Cybersecurity is an important topic in the 21st century due to increased cyberattack cases. But, operational technology (OT) security protects companies in the food industry, as you will learn in this post.

For years now, cybercriminals have been focusing on industries such as retail chains, medical facilities, and financial institutions. The billion-dollar companies and small-and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have remained victims of some popular cyber threat cases. The 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report shows that one out of five breaches involved the SMBs who, on average, lost $21,659.

Since the manufacturing industry is less vulnerable, some companies have fewer security measures in place. Cyberattacks can happen overnight or for several days, but they may remain invisible for a long time. After all, that is what threat actors want so that they extract volumes of data without being detected.

Some food and beverages that were struck with ransomware in 2021 were JBS. The top 5 largest meat processing plants in the US joined brands like Wendy’s, and Molson Coors, which had been targeted previously by cyber criminals.

Manufacturers are prime targets. Often, they have sensitive Operational Technology (OT) environments, precious intellectual property, and tight production timelines. Thus, they experience:

    • Ransomware attacks
    • Supply chain attacks
    • Third-party breaches.

Since every cybersecurity threat is a business risk, our article will highlight 6 cybersecurity threats in manufacturing.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting your network, programs, and systems from any digital attack. Cybercriminals want to access, destroy or change your sensitive information through ransomware. They want to interrupt normal business processes, so they can extort money from the company as ransom.

Manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, petrochemical, food, and beverage, as well as other industries, use operational technology cybersecurity to secure their operating technology assets, processes, and systems from external actors and remain compliant.

It helps business operators in various industries to know what is OT security, and how powerful it is. The 21st century has recorded a dramatic digital transformation that has merged information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to help companies protect their OT systems from digital crimes. These sets of procedures, coupled with the best practices, are part of OT cybersecurity.

Companies in the industrial sector want to secure their processes, systems, and assets against threat actors. Digital criminals want to cause system malfunction, steal trade secrets, and demand hefty ransom amounts.  

The good news is that modern cybersecurity solutions make it possible to secure industrial networks without risking non-compliance or disrupting business operations.

Cybersecurity Threats that Food Industry Encounters 

  1. Ransomware

Initially, cybercriminals hacked and sold sensitive personal and financial information to get money. Today, they use ransomware to encrypt files on the organization’s network, make the files or system unusable, and demand ransom.  Evidently, this is a valuable method for them- millions are paid to get the files back and stop them from leaking or selling the data.

Ransomware is an effective tactic when used in the food or manufacturing industry because downtime strains the company leading to huge losses. Aware of that, criminals hack the systems on holidays or weekends so that they can cause massive damage before the attack is detected, and then wait comfortably for busy times to ask for ransom.

Manufacturing companies are an excellent attack because many OT devices along the extended supply chain give multiple endpoint vulnerabilities and security gaps due to the fragmented systems. Also, time is key in food processing companies. Any downtime can be costly, thus, companies opt to pay up exorbitant amounts because it is cost-effective.

  2. IP Theft

Intellectual property (IP) theft involves the theft of information that companies tend to overlook compared to the theft of customer data.  IP theft has significant damage to the company.  Businesses own IP to make their products and services innovative and unique.

When hackers enter a network, they move without being visible and mine the desired information. They then exit without detection. The aim is to capture the company’s trade secrets and use them elsewhere.

IP theft is one of the most damaging attacks on a food processor or manufacturer. This is because the trade secrets differentiate it from other brands. Unfortunately, attackers leverage technology to strike quietly and quickly. They then transfer or reproduce the data, and exit without detection, especially when it involves trade secrets. This makes it difficult to prove the attack.

Later, cybercriminals can make the information available to your competitors, which they use to produce similar products. Such attacks are common in companies competing for government agencies contracts such as DoD. These external actors may want to gain economic advantage or military secrets.

  3. Equipment Sabotage

Manufacturers and processors enjoy several benefits from operational technology (OT).  At the same time, OT makes the industry vulnerable to cyberattacks.  For many years, OT devices did not require extensive security measures to protect them from external actors. Unfortunately, the food industry has kept on using these tools without good security practices.

Managing and controlling one device with the help of connected devices increases the potential for malicious attacks. The ultimate goal is to make the device more harmful. For instance, in 2017, cybercriminals used triton in a petrochemical plant to override vital safety shut-down equipment.

The capacity to attack safety systems remotely is the cause of catastrophic failures and mass causalities in manufacturing. Cybercriminals want to sabotage equipment used in production and the products. But, companies can protect their equipment and processes by recognizing potential vulnerabilities and proactively securing their systems to prevent attacks.  

  4. Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals have been using phishing for decades. This old tactic is widely used because fewer people know how advanced phishing has become. Criminals send phishing emails that appear to come from a commercial enterprise. The email has the right logo and corporate colors to make it look official.

The threat actors gain a discreet entry point to the organization when employees click on the link. From there, hackers move through the network without being noticed until they extract important information and complete their attack.

The following are reasons why the food industry is vulnerable:

    • It is less prepared compared to the financial sector.
    • It has a long supply chain and interconnected companies.
    •  Most companies have different departments with fragmented systems, thus no single security framework.
    • Management employees are listed on the websites; thus, hackers can easily access their names and impersonate them.


  5. Internal Breaches

Most cyberattacks are external, but internal breaches are also common among employees.  Internal actors contribute 30% of the attacks because they have access to the systems to perform their roles. This results in privilege abuse.

Like external criminals, internal crimes are mainly financially-motivated. Former employees or present employees might launch an attack because they are angry or dissatisfied. So, they use their credentials and knowledge to access the network and reach sensitive data.

Remote work gained popularity during and after Covid-19. But, it has become an excellent opportunity for internal breach. Most manufacturing and food processing companies were unprepared for regulations instituted to control the spread of coronavirus. To stay afloat, these companies had to adopt remote work.

Because of the security gaps, these home-based employees have become a good target for hackers. Employees use personal devices, such as computers, smartphones, or tablets, to access sensitive data, making them more vulnerable. But, OT security can help protect information, assets, and employees working remotely, thus mitigating insider attacks.

  6. Supply Chain Attacks

The supply chain has many players, and criminals want to target multiple groups simultaneously in order to cause massive disruption. Interrupting one link can affect many companies and consumers. The fragmented security systems and long supply lines are the primary reasons the supply chain attack is most effective.  

Hackers use partners and suppliers to gain access to your food processing company. However, such an attack affects several players when the food processing company shuts down its operations.

Global food production, critical infrastructure, and multi-million dollar corporations form part of high-profile supply chain attacks. For instance, reports indicate that the JBS Foods cyberattack in 2011 was severe. It involved the payment of an $11 million ransom, while a ransomware attack on Mondelez caused its systems to freeze. 

It interrupted raw material supply and product distribution, which caused the company to lose $100 million. A ransomware attack on KP Snacks caused it to shut down completely.  

Since cyberattacks in the supply chain often target more victims, OT cybersecurity has become low-hanging fruit in industrial sectors. Manufacturing companies have turned to OT networks to connect to different cloud services and the internet.


Threat actors have increased their attacks in the industrial sectors as many organizations connect their operational devices to the internet.  At the same time, the food industry has turned to OT cybersecurity to keep its critical infrastructure. More so, industrial environments are secure, and also comply with stringent regulatory requirements.

We have highlighted 6 threats that manufacturers and processors face in their daily operations.  External actors cause most of these cybercrimes, while current and former employees contribute a smaller percentage of them.

With the right security policies and effective OT strategies, the majority of companies manage to reduce security incidents and vulnerabilities. Such measures help keep cybersecurity breaches lower in the food industry compared to banking, retail, healthcare, and other sectors.

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