Tim Reed is the CEO of Lynx Software Technologies, a leading mission-critical edge software company.
With high-profile breaches making headlines daily, no company today can afford to neglect cybersecurity. But for those developing mission-critical technologies, ones where lives are on the line, protecting systems and data is more than just a priority. It’s an immense responsibility. Aerospace, defense, healthcare, transportation and other sectors operating complex, safety-dependent systems cannot afford to cut corners on security. Lives hang in the balance.
Unfortunately, the industries with the most to lose are often prime targets for cybercriminals and state-sponsored attackers. Intellectual property theft has hit defense contractors and advanced technology manufacturers especially hard. According to industry reports, breaches at major aerospace companies have resulted in the leaking of sensitive design data worth billions of dollars. At the government level, cyber espionage is a constant threat, with state actors eager to shortcut the development of the latest radar, propulsion systems and other technologies.
But IP theft isn’t the only risk. Disruption of operational systems can be just as devastating. Interference with aviation control networks poses catastrophic safety risks to pilots and passengers. Compromised medical devices and electronic health records management systems endanger patient health. Glitches in industrial control systems at manufacturing plants could cause dangerous malfunctions or accidents. When lives are on the line, cyber incidents can quickly go from costly to deadly.
Avoiding Financial, Operational Risk
For companies developing technologies where lives are on the line, cybersecurity competence is an absolute necessity, not an option. Failure to implement adequate controls exposes those organizations to immense financial, operational and ethical risks. Everything from intellectual property and data loss to catastrophic fatal accidents is at stake. To drive home why security must be the top priority, here are four key risks mission-critical companies face.
Safety. Without rigorous security practices, safety-critical systems—which run the gamut from pacemakers to the International Space Station—are vulnerable to potentially fatal sabotage or loss of control. Protocols must be in place to detect attacks, maintain operational integrity and recover safely.
Reliability. Glitches caused by malware, unauthorized access or operational disruptions jeopardize reliability. Steps must be taken to harden systems, maintain continuity and ensure proper functionality.
Compliance. Government and industry regulations impose security requirements in critical sectors. Adhering to standards, testing procedures and best practices is essential for regulatory approval and to avoid fines.
Trust. For mission-critical companies, earning the trust of customers and the public is key to business viability. Keeping systems secure and data private preserves corporate reputation and enhances brand value.
Taking A Multi-Layered Approach
Mission-critical companies must go beyond basic compliance and implement layered cybersecurity defense to match the level of potential impact. By treating cybersecurity as a risk management function rather than a cost center, mission-critical firms can make smart investments in resilience. Best practices include:
Prioritizing security from the start through a DevSecOps approach to developing systems and software. This involves integrating security practices into the entire development lifecycle, from design through deployment and monitoring. Things like threat modeling, static analysis and penetration testing help build more secure systems from Day One.
Implementing defense-in-depth strategies with overlapping controls. Rather than relying on a single defensive layer, use a matrix of controls at different levels. Endpoint protection, network monitoring, access controls and encryption all provide overlapping security.
Securing equipment, facilities and supply chains from tampering. Physical security measures like cameras, alarms, guards and secure storage facilities help prevent unauthorized access and manipulation of critical systems. Thoroughly evaluate and audit third-party vendors, suppliers, contractors and business partners to identify and mitigate risks in the extended supply chain.
Conducting rigorous vulnerability testing and cyber exercises. Ethical hackers probe systems for flaws through activities like social engineering, penetration testing and red team exercises. Running simulated cyber crisis scenarios prepares incident response teams.
Establishing effective incident response and recovery plans. Playbooks documenting roles, strategies and steps for detection, containment, eradication and recovery enable a rapid and coordinated response. Backup systems and contingency plans reduce downtime.
Making security awareness and training mandatory throughout the organization. Educate all personnel on cyber risks, policies and best practices from initial onboarding, annual refreshers and simulated phishing tests. Tailor training to specific roles, with those granted access to the most sensitive data and systems receiving more robust sessions.
Fostering an ethical, transparent culture of cyber responsibility. Leadership can set the tone by prioritizing security, admitting mistakes and rewarding those who speak up about vulnerabilities. Avoid shifting blame and emphasize collective accountability.
As technology progresses, virtually every company is becoming reliant on connected digital systems. But for those developing mission-critical technologies, having effective cybersecurity is an essential business function, not a “nice-to-have.” Advanced systems introduce advanced risks that must be competently managed.
While regulations provide a starting point, truly minimizing cyber risk requires going beyond basic compliance. Companies must foster a culture of security, dedicate resources in line with potential impact and proactively implement layered defenses. With cyber threats constantly evolving, there are no shortcuts or excuses for protecting intellectual property, operations and safety. While perfection might not be possible, a commitment to continuous improvement will keep these companies dependably on the cutting edge. When mission-critical technology is secured properly today, we can have confidence in the innovations that will change our world tomorrow.
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