Devin Partida writes about cyber security and technology. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of

Industry 4.0 is often called the fourth industrial revolution for plenty of good reasons. Both terms refer to the ongoing digitization and automation of public and private infrastructure.

What is industry 4.0?

Put simply, the phrase “Industry 4.0” is used to describe what is thought of as the fourth industrial revolution. Specifically, Industry 4.0 usually relates to the use of smart tech, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) or other high-tech integrations within the industrial and manufacturing sectors.

Organizations can already reap the productivity and efficiency benefits of Industry 4.0 — but doing so requires ubiquitous computing and uninterrupted internet connections. These things represent a host of new attack vectors for cyber criminals.

Cloud security amid the transition to Industry 4.0 is a real and urgent concern, given the escalation in malware targeting industrial control systems, ransomware, viruses and other harmful forces.

What are the benefits of industry 4.0?

Companies and nonprofits have a host of opportunities at their disposal. This arsenal includes ever-smaller embedded computer chips, sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), faster-than-ever Wi-Fi and mobile networks, and a robust and competitive cloud computing industry.

These are the hallmark benefits of Industry 4.0 and cloud computing for any organization that relies on information to compete and function. Companies are rushing to leverage these competitive advantages:

  • Opportunities to adopt automation: Large-scale data analytics and cloud computing provide the tools, context and insight industries need to scale up automation to meet demands and conquer labor shortages.
  • Machine-to-machine communication (M2M): The ability for machines to communicate with one another facilitates faster data transmission throughout supply chains and remote device control, plus improved collaboration and condition monitoring.
  • Digital twins: Whether a single electric motor or a sprawling supply chain, there are many moving parts in manufacturing and industry. With the right data-gathering apparatus, these entities can construct digital twins of key infrastructure to conduct safe A/B testing or predict failure in the real-world counterpart.
  • Big data analysis: Recent years saw an explosion in analytics products, powered with machine learning (ML) aimed at manufacturers, farmers, nonprofits and other businesses. The gathering and study of in-house data is now mandatory, and data marketplaces are a lucrative source of industrial insights.

This all distills down to a more straightforward list of design goals and principles, including the pursuit of improved interconnection among assets, departments, individuals, leaders and frontline workers. Industry 4.0, cloud computing and IoT unify everything from machinery on the shop floor to electrical and water delivery systems to buildings and other structures. This forms a net of digital awareness that expands daily.

The cloud provides better information accessibility and transparency for all stakeholders. Cloud computing gets business entities closer to the promise of a “single source of truth” — a goal that blockchain may help cloud computing fulfill.

Does industry 4.0 represent a risk? Cloud security essentials

The Internet of Things, especially in industry, is a vast web of devices and platforms chattering to one another. This includes handheld devices, embedded sensors, material handling equipment and smart factory systems, enterprise planning tools, data visualization dashboards, and other cyber-physical systems.

The advantages are clear — and when you appreciate the scale, so are the risks. One cyber security industry report showed a 485% increase in ransomware attacks alone in 2020 over 2019. Experts traced most of these attacks to IoT devices that didn’t have proper security hardening in place.

Cyber security experts and business decision makers should learn as much as they can about the following 2021 Industry 4.0 and cloud security essentials. Bad actors are only growing more sophisticated, which means our methods of prevention must improve just as aggressively:

  • Docker and Kubernetes became two of the more widely acknowledged sources of exploits in 2020. Developers in high-risk industries often make the mistake of using public libraries to build their apps. Beware, though — would-be attackers sometimes embed harmful code into these libraries.
  • A recent survey of manufacturers revealed that 44% of respondents don’t provide cyber security essentials training to their employees. This is a mistake, as ransomware attacks often leverage careless or underinformed employees to harvest credentials or achieve network access.
  • Automation is a boon in manufacturing, supply chains and even in industries like education, medicine and law. Automation can also be a backdoor for criminals, but it can help with cyber security, too. Products already on the market use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect cyber threats early, before major harm comes to pass.

It’s worth pointing out that, if the budget should support it, having in-house talent conversant in and professionally certified for modern cyber security is the best-case scenario for businesses small and large.

Industry 4.0 and the cloud: Balancing opportunities and risk

It’s past time to make investments in cyber security. The proliferation of big data technologies, ubiquitous computing and remote work as a new normal combine to put small and large businesses alike in harm’s way. Don’t make any investments you’re not prepared to back with an ounce of prevention and a pound of common sense.