Cyber Attackers are Coming After You

Cyber-attacks are the most serious existential threat to Wisconsin’s Small- and Medium-Sized Manufacturers (SMMs). These attacks are ubiquitous and morphing from static, targeted efforts focused on individual opportunities to dynamic threats with wider impacts. The force behind these attacks comes from foreign adversaries, focused on shutting down supply chains and neutralizing American technology advances. Most of our SMMs remain complacent and aren’t taking action to improve their resilience.

The cyberthreat is expanding – becoming more effective, jeopardizing the future of any organization on the internet. Attackers use mass-production techniques to spread their destruction to the widest possible audience. Numbers back this up. During 2019, 15 billion records were exposed. There are only 7.7 billion people on Earth. Over $600 billion of IP has been stolen. Almost every person on earth has been affected, making it a question of when – not if – our companies will be breached.

Earlier this month, a group of Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Defense Acquisition University professionals discussed the threats and what we can do to thwart future attacks. These threats will persist because our foreign adversaries are not going away. China is a terrific example. They have more cyber-warriors than we have active-duty Marines. In addition, a half-million other Chinese nationals are putting together the bits and pieces of information stolen from multiple sources – both public and private. They work tirelessly to become the world’s economic leader while also creating an ability to knock out our supply chains in the event of any shooting war.

Conversely, the U.S. continues to prepare for the next kinetic war and ignore the cyber war already in progress. A couple of examples illustrate this point. First, China just introduced their first commercial airliner. That airliner includes stolen IP from more than 40 companies and costs substantially less than its Airbus and Boeing competition. This development threatens U.S. and European superiority in advanced aircraft. Second, our military invested substantial resources to develop the new F-35 fighter, designed to provide air superiority for the next 20 years. Already, before full deployment, China matched us with their version – at a fraction of the cost. They are now using that aircraft to design defense systems and techniques to blast the F-35 out of the skies.

Cyber-attacks are ongoing existential threats that most manufacturers are not prepared to defend against. There are 347,000 manufacturers in the Department of Defense (DoD) supply chain and less than half of those manufacturers maintaining basic cyber hygiene in their operations. We’re entering an era where “security by obscurity” is no longer a viable cyber defense strategy as the DoD shines more light on their supply chain. Unfortunately, most of these SMMs do not have engaged cybersecurity expertise and instead rely on IT experts. One result? Breaches are discovered in an average of 800 days in those companies, as opposed to 180 days for professionally staffed firms.

The threats and the “woulds” and the “shoulds” are well known. Attackers can reach any entity in a given supply chain from any weak link. Effective basic cyber hygiene would substantially reduce many basic risks. Manufacturers need to take aggressive action in order to survive. Yet the “woulds” and “shoulds” and even threats are not moving manufacturers to want to act.

It’s time to secure Wisconsin’s manufacturing base – and broader business – from cyber-attacks. Take action to make your operation more resilient. Make yourself aware of the threats and position your firm to proactively address those threats. Find a guide to help you make cyber-security an integral part of the way you do business. Initiate ongoing cyber conversations with your IT experts – ask questions and make sure you understand their plans. Finally, educate yourself and those around you about how these attackers work and anticipate where they could attack next. If you have trouble finding the appropriate resources, reach out to your trusted advisors – or call me! Nevertheless – keep moving forward!

Together we can make a huge difference in Wisconsin’s cyber resilience. Let’s go forward to protect our future!

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