Cybersecurity Best Practices for Legacy Manufacturing Systems

The prevalence of legacy systems might be one reason why manufacturing accounts for over 65% of industrial ransomware attacks.

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Modern systems and technologies are typically designed with robust cybersecurity measures in mind from the outset. However, many manufacturers still rely on legacy systems and equipment that were implemented before the emergence of advanced cyber threats.

While these legacy systems may still function adequately for their intended purposes, they often lack the built-in safeguards and security features of modern equipment.

This makes them vulnerable to a wide range of cyber threats, from malware and ransomware to data breaches and system disruptions. It might be one reason why manufacturing accounts for over 65% of industrial ransomware attacks.

Fortunately, there are various strategies and best practices that manufacturers can implement to enhance the cybersecurity of their legacy systems without the need for a complete replacement.

The Risks of Legacy Manufacturing Systems

The risks posed by legacy manufacturing systems to cybersecurity cannot be overstated. One major risk is the lack of security updates and patches. Modern software and systems receive regular updates to address newly discovered vulnerabilities.

However, legacy systems may no longer be supported by the original vendors, leaving known security flaws unpatched and exploitable by cybercriminals.

Another risk is the use of outdated and insecure communication protocols. Many legacy systems rely on protocols that were designed without robust security features, making them susceptible to interception, manipulation, or spoofing attacks.

Additionally, legacy manufacturing systems frequently lack monitoring and logging capabilities. Without proper monitoring and logging, it becomes extremely difficult to detect and respond to potential security incidents in a timely manner.

Physical access vulnerabilities are also a concern. Legacy systems were often designed with the assumption that they would operate in physically secure environments.

However, due to advancements in cyber threats, these systems may be exposed to an increased risk of unauthorized physical access and tampering. Since many facilities are becoming more intertwined with the business side of things, cybercriminals often target generative BI software, especially APIs and widely popular analytical tools.

Failing to address these risks can have severe consequences for manufacturers. A successful cyber attack could lead to production disruptions, data breaches, financial losses, and even physical damage to equipment or harm to personnel.

Key Strategies for Enhancing Cybersecurity

The risks posed by legacy manufacturing systems to cybersecurity are significant and multifaceted. Here's a detailed look at some of the key risk areas and strategies to mitigate them:

Network Segmentation and Control

Network segmentation is a tactic in which a network is divided into smaller, manageable sections to enhance security and control traffic flow. Each segment acts as a separate entity, with strict controls on data access and communication between them.

In other words, security should be considered independently in everything from password managers to hosting providers to document software development kits and firmware updates.

This limits the spread of cyber threats across the network, making it harder for attackers to move laterally. Alongside segmentation, implementing secure communication protocols like SSL/TLS is crucial. These protocols encrypt data during transmission, safeguarding it from interception and tampering.

Both strategies are fundamental for protecting legacy manufacturing systems, which often lack modern security features. They provide a robust defense against potential cyber-attacks and unauthorized access

Application Control and Regular Updates

Legacy systems often operate with outdated software that lacks support from vendors, making them vulnerable to new cyber threats. Implementing application controls is a straightforward yet effective way to safeguard these systems.

This involves creating allowlists and blocklists to manage which applications can execute on the system, thus preventing ransomware and malicious software from running. Application control provides a strong layer of defense, restricting only authorized software operations, which significantly boosts system security.

Keeping legacy systems updated is crucial for closing security gaps. Regular patch management should include thorough reviews and testing of updates before full deployment. This not only addresses vulnerabilities but also ensures compatibility with the existing system environment.

However, legacy systems may face challenges with updates due to the risk of operational disruptions, hence the need for a well-planned update strategy that includes the capability for rollback in case of issues. Organizations should ensure continuity of support from manufacturers or have alternative plans for securing updates. This emphasizes the importance of regular system audits and vulnerability scans to maintain robust defense mechanisms​.

Advanced Monitoring and Zero-Trust Access Control

Advanced monitoring involves continuous surveillance of network activities to detect anomalies, unauthorized access attempts, and other potential security threats in real-time.

It leverages a combination of technologies, including intrusion detection systems, security information and event management (SIEM) tools, and advanced analytics, to provide a comprehensive view of the security posture and immediate response capabilities​.

In addition to advanced monitoring, manufacturing companies should implement strict access controls and micro-segmentation to minimize lateral movement within the network, significantly reducing the impact of breaches. Access to resources is based on the principle of "never trust, always verify," with rigorous authentication and authorization measures for every access request.

This includes multi-factor authentication, dynamic role-based access controls, and continuous evaluation of user and device behavior to ensure that access privileges are securely managed and adjusted in real-time based on risk assessment​.

Application Whitelisting

Application whitelisting is a cybersecurity strategy that involves specifying an index of approved software applications or executable files that are permitted to run on a system. This method is particularly effective in legacy manufacturing systems where modern cybersecurity measures may be difficult to implement.

Whitelisting helps prevent malicious software and unapproved programs from executing. This not only reduces the risk of malware infections but also enhances system stability by preventing unauthorized applications from consuming system resources. Implementing application whitelisting requires initial setup and regular updates to the whitelist to accommodate legitimate changes in software use.

Although this approach doesn't provide complete immunity against advanced cyber threats, it significantly enhances the security posture of legacy systems by minimizing the avenues through which attackers can deploy harmful software.

Likewise, ensure that any websites that aren’t compliant with GDPR are blocked on the on-site networks, in addition to advising employees about proper online security etiquette.

Enhanced Monitoring and Incident Detection

This process involves using advanced tools to oversee and analyze system activities for potential threats. This strategy increases the visibility of operations within these systems, allowing for real-time insights into abnormal behaviors and potential security breaches.

By deploying technologies like intrusion detection systems (IDS), organizations can more effectively identify known and emerging threats. Continuous monitoring not only detects incidents as they occur but also helps understand threat patterns, which is crucial for refining security measures.

Furthermore, integrating these systems with automated response solutions can enable quicker mitigation of identified risks, reducing the potential impact on manufacturing operations.

The goal is to create a proactive security environment where threats are identified and addressed before they can cause significant damage, thereby maintaining the integrity and continuity of manufacturing processes.

Another key area of improvement to consider is finding a VPS hosting solution. This can help enhance the deployment and management of cybersecurity tools across distributed legacy systems. It not only streamlines the management of security tools but also improves the scalability and reliability of cybersecurity measures, essential for adapting to the evolving threat landscape in manufacturing environments.


Keeping legacy manufacturing systems secure from cyber threats is extremely important. These older systems have many weaknesses that attackers can exploit. If hackers break in, it can lead to costly shutdowns, data theft, and damage to a company's reputation.

Hence, manufacturers must take active steps to improve cybersecurity for their legacy equipment. Remember that protecting legacy systems is an ongoing effort, not a one-time project. Start now and keep your legacy systems safe and your business thriving. 

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