Industrial communications and security have a long standing history. In 2016, industrial network operators can collect more data from geographically dispersed field assets than ever before. As we head towards fully connected systems through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), communication technology manufacturers continue innovating and creating enhanced solutions that will meet the Big Data demands of today and the future. Data has become one of the most valuable assets an organization can own. It can help operators improve operational decisions, save manpower and improve employee safety by keeping them out of dangerous environments.
Industrial communications networks have more access points than ever before and we will continue to see more IIoT devices in service as connectivity improves in challenging environments. The IP-based technology incorporated into Industrial IoT communiations make it easier to deploy and talk to sensors, but it also makes it easier for intruders to see and snoop on valuable data streams. Anytime we talk about the collection and transfer of large amounts of critical data, security becomes an important part of the conversation. If you’re a manufacturer, you are probably nodding your head in agreement or maybe even thinking that is an obvious statement. However, based on the major cyber-attacks that have occurred in industrial networks over the past decade it is clear that a security focus from design to deployment isn’t always the case. Take a look at this infographic, “A History of IIoT Cyber Attacks and the Future of Security,” to see just how many huge scale cyber-attacks have impacted a variety of industries.
While the infographic offers insight into major IIoT security breaches we’ve seen in the past decade or so, it does not provide the entire picture of industrial communication technology history and security practices. It does not highlight the fact that industrial operations networks have been using communication devices for decades and many industrial systems have been “online” since well before 2007. In fact, wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) communication solutions have owned the command and control of field assets for decades.
Looking Closer at Solutions
Top-tier industrial communication solution manufacturers have been leveraging security to prevent cyber-attacks and vulnerabilities on data long before the first major breach identified in the infographic. For years, these manufacturers have used a variety of techniques beyond physically securing the devices, including frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) based devices with security standards like TLS/SSL and basic AES-128 data encryption. Some communication technology providers created solutions that are trusted by the US military for secure mission critical data transmission and have been used for more than 20 years.
If one thing is clear in the efforts to protect data over time, it is that a critical infrastructure project is only as reliable and secure as the technology serving it. Security will ultimately be the limiting factor on how much IIoT technology is deployed. A modern operator striving for an IIoT network must look at SCADA security, the convergence of Operations Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT), and make a thorough assessment of what will allow them to achieve a secure data communications network and where they want to be in this triangle. As the industry has evolved, so have the security practices. But what hasn’t changed is that an operator looking to build an IIoT network must carefully select their technology and look for the solutions that are focused on security.