that drives digital transformation in all industries, and it does so in manufacturing as well. The very sources of this information are among the many revolutionary aspects of Industry 4.0. IoT enables data from all sorts of "things," including machines and finished goods, to feed operating decisions through the use of connected sensors.

For example: Where previously only experienced operators could tell when a machine was in need of attention or repair, IoT sensors in the 5G manufacturing industry can flag maintenance requirements before machines actually fail, reducing downtime. IoT data feeds into AI and machine learning programs and enables MEC, so crucial decisions about machine failure can be executed at the edge. The overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), a key performance indicator, improves.

Another advantage of iot manufacturing is that it enables machines to run without interruption and replace parts only as needed. The 5G manufacturing industry is eager to realize the promise of IoT. Expect to see an explosive use of the technology; the market is growing by an impressive rate of almost 20% annually and is projected to reach an evaluation of $487.30 billion by 2024, according to MarketWatch.

Security risks of IoT manufacturing

The problem with a network bristling with so many IoT devices is that it also increases the number of vulnerabilities. New technologies expand the attack surface and introduce additional threat vectors into the equation. This is an especially worrying problem given that an enterprise's asset management system or other software is only as strong as its weakest link.

Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that the manufacturing industry is vulnerable to cyber-attacks, a good percentage of which is after intellectual property secrets.

Security controls needed to mitigate new risks

Fortunately, prescriptions for tight security protocols can allow IoT manufacturing to harness the best of advanced technologies while keeping an eye on malicious players.

Tested security protocols for manufacturing include:

IoT credentialing

This security strategy works on the principle that only "credentialed" devices be allowed into the 5G manufacturing industry network. The IoT device provider usually provides a certificate of authentication and a key that serves to verify its identity as it integrates into the network. Digital and public key infrastructures that create an entire verification layer around all IoT devices are fast becoming popular as authentication techniques for large-scale deployments.

Firmware patching

Firmware is software that helps hardware devices run as designed. Periodically, when bugs are found, companies issue "patches" to close these loopholes. It's important to stay on top of these firmware patches and push them out as issued, as outdated IoT devices can be prime targets for security attacks. A key factor to consider here is that firmware updates need to account for the low bandwidth and connectivity that IoT devices run on. A firmware update rollout shouldn't overload the systems to such an extent as to compromise critical functionality.

Vulnerability testing

A 5G manufacturing industry security strategy needs to include continually testing for holes in the security net. Vulnerability testing mimics actions that bad actors might execute to find flaws in the extended IoT network.

Managed security and cloud services

Managed security and cloud services can also help implement a comprehensive endpoint management strategy and continuously monitor the edge for emerging threats.

The 5G manufacturing industry has the potential to make substantial gains by harnessing technologies such as MEC, AI, IoT and more. Keeping endpoint devices and the extended IT/OT network aligned will enable smart factories to realize the promise of Industry 4.0 at scale, without compromising security.

Learn more about IoT manufacturing and how to secure manufacturing business operations at the edge.