EXPERT VIEW: Don’t let legacy tech compromise warehouse security

Mark Wheeler, Director, Supply Chain Solutions at Zebra Technologies on warehouse security
Warehouse technology


By 2022, an estimated 50 billion devices will be interconnected to the Internet of Things (IoT). As IoT grows rapidly, so are the quantity of connected devices in warehousing today, opening up innumerable points of access for cyberattacks with costly repercussions.

IBM Security estimates the total global average cost of a data breach for a company is $3.92M, rising to nearly $6M depending on the type of breach, amount of business lost in the aftermath, and costs associated with detection, escalation, notification and post-attack response.

Any device connected to a network is an endpoint available for an attack. That’s why it’s vital for warehouse leaders to modernize their technology solutions and protect their operations from possible downtime or infiltrations into private company records through connected devices. In these challenging times, it is essential that warehouse operations continue to run smoothly, and inventory visibility is maintained.

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken” is a gamble

Warehouse operations using aging technology solutions are highly susceptible to cyber security threats. Many operations have adopted a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” attitude because their solutions keep operating. This misperception opens businesses up to security risks every day.

Legacy solutions are prime targets for security threats. They leave doors unlocked in today’s aggressive cybersecurity environment. According to Carbon Black, top cyber incident response professionals report 59% of attacks are aimed at the manufacturing sector (up from 41% reported in November 2018). Fifty percent of attacks attempt to “island hop”, i.e. to access networks of any organization in a company's supply chain, which means inadequate security in your warehouse puts your business partners at risk too.

Even if IT security for warehousing operations takes measures to protect themselves from top trending IoT security challenges, emerging threats are becoming increasingly sophisticated, putting day-to-day operations at stake. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Hackers enter your mobile device management (MDM) applications because Wi-Fi settings and Bluetooth® connections are not secure against accidental connections.
  • Transitioning from a legacy Warehouse Management System (WMS) to a modernized enterprise WMS without appropriate mobile computers in place leave security gaps susceptible to breaches.
  • Mobile computers used inside and outside the four walls could have been compromised because security patches have not been managed and updated proactively on a regular schedule, or because they are difficult to locate.
  • Malware enters through printer connections because networked printers are not configured to quickly apply security updates.
  • Sensitive data is accessed because proper encryption and security settings are not applied to printers in service, or printers are not safely relocated or retired with data protected by resetting all user settings and removing user files.
  • Access on mobile computers has not been restricted to only business applications, and users are accessing websites or personal email and accidently downloading malware.

To optimize security, warehouse operations and IT decision makers need to assess their entire line of technology solutions—from MDM applications and WMS and enterprise systems, laptops and tablets to endpoints not commonly recognized as highly vulnerable, such as handheld mobile computers and enterprise printers.

Warehouse 4.0 is here and now

The most secure option for modernizing warehousing with mobile computers is to migrate to enterprise-class, Android-based mobile devices.

The reasons are compelling: Microsoft has ended extended support for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 operating system (OS), and for Windows Embedded Compact 7.0 OS by 2021, leaving Microsoft-based devices nearly defenseless against new threats. Android-based solutions incorporate security features built in as a core competency, rather than tacked on as an afterthought. Even more, warehouse 4.0 is here, modernization is in full gear, and migrating to Android is essential for today’s warehouse.

One critical example: Android allows for automated security patch updates. IBM Security found that the breach costs for organizations that had not deployed automated security were 95% higher than for organizations with fully deployed automation.

Consider the benefits of modernizing devices and services to warehouse operations:

  • Support the longevity of enterprise mobile devices, some of which can last up to 10 years or longer. Leverage multiple layers of security already designed into the solution to protect network vulnerabilities at the edge and with long-term security OS support from manufacturers. 
  • Give warehouse and distribution center operations with limited or no assigned on-site IT support the security attention they need by enabling them to implement, manage, troubleshoot and configure device fleets remotely from a single location and update security patches and protocols on time.
  • Use security assessment tools and features to protect setting modes and ensure only authenticated changes, such as software updates, can be made.
  • Assign security controls to every connected device (wired or wireless) via mechanisms built in to help prevent, detect, and fortify against threats.

What needs to be done to secure the rest of the technology throughout your warehouse operations? Look at these measures below to lock down each entry point.

  • Automate appropriate management for locating solutions certification, such as WLAN and Bluetooth security certifications management.
  • Secure printers—security intelligence inside printers is as important as the security inside the OS of a laptop, tablet, or handheld mobile computer.
  • Choose printers with embedded security features, such as those that offer protection during OS upgrades orother unauthorized changes, encrypting all connections, providing real-time visibility and management and the capability to remotely update security throughout their lifecycles.
  • Align practices with the guidelines and laws established by globally recognized security organizations, including FIPS-140, PCI-DSS, GDPR, ISO and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework.

Modernizing goes beyond security

Warehouse operations that are slow to modernize, increase their vulnerability to security breaches with repercussions that involve compromising the privacy of sensitive data, operational downtime, revenue losses, legal or regulatory infractions and harm to a company’s reputation. But it is also a missed opportunity to meet today’s on-demand economy requirements. Taking advantage of migrating to modern OS for all connected devices and technology, such as mobile computers and printers, will equip workers to fulfill greater order volume and velocity by streamlining workflows, optimizing efficiencies and accelerating operations powered with data-driven insights.

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