For decades, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems have played a significant role in industrial operations. Industries like oil and gas, electric power/smart grid, agriculture and utilities have implemented SCADA systems and networks to collect data and automate processes, and are always looking to automation systems for more effective ways to operate.

The ability to collect more data from geographically dispersed field assets in remote locations has driven the need for enhanced communication technologies. With the emergence of continuously improving wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies, networks have more access to data points than ever before. The number of sensors and data points collected will continue to rise dramatically with improved connectivity. This collected data helps operators improve operational decisions, save manpower and, in many instances, keep employees safe by avoiding dangerous environments. Today, industrial network operators are increasingly implementing end-to-end Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity or the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling more capabilities at the edge of these networks. This does not make SCADA systems obsolete by any means; it opens the door to greater possibilities of enabling new applications and analytics with every single data point being captured in the system.

So What’s the Security Tradeoff?

There are many implications for the concept of a completely connected enterprise in terms of network security. Critical infrastructure projects are only as reliable and secure as the technology serving them. Security, therefore, will ultimately be the limiting factor on how much IoT technology is deployed. With security, the traditional trade-off is either “easy to use” or “secure”— but not both. We often consider a third tradeoff as well of features, though in most cases, operators are not willing to trade off features, but it is certainly part of the equation. An operator striving for an Industrial IoT (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.

Some of the top security challenges for the IIoT today include:

With more data being transported than ever before, it’s important not only to secure assets, but to secure the communication link itself. Traditionally, SCADA systems have been on the outside of a firewall from the corporate IT network. Newer SCADA systems that use Ethernet devices are more security focused with measures such as VPN, secure sockets, encryption and dedicated log-ins on the devices.

One Final Thought

There are many benefits to the concept of a completely connected IoT system, but this also implies more crossover between IT and OT systems. Companies need to prioritize security in their quest to create end points for all of their field assets. Some industries, like the smart grid, are already experiencing mandates that ensure a more cyber-secure network. With others, however, it is still up to the organization to make security a top priority.

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