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Companies are taking cyber security seriously, but challenges abound (Photo: Siemens)

As factories and other corporate facilities become fully connected, the networking of IT systems poses growing risks of cyber attacks, security experts say.

“Automation, Industry 4.0 and internet connectivity have made systems more vulnerable,” said Hans-Peter Bauer, vice president Central Europe, at cyber security specialist McAfee. Most systems aren’t built to withstand cyber attacks, he added.

One major factor is that IT lifecycles in manufacturing operations are generally around 20 years, while comparable IT systems in the office have a shelf life that can be as short as a few months. Said Bauer: “With more interfaces, the complexity increases.”

The McAfee expert said companies should adopt an integrated approach to IT systems across all operations.

Though complexity and connectivity are posing cyber-security challenges, some specialists also see progress in making corporate IT systems safer.

Automotive companies, for example, have made progress in training staff to adopt a better approach to cyber security, said Stefan Woronka, director for industrial security services at Siemens.

Woronka also said new technologies, including artificial intellligence, can help in fending off threats. “Artificial intelligence is useful in sorting and filtering data,” he said. “But if it identifies an attack, a human is needed to respond appropriately.”

Both Woronka and Bauer said that, down the road, blockchain could help improve security, but they agreed that companies generally aren’t ready for this.

“You can only implement blockchain when a company is fully digitalized and the level of digitalization is still too low,” said McAfee’s Bauer. “But in a more mature environment, blockchain can improve security.”