Adulterating More Than Food: The Cyber Risk to Food Processing and Manufacturing

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Adulterating More Than Food: The Cyber Risk to Food Processing and Manufacturing

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Food Protection and Defense Institute




This report illustrates the mounting cybersecurity risk facing the food industry and provides industry-specific guidance to keep operations safe and secure. The potential consequences of an attack on the industrial control systems used in the food industry include contaminated food that threatens public health, physical harm to workers, destroyed equipment, environmental damage, and massive financial losses for companies. While cybersecurity is rarely recognized as a food safety issue, the systems companies use for processing and manufacturing food contain many vulnerabilities that experts believe will soon present a more appealing target for cyberattacks than industries that are more commonly affected by, and therefore better prepared for, such attacks. The vulnerabilities are present in a wide variety of components from different vendors, making them difficult for companies to avoid. Many systems were designed before cybersecurity was a concern and use outdated operating systems and hard-coded passwords that allow attackers easier access to the system. In addition to vulnerabilities in the systems themselves, many other factors contribute to the heightened risk of cyberattacks. Companies often lack knowledge about how their industrial control systems and IT systems interact and lack awareness about cyber risks and threats. Further, there is poor coordination and information-sharing among food system stakeholders. Meanwhile, the tools required to carry out a cyberattack are becoming more powerful and requiring less skill to use. Recommendations for mitigating the risk include fostering stronger communications between food industry operations technology and information technology (IT) staff, conducting risk assessments that include inventories of both industrial control and IT systems, involving staff with cybersecurity expertise in procuring and deploying new industrial control systems, and extending the existing culture of food safety and defense to include cybersecurity.


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