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Securing Intellectual Property in Manufacturing through Advanced App Security

Jan. 31, 2024
Digitization has created alternative streams of vulnerability across systems. Consider these strategies to protect and secure manufacturing IP.

The shift toward Industry 4.0 has led to a rise in digitized manufacturing processes, expanding the digital footprint of organizations. This digital expansion exposes companies to increased vulnerabilities, especially related to intellectual property (IP). The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property approximates the annual financial repercussions of IP theft—which encompasses trade secret misappropriation, counterfeit goods sales and software piracy—could be anywhere from $225 billion to $600 billion, equating to roughly 1% to 5% of the U.S. GDP. 

Understanding the Threats to Intellectual Property in Manufacturing

Intellectual property in manufacturing is diverse, encompassing proprietary manufacturing techniques, custom-developed software and unique designs. Traditionally secured through physical means, the digitization wave has transitioned these assets into digital forms, often housed in interconnected and potentially vulnerable systems. The pressing challenge is to fortify these systems against unauthorized access and exploitation.

Manufacturing organizations need to be vigilant about three primary threat groups:

  1. Outside attackers. These are external malicious actors who attempt to gain access to an organization’s valuable data. Often, their motives include financial gain through ransom demands or selling information to third parties. According to data from Verizon, outside attackers are responsible for the majority of data breaches in the manufacturing industry.
  2. Business partners. Business partners—including vendors, suppliers and third parties—collaborate and share intellectual property with manufacturing organizations. Malicious actors may exploit vulnerabilities in these partners’ cybersecurity to access valuable IP. Additionally, third parties may have their own interests in acquiring sensitive data and technology secrets. While not as common as external attacks, third-party threats have been on the rise in recent years.
  3. Employees. Both in-house and remote employees can pose a risk to intellectual property. Malicious or disgruntled employees may seek to appropriate IP for personal gain or to gain an advantage in the job market. However, even well-intentioned insiders can inadvertently jeopardize IP through carelessness, a lack of cybersecurity awareness or failure to follow security protocols. Research from the Ponemon Institute indicates that employee negligence is a more frequent cause of security incidents than malicious insider actions.

The methods employed to carry out their malicious activities can include hacking, phishing, social engineering ,and exploiting vulnerabilities in software and hardware.

Strategies for Advanced IP Protection

Data Encryption

In the digital realm, data encryption is paramount. It’s crucial that both at-rest and in-transit data, including IP assets, are encrypted. Modern low-code development platforms underscore the importance of end-to-end encryption, rendering data inaccessible and unreadable to unauthorized parties. Encryption algorithms like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) should be employed to ensure data integrity and confidentiality.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC is an effective strategy to minimize internal threats. It involves assigning permissions to specific roles within an organization rather than to individual users. Users are then assigned to these roles, inheriting the permissions. This allows for easy control and can be scaled by adding new roles or adjusting existing ones. 

System administrators manage these roles, ensuring that users have access only to what they need to perform their job functions. It’s crucial, however, to regularly review roles to ensure they reflect current job functions and organizational structures. A modern approach to this problem is the use of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), which allows records about the system and its users to be easily shared through the network. 

Regular Security Audits

Implementing comprehensive logging mechanisms that record access and transactions in the system allows organizations to track who accessed what, when and what they did. Regular review of these logs helps identify unusual patterns that may indicate a Broken Access Control (BAC) issue. Security audits should be conducted regularly to proactively identify and remediate potential vulnerabilities, using the logs to help pinpoint areas of concern. Among the most used solutions for this are Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana (ELK) and SIEM systems.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA adds a crucial layer of security, particularly for systems housing sensitive IP. By requiring multiple forms of verification, MFA ensures that the compromise of a single password does not result in unauthorized access. This approach should be complemented by strong password policies and regular updating of authentication credentials.

Implementing an Actionable Strategy

The first step in securing IP is to conduct a detailed assessment of digital storage and access mechanisms. Partnering with a trusted low-code platform provider focused on security is vital. These platforms should offer robust security features like MFA, RBAC and strong encryption standards.

Moreover, the deployment of security-centric applications should be a priority. These applications should be designed with a security-first approach, incorporating the latest in cybersecurity advancements and compliance with standards like ISO/IEC 27001.

Similar to any transformative change, securing IP requires regular training and awareness programs to educate staff on best practices in IP security. Employees should be made aware of potential cyber threats, social engineering tactics and the importance of adhering to security policies to mitigate the chances of unintentional security mishaps.

As manufacturing continues to evolve in the digital age, the protection of intellectual property must be a top priority. By implementing a comprehensive strategy that includes data encryption, RBAC, regular security audits and MFA, manufacturers can significantly reduce the risk of IP theft and safeguard their valuable assets. This strategic approach, combined with ongoing staff training and collaboration with trusted technology partners, will ensure a robust defense against the ever-evolving cyber threats.

Amy Groden-Morisson, VP of Marketing & Sales Operations at Alpha Software, has served more than 15 years in marketing communications leadership roles at companies such as TIBCO Software, RSA Security and Ziff-Davis.

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