Helping SME Food Producers Mitigate Cybersecurity Risks

Smart technology can help organizations to make informed decisions that can turn a business into a predictor rather than a reactor, if only they know...
Remote management is made to provide secure, centralized control of multiple metal detectors
Some metal detectors come with user-specific login details to reduce internal security breaches
There are several steps that food SMEs can take to protect an organizations digital framework

According to a recent study by Deloitte, just 20.7% of manufacturers surveyed rated themselves as ‘highly prepared’ for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Yet the benefits to food and beverage producers of incorporating connected technology into their processes are well documented.


One reason, which still deters some food producers—in particular SMEs—from taking the digital plunge, is the risk of a cybersecurity breach. Indeed, as more food processing equipment gains coveted Industry 4.0 status, so the threat of data breaches grows.


Fortunately, there are steps that companies can take to protect their connected devices from hackers and other unwanted interference. Trevor Moore, Research and Development Manager for industrial metal detector manufacturer Fortress Technology, explains the benefits of switching to smart equipment, and how you can protect your organization’s digital framework.


Dynamic data

The benefits of transitioning from on-premises, hard copy data to a digital, cloud-based Food Quality Management system are multiple—not least increased accessibility and the ability to manage and use data in a more sophisticated way.


For example, some benefits of today’s ‘smart’, connected metal detectors include:

  • immediate and remote access,
  • enabling food producers to view current equipment status and take any necessary action to ensure, continued, smooth production,
  •  reviewing and comparing operational data,
  • helping to spot trends and patterns, such as when and where most rejects are occurring, which can enable food producers to increase productivity and improve their operational efficiency.


Fortress has responded by developing remote management systems. This technology is designed to allow multi-site food production plants to manage operations from anywhere in the world using smart phones, tablets, and laptops.


According to the company, an unlimited number of Fortress metal detectors can be connected wirelessly using a powerful back-end SQL to monitor activity and generate reports in either PDF or Excel format. With the design, reports should also be able to be selected for a specific production line and/or time period. For record keeping, event and performance information is meant to be stored securely and remotely for a minimum of 10 years, with the option to extend storage capability to 20+ years.


Supporting HACCP compliance

“Despite fears of cybersecurity breaches, paper records actually bring higher risks than digital data”, Moore says. “Not only can manually collated information be incorrectly recorded, forgotten or lost, results can also be deliberately falsified”. If they cannot prove when and where inspection of their products took place, food producers may then be unable to demonstrate HACCP compliance and could be forced to re-inspect an entire batch. This not only slows down production, at worst it could trigger a product recall.


However, with today’s smart detectors, Cloud-based records are instantly available to demonstrate when and where testing took place. Some models are even made to comprise automatic testing functions, such as Fortress’ Halo auto system. This is meant to ensure the reliability and efficiency of the inspection equipment without requiring any operator involvement. Producers can therefore be confident that their product is good to ship because of the evidence that the machine is working correctly, and that inspection has been carried out. Furthermore, if a contamination is found, these comprehensive digital records are also meant to help limit the incident and streamline the investigation by eliminating locations and timeframes.


Network separation reduces risk

The threat of a cybersecurity breach is ever-present in today’s connected world and producers would be naïve to think their company is not at risk. In order to ensure their smart equipment does not leave them vulnerable to an attack from either external or internal threats, they need to have regular consultations with an IT specialist. There are also some simple steps to help mitigate the risks.


The most important line of defense is to keep your networks separate. This could involve setting up a corporate network, for areas such as finance and HR functions, and an industrial network, which governs the operational side of the business that keeps the factory running.


Since the advent of the Internet of Things, there has been a rise in outside companies (such as connected equipment manufacturers) requiring access to a firm’s internal networks. This could be to collect the data that’s being recorded, in order to improve systems and processes, or to open the control of whatever that appliance does. For example, if a metal detector has a fault, the supplier may request remote access to the machine to rapidly fix it and reduce downtime. 


Create a DMZ

To protect themselves from unwanted threats either to the corporate network (such as accessing confidential personal or financial records) or to the industrial network (such as changing recipe mixes or overriding smart freezer temperatures), it is advisable that food producers apply the principal of least privilege. This means never giving a user more access than they need to perform their task.


One way to do this is to create a third network. Known as a DMZ, this third network is used to act as a secure path between an organization’s internal networks and the external network, and protects the internal networks from outside interference. By only opening the particular ports needed to communicate on one network at a time, it ring-fences the rest of an organization’s data and operational controls and alleviates much of the risk.


Increase traceability to reduce internal threats

Separating networks and limiting third-party access should cut the threat of an outside body infiltrating digital framework by approximately 90%. Yet while the risk from ransomware, phishers and hackers should not be underestimated, the greatest risk to SMEs regarding their connected equipment is actually more likely to come internally.



In order to mitigate this, it’s important to design any system with traceability in mind. Some of the latest metal detectors come with unique user-specific login details. If an operator wants to make a change to the operational status or machine settings, they must first input their username and password, which is recorded onto a database and stored locally or in the Cloud.


Being able to recall information regarding who actioned any changes, what they did and when they did it provides the food producer with complete traceability. It also reduces the likelihood of internal cybersecurity breaches occurring in the first place.


The road ahead

As more and more of the equipment in food factories becomes connected, increasing volumes of data will afford operators and suppliers ever greater control, improving efficiency, ensuring food safety and providing full traceability.


Moore concludes that increased cybersecurity measures will need to go hand in hand with this and become more sophisticated as connectivity grows. One tool that is already showing great potential is blockchain. Resistant to modification, a blockchain is a growing list of encrypted data (known as a block) containing a timestamp and transaction information, which can be distributed with new entries added as they occur, to form a chain. The data is recorded and stored securely, providing complete traceability throughout the entire supply chain. 


“For now, SME food producers would do well to remember that the greatest threat to their cybersecurity is most likely to come from inside their organization, and ensure traceability wherever possible,” says Moore. “This, combined with creating separate networks and investing in proper IT support, should ensure that your company enjoys all the benefits that come from being part of today’s connected world, with reduced risks.