The food and beverage manufacturing industry plays a vital role in supplying the world with essential products. However, the increasing reliance on digital technologies and interconnected systems has exposed this sector to significant cybersecurity risks. A breach or cyberattack in this industry can disrupt operations, compromise product safety and even harm the public.

Manufacturing systems in the food and beverage industry are highly integrated, with various components working in unison to produce and distribute products efficiently. This interconnectedness means that an attack on one system can have cascading effects throughout an entire plant, potentially resulting in substantial financial losses. Additionally, any downstream operations that rely on the affected systems are also at risk, amplifying the impact of a cyber incident.


Threat Scenarios and Their Implications

Threat scenarios are essential for planning cybersecurity measures in operational technology (OT) environments. They offer several key benefits, including risk assessment, preparedness planning, proactive defense and incident response planning. Some of the significant threat scenarios in food and beverage manufacturing cybersecurity include:

  1. Ransomware Attacks: Ransomware attacks pose a severe threat to the industry, with more than 70% of industrial ransomware attacks targeting manufacturing operations. These attacks can originate from various entry points, including remote connections and IT/OT dependencies. Once inside the system, ransomware typically exfiltrates information, encrypts files and locks computing systems, demanding a ransom for their release. While most ransomware initially targets IT environments, the high level of IT/OT interdependence in many facilities means that the ability to continue operations post-attack depends on the effective isolation and independent operation of OT systems.
  2. Trusted Vendor Compromise: In this scenario, the compromise occurs at the vendor's end before the software or updates are distributed to end users. Such compromises can be exploited to impact the supply chain, affecting the integrity and safety of food and beverage products.
  3. Shared IT/OT Dependencies: With the increasing digitization and adoption of smart factory initiatives, the overlap between IT and OT systems creates additional risk factors. Any compromise in the IT domain can potentially cross over into the OT environment, leading to disruptions in manufacturing operations.
  4. PIPEDREAM Malware: PIPEDREAM represents a new and significant threat to industrial systems, discovered in 2022. It is the seventh known ICS-specific malware that targets core software functions across thousands of equipment types and vendors. The unprecedented scale of reach and potential impact makes it a critical concern for the food and beverage manufacturing sector.


Implications of Attacks

The implications of these threat scenarios are far reaching and can disrupt various aspects of food and beverage manufacturing operations:

  • Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES): MES plays a crucial role in manufacturing by facilitating data exchange between business and operations. Attacks on MES can disrupt the flow of critical information, leading to production delays and inefficiencies.
  • Plant Floor Assets: Human machine interfaces (HMIs) and controllers are the brains and eyes of the manufacturing process. Compromising these systems can result in the inability to control and operate equipment, leading to halted production.
  • Enterprise Resource Management (ERP): ERPs are responsible for managing plant data, downtimes, and production constraints. Attacks on ERPs can disrupt overall production planning and coordination, impacting the entire supply chain.


Recommendations for Defending OT Environments

To mitigate the cybersecurity risks in food and beverage manufacturing, organizations should implement a set of proactive security measures like those found in ISA/IEC 62443, the series of standards and technical reports specifying requirements for the security of industrial automation and control systems. These standards set best practices for security and provide a way to assess the level of security performance. The approach is holistic, bridging the gap between operations and information technology and between process safety and cybersecurity. 

Dragos, a leading cybersecurity firm, suggests aligning these measures with the SANS 5 Critical Controls for OT Security. Dragos offers these key recommendations for each stage of defense:

  • Prevention:
    • Network Segmentation: Implement domain, credential, and privilege segmentation to limit the ability of threats to enter and traverse the OT environment.
    • Secure Remote Access: Develop core technology and deployment architectures that minimize the risk of unauthorized access into OT environments.
  • Detection:
    • ICS Network Monitoring & Visibility: Continuously monitor the OT environment to establish an asset inventory, track vulnerabilities, understand traffic flows and validate security controls.
  • Response:
    • Incident Response Plan: Proactively define people, roles and procedures to respond effectively to potential security events in industrial settings. Ensure that the plan is tested and aligns with government regulations.


The Importance of Effective Response

Recent headlines have highlighted the critical need for robust incident response plans (IRPs) tailored to the unique challenges of the industry. Essential considerations for developing an effective IRP in the food and beverage manufacturing sector include:

  • Develop a Crown Jewel Analysis to Prioritize Systems and Assets:
    • An ICS-specific IRP should start by identifying critical systems and crown jewels within the organization. These are the assets that, if compromised, would have the most significant impact on operations. For example, in a food manufacturing plant, the production line control systems, recipe and formulation data, quality control testing equipment, supply chain management systems, and safety and sanitation systems might be considered crown jewels.
  • Regular Testing and Enhancement for Continuous Improvement:
    • An IRP should not be a static document but a dynamic one that evolves with the threat landscape. Regularly test, review and enhance the plan to ensure that it remains effective. Documentation is crucial to preserve forensics data and understand the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used by cyber adversaries.
  • Tabletop Exercises (TTXs) Using Realistic Scenarios
    • Conducting TTXs based on real threat scenarios specific to the manufacturing industry is an excellent way to test the IRP's effectiveness. Threat scenarios like ransomware attacks, shared IT/OT dependencies, trusted vendor compromises and emerging threats like PIPEDREAM's modules can be used to simulate real-world incidents.
  • Adopt an Incident Response Lifecycle Approach (PICERL):
    • The incident response process follows a lifecycle with seven phases: Prepare, Identify, Contain, Eradicate, Restore, Learn and Repeat (PICERL). Each phase has specific activities and priorities, ensuring a systematic and efficient response to cyber incidents.
  • Documentation and Communication:
    • Effective documentation and communication are essential throughout the incident response process. Here are some key recommendations for each phase:
      • Preparation: Identify potential scenarios, conduct risk assessments, analyze critical systems, enhance incident response plans, define roles and responsibilities, establish communication channels, and maintain an incident response kit.
      • Identification/Detection: Maintain centralized systems for monitoring and investigating events, implement network monitoring and visibility, establish a Collection Management Framework (CMF), and train personnel to identify cybersecurity behaviors.
      • Containment: Develop playbooks for isolating critical areas, include procedures for segmented network containment, and train staff to identify isolation points.
      • Eradication: Create playbooks for eliminating malware, patching systems and replacing equipment, and define criteria for system rebuilding if necessary.
      • Restore and Recover: Prioritize system restoration, involve third parties as needed, maintain templates and gold images for rapid recovery, and test backups.
      • Lessons Learned: Document information, responses and results throughout the incident, track evidence, and use insights to enhance IRP procedures, playbooks and overall preparedness.

The food and beverage manufacturing industries are under constant threat from cyberattacks, with ransomware, trusted vendor compromises, shared IT/OT dependencies and the emergence of new malware like PIPEDREAM posing significant risks. To protect this critical sector, organizations must adopt proactive cybersecurity measures, including network segmentation, remote access controls, network monitoring and robust incident response plans. By staying vigilant and prepared, food and beverage manufacturers can enhance their security, readiness and resilience in the face of evolving cyber threats, ensuring the continued production of safe and high-quality products for consumers worldwide.