Hackers Looking To Shut Down Factories for Pay

The malware entered the North Carolina transmission plant's computer network via email last August, just as the criminals wanted, spreading like a virus and threatening to lock up the production line until the company paid a ransom.

AW North Carolina stood to lose $270,000 in revenue, plus wages for idled employees, for every hour the factory wasn't shipping its crucial auto parts to nine Toyota car and truck plants across North America, said John Peterson, the plant's information technology manager.

The company is just one of a growing number being hit by cyber-criminals looking for a payday.

While online thieves have long targeted banks for digital holdups, today's just-in-time manufacturing sector is climbing toward the top of hackers' hit lists.

Production lines that integrate computer-imaging, barcode scanners and measuring tolerances to a hair's width at multiple points are more vulnerable to malevolent outsiders.

"These people who try to hack into your network know you have a set schedule. And they know hours are meaningful to what you're doing," Peterson said in an interview. "There's only a day and a half of inventory in the entire supply chain. And so if we don't make our product in time, that means Toyota doesn't make their product in time, which means they don't have a car to sell on the lot that next day. It's that tight."

He said that creates pressure on manufacturers to make the criminals go away by paying the sums demanded.

"They may not know what that number is, but they know it's not zero. So what is that number? Where do you flinch?"

Last August at the 2,200-worker Durham transmission factory, the computer virus coursed through the plant's network, flooding machines with data and stopping production for about four hours, Peterson said.

Data on some laptops was lost, but the malware was blocked by a firewall when...

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