Backstory: Industrial IP security in the new era of “Big Data”

Tuesday May 24, 2016
Written by Daymon Thompson, Beckhoff Automation
May 24, 2016 - Industrial operations have been slow and cautious when adopting new technologies, as losing intellectual property to a malicious incursion could be backbreaking. Historically, companies ensured absolute security from unauthorized access by severing all outside connections to the facility or machine network. However, as companies seek to integrate their operations and optimize production efficiency, ignoring high-value connected solutions found within Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts is the fastest way to be overtaken by your competitors. Thus, eliminating unauthorized remote access by implementing cybersecurity becomes paramount.

Cybersecurity generally evokes images of firewalls, routers and IT departments, and historically, these were the only necessary tools. While securing a network from external traffic is certainly important, there are other aspects of security for industrial controls that must be addressed. Industrial security typically falls into three main categories for how a person may access the system: direct local access, indirect local access and remote access.

Direct local access references physical access to the controller and preventing malicious intent by limiting controller access. These security measures include locking down USB ports, password-protecting source code or restricting access to the operating system.

Indirect local access enables device accessibility beyond physical interaction with the device, such as a remote desktop within the same network domain.

Remote access connects with the device from a remote location and/or via remote network. Remote security means securing the data being sent from its source, through the network (or the Internet if using Cloud-based services), all the way to its destination.

The most recent trend we’ve seen is the implementation of secure, platform-independent communication protocols such as OPC-UA. These protocols enable data transmission to remote storage locations while encrypting it at the source. While firewalls are a necessity, companies must also realize the full scope of industrial security by utilizing message brokers for communications. Implementing a protocol such as MQTT by using a message broker permits communications through the firewall, as both devices establish the connection using an outgoing message. This removes the requirement of other protocols to open non-standard ports on the firewall for incoming communications, increasing overall network security.

As we move into the era of Big Data, next-gen communication protocols can provide a reliable platform to implement ample security and keep data safe from unauthorized access and manipulation.

Commentary by Daymon Thompson, automation specialist, Beckhoff Automation. Thompson represents the Beckhoff software product management and development teams in North America.

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