How Safe is Your Food Production? 3 Tips for Securing Your Operations

The food industry is one of the most important sectors of the economy, providing food and beverages to billions of people worldwide. However, it is also a prime target for cyberattacks. In fact, according to Food Engineering, 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack. This means that network security is more important than ever for businesses in this industry.

In fact, it’s estimated that the average ransomware payment in 2021 was $1.4 million, with the highest average payments coming from the manufacturing sector at a whopping $2.04 million. In February of 2023, food producer giant Dole was forced to shut down production in North America after a ransomware attack. The company employs around 38,000 employees and generates billions of dollars in revenue. The attack has led to massive shipping disruptions to grocery stores and will be a large setback for their business this year and in years to come. Dole is not alone, however, as they join JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier, which was a victim in May of 2021 of an $11 million ransomware attack that shut down factories in the US, Canada, and Australia.

So, what can food and beverage companies do to protect their networks? The first recommendation that comes from a security audit is generally to segment the network.   Network segmentation is a security technique that involves dividing a network into smaller segments or zones, each with its own security controls. This way, even if one segment of the network is compromised, the attacker cannot move laterally to other parts of the network. The challenge with traditional network segmentation is that over time as changes occur to the network, the segmentation put in place becomes less and less stringent.   To combat this, one strategy that has been gaining popularity is micro-segmentation.   Micro-segmentation creates security barriers around every end point on your network.  With a micro-segmented network, a compromised device will have very limited access to other devices on the network containing the compromise in a small area and speeding up remediation activities greatly.

In the cybersecurity world, we often recommend taking a multi-layer defense strategy also known as defense in depth. Food producers can also benefit from these common networking strategies:

  1. Harden the core: Tools such as micro-segmentation, multi-factor authentication, and regular software patches make it much more difficult for threat actors to compromise your network in the first place. On the plant floor, it is difficult or impossible to update all of the devices due to device age or production demands. Micro-segmentation will make every end point more secure allowing updates to be performed on an appropriate schedule.
  2. Intrusion Detection Software (IDS): This software is very common on the IT network but has special challenges on the OT network. It is also reactive when a threat has already compromised a device.   It is critical to have in place and to use a solution specifically designed for OT networks. 
  3. Employee training: Employees are often the weakest link in network security. By training employees on how to recognize and avoid phishing attacks and other types of social engineering, companies can dramatically reduce the risk of successful attacks.

While these strategies can be effective, it’s important to remember that no network is 100% secure. Attackers are constantly developing new tactics and techniques to bypass security controls. That’s why it’s important to have a comprehensive security plan that includes regular testing and updating of security controls. Remember, your network is only as secure as the day it’s installed.

With ransomware on the rise for manufacturers, the time to act is now. Food producers carry a responsibility to provide safe end products to consumers. With the statistic that 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack, it’s clear that network security is not just important, it’s essential. Micro-segmentation, when combined with a defense-in-depth approach, is a powerful tool that can help the food industry protect its most sensitive data and critical assets.

To learn more about how the Veracity OT Network Management Platform can help, download our whitepaper.


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