The manufacturing industry faces a growing wave of cyber risks and threats that have the potential to disrupt production, damage reputation, and cause significant financial losses. Recent research conducted by the ReliaQuest Threat Research Team highlights the most pressing concerns facing the sector in the first half of 2023. In this blog, we share some of the most compelling findings from our research, revealing the latest attacks, trends, and mitigation strategies for manufacturing organizations looking to secure their digital footprint.

Manufacturing: A Top Target

Manufacturing continues to be a prime target for a variety of threat groups: cybercriminals, hacktivists, and nation-state-aligned attackers. Here’s why:

  • For cybercriminals and hacktivists, the manufacturing sector represents the ideal target because many manufacturing organizations have a low tolerance for outages: if a manufacturer’s IT services are down, production often grinds to a halt, which results in missed revenue.
  • State-aligned groups are also incentivized to target manufacturing organizations given their inherent links into government and critical national infrastructure. To exacerbate matters, threat actors might view manufacturing organizations as sources of useful intellectual property (IP) that can be stolen or as convenient entry points to move laterally into other networks of interest.

The Biggest Cyber Threat for Manufacturing: Ransomware Attacks

Cyber attacks increased against all four manufacturing sub-groups tracked by ReliaQuest from the second half of 2022 (2H 2022) to 1H 2023:

increase in attacks to industrial goods and services organizations
increase in attacks to aerospace organizations
increase in attacks against chemicals organizations
increase in attacks to automobiles and parts organizations

Of the cybercriminal events we recorded affecting the manufacturing sector over the reporting period, ransomware was by far the biggest threat. Attacks against the sector increased by 53% from 2H 2022 to 1H 2023, primarily due to increased activity from ransomware groups, including LockBit and ALPHV.

This high level of activity has continued into the second half of 2023 as the Clop ransomware group continues to name targets of its recent data-theft campaign.


Number of manufacturing organizations named on ransomware data leak sites in H2 2022 and H1 2023 image

Number of manufacturing organizations named on ransomware data-leak sites in 2H 2022 and 1H 2023

It is crucial that manufacturing organizations prioritize measures to protect against ransomware. We recommend that their security teams ensure that all systems are regularly patched and up to date, regularly back up and securely store data, and conduct regular threat hunts to detect potential indicators of compromise.

Other Key Threats Facing Manufacturing

Another of the key threats facing manufacturing entities is from nation-state-aligned threat groups. Though their motivations vary, these groups are often tasked with maintaining persistence on targeted networks to exfiltrate IP and move laterally into other networks of interest.

For example, in May 2023, the China-based advanced persistent threat group Volt Typhoon targeted US critical national infrastructure—manufacturing in particular. Read our coverage of the event here.


The hacktivist group posing the biggest risk to manufacturing is undoubtedly the Russia-aligned group Killnet.

Active since at least January 2022, Killnet initially emerged as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) tool provider. The group then converted to hacktivism in response to the Russia-Ukraine war and pro-Ukraine hacktivism.

Killnet targets the websites of organizations in critical sectors with DDoS attacks, aiming to cause disruption in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, as well as other countries offering military support to Ukraine.

During H1 2023, Killnet published multiple lists of its DDoS targets on its Telegram channel; entities operating in manufacturing appeared in at least 23 of these lists. Killnet—as well as its affiliate groups, including “Anonymous Sudan”—has especially targeted the aerospace subsector during this period, although entities in industrial goods and services, chemicals, and automobile manufacturing were also reportedly targeted. Its highly likely that this activity will continue into H2 2023, particularly as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues.

The Risk to Operational Technology Security

Traditionally, operational technology (OT) has been kept separate to IT operations—typically by using air-gapped or obscure operating systems—but recently its use has been brought into line with traditional IT systems.

While this brings several advantages, such as enhancing performance and ensuring that connectivity for OT is achieved through the most modern technology available, this change has resulted in a dramatically increased cyber risk. Attackers can cause significant problems for manufacturing and aligned sectors by impacting IT systems, which often result in extended OT system outages that can cripple a manufacturing company’s output.

Attackers targeting OT systems exploit that are commonplace across other sectors, including unpatched high-risk vulnerabilities, account takeover, weak credentials, and exposed remote services.

You likely remember the attack on the Oldsmar water treatment plant in Florida in February 2021, in which an unknown attacker compromised the network of a water treatment plant and attempted to increase sodium hydroxide in the water supply to lethal levels. The attacker reportedly gained initial access through a dormant TeamViewer remote access account. This incident highlighted how easy it is to interfere with critical OT systems merely by exploiting common IT weaknesses or misconfigurations.

Below, we outline some steps you can take to strengthen your IT/OT environment.

Steps to Improve OT Resilience

You can achieve resilience to many of the threats facing OT systems simply by doing the basics right: making sure that basic controls and processes are in place to minimize the risk posed by the most common threats.

Protect Your OT Environment with ReliaQuest GreyMatter

ReliaQuest GreyMatter for operational technology alerts on and enables you to understand OT security incidents. By integrating with existing OT security tools, GreyMatter provides continuous visibility and delivers unified IT-OT security operations that improves your security team’s efficiency and effectiveness across both IT and OT environments. GreyMatter’s bi-directional integrations with the OT security ecosystem enrich investigations to accelerate MTTR and avoid pivoting between consoles. With GreyMatter, you can identify OT security threats, understand context and impact on operations, and make decisions to control risk to OT environments.