All businesses have sensitive data that must be protected, whether it’s a new product design, project blueprints or financial information. This information is so critical that suffering a data breach could quickly lead to disastrous consequences. For manufacturers with complex supply chains, there are many places where a business’s crown jewel, its intellectual property (IP), can be compromised.
With high-profile breaches making regular headlines, it’s now more important than ever that manufacturers take proper precautions to safeguard their sensitive IP, which includes patents, designs, formulas — whatever a manufacturer holds near and dear. In fact, a recent study found that more than one in five manufacturing firms reported a loss of IP in a cyber-attack last year alone. In addition, the survey revealed that IP and internal operational information are the two types of data that manufacturers fear losing the most.
To avoid data loss and protect against IP theft, below are six tips that will help manufacturers keep their most valuable asset safe from attackers:
1. Prioritize Intellectual Property and Trade Secret Protection
While this may seem simple, and despite all of the chatter in the C-suite about cybersecurity, very few manufacturing firms have meaningful data protection programs in place. They often cite the need to preserve the free flow of information and to not inhibit worker productivity, but the reality is, there are solutions and approaches that balance the need to protect data with the need to drive rapid innovation. IP and trade secret protection has to be an executive priority or it simply won’t get done.
2. Identify the Most Valuable Data Assets
It’s not uncommon for a business to have no idea where their valuable data is stored and who has access to it. Companies must know exactly what their IP and trade secrets are if they want to prevent them from being stolen.
While identifying these crown jewels can seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Start with your most critical IP — the data you know an attacker would be after. For example, manufacturers would do well to start protecting engineering and R&D documents. Get those identified first and then move to the next organizational function.
3. Once Identified, Protect Those Assets
Once sensitive data is identified, label it. Mark all critical assets as “internal only” or “confidential.” Whether the document is digital or paper-based, this is the quickest and easiest protection method one can place. It provides employees with a visual cue to treat the document with care, and employees are often the ones targeted by attackers.
There are also additional technologies that you can employ to ensure your trade secrets stay that way. From encryption to content inspection, from persistent document tagging to policy-driven data protection, there are numerous approaches to ensure data flows on a need-to-know basis.
4. Adopt a Criminal Mind
Take a look at all of your business processes to determine where data theft might occur. Then, assess your data with a mentality similar to a cybercriminal — what would you want to steal and how would you do it? Once that’s identified, plug those gaps and holes. Security professionals refer to this method as “threat modeling” and it’s one of the most effective ways to ensure proper security protocols.
5. Improve Employee Awareness
The weakest link in data defense is the employee — from the C-level executive to the intern. Add data protection to all internal documents, including manuals and employment agreements. Additionally, train them on your policies regarding the use of confidential data. It also helps to perform regular security awareness training and invite your contractors, vendors and partners (or anyone who also handles your IP) to participate, as they should be subject to your data protection policies, as well.
6. Invest in a Strong Data Protection Solution
Cybercriminals now run a fully monetized operation and will not relent in their attacks — they’re only becoming more creative in the ways they target corporations, which includes more clever social engineering attempts, new types of vulnerability exploits or by trying to compromise a business partner or third party that has access to the parent company’s network. Just because attacks are inevitable doesn’t mean losing sensitive data is — consider investing in a strong data protection solution that enforces policies to protect data while in use, in transit and at rest throughout its entire lifecycle.
Sensitive data — particularly, IP — is key to a manufacturing firm’s success and upper hand. If this data isn’t properly safeguarded, not only can a company accrue serious monetary fines, but it can also suffer a hit to its reputation and public trust. Most importantly, businesses risk losing their competitive advantage, which leads to bankruptcy and failure. Make it a point to prioritize data protection — it is, after all, a manufacturer’s crown jewel.
Salo Fajer is Chief Technology Officer at Digital Guardian.