Approaching the cyber security challenges in the ERP market

February 8, 2024

Data lies at the core of modern business, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are where data is most dominant. ERP software integrates data and business functions across various markets like finance, manufacturing, marketing, sales and others, which makes it an appealing prospect for potential cyber-attacks.

What threats do ERP systems face, and what can organisations do to defend themselves?

ERP systems have always been attractive targets for cybercriminals as they represent the business foundation for many large corporations, organising critical business processes, personal data and financial transactions. For cybercriminals, ERP represents an opportunity to acquire valuable information or potentially disrupt business operations. ERPs consist of abundant personal and financial data in the cybersecurity industry.

Today, businesses are progressing plans to migrate ERP systems to the cloud to enhance scalability and efficiency. This means these critical systems are moving from their traditional defensive security layers, creating new cyber attack opportunities and transforming the attack surface potential for organisations.

Cyber threats to ERP systems have become more sophisticated in recent years. Cybercriminals have gained access to ERP programming languages and protocols via cloud systems and have developed more advanced ways to target complex ERP systems. Similarly to other software solutions, ERP services are susceptible to vulnerabilities and require ongoing maintenance. Challenges, however, often limit organisations, such as intricate system architecture, multiple integrations and a lack of ERP security knowledge. The scale and complexity of securing the ERP environment for a large corporation can be overwhelming. These ERP systems contain multiple components, with complex business processes and interconnecting workflows and data systems.

This complexity can impact visibility in these applications, making it difficult to determine which vulnerabilities should be tackled first and effectively apply solutions to reduce security risk. These challenges can make it difficult for ERP customers to maintain pace with security vulnerabilities and secure configurations, which means many companies aren’t securing their ERP applications effectively.

A successful cyberattack on an ERP system can have severe consequences in terms of financial loss and reputational damage. There are direct costs associated with the cyber attack, and depending on the scale of the cyber incident, businesses can face regulatory fines and legal liabilities, particularly if personal data is compromised, as they must meet data protection regulations.

ERP systems are pivotal to business operations, and disruption can result in downtime, reduced productivity, and potentially missing opportunities. There is also the potential damage to a business’s reputation. Customers and stakeholders can lose trust in the company’s ability to protect sensitive information and provide secure services.

Evolving the ERP landscape to strengthen security

There has been a significant shift in the approach of CIOs and CISOs over the last few years. Businesses understand that they can no longer rely on traditional defensive measures to protect critical services. The business-critical application layer must provide protection, and companies focus on implementing strategies to safeguard ERP systems. There has been an accelerated emphasis on access controls and management, controlling access to ERP systems for those only who require it and monitoring usage more closely.

Secondly, ERP security has become more dependent on intelligence, with businesses actively measuring the application scene for new threats and potential vulnerabilities. Regular updates are necessary to tackle possible vulnerabilities, as cyber-attacks often appear on unpatched systems, so businesses are focusing on investment in security and code vulnerability solutions. Furthermore, companies are exploring ongoing threat monitoring that can connect with their security operations and harness AI to identify and take action on unusual activities in real time.

Aside from focusing on risk-driven technology plans, businesses should prioritise structured cybersecurity training for their employees, ensuring they understand the challenges and techniques typically used by cybercriminals to gain access to ERP systems. Continuous security tests should determine potential vulnerabilities and measure the strength of existing solutions. Working with ERP vendors and security professionals is essential to staying on top of the latest threats and most effective solutions. Applying a flexible approach to ERP security, combining the technology and human side of cybersecurity, is critical to effectively tackling the ongoing challenges in the ERP market.

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