3 Keys to Security and Industrial Automation

If you need assistance with any part of your automated manufacturing, would you give remote access to a designated expert? Remote log-ins can be efficient, but fears about hackers and viruses means this capability is often not a selling point in today's industrial world. The person responsible for information technology may cringe at the thought of having a finger pointed at them if a problem arises.

The threat of security breaches prevents automation from living up to its full potential and seems like one of the disadvantages of industrial automation. Read on to get a helpful perspective.

Know How Caution Undercuts Benefits

Giving trusted people remote access to your automation can be an efficient way to operate. Many companies won't grant remote access to anyone because IT and engineering managers don't want to shoulder blame in the event of a security breach. The concern is understandable, but it creates limitations as noted in the article Network Vulnerabilities Keep Automation from Living Up to Full Potential.

The owner of machine vision integrator i4 Solutions, LLC, Brian Durand, calls this sense of caution "an opportunity cost." He was quoted in the article saying, "[Customers] don’t even want to discuss the efficiencies that could be gained from enabling remote access."

Security is a dynamic issue. A challenge facing manufacturers is that industrial field equipment operates for up to 20 years or longer. The cybersecurity landscape can change dramatically in that time frame and a solution needs to have "a future-proof design."

Look for security features to be increasingly designed into automation control systems and components.

Understand Holistic Security

IT managers may feel squeezed by the current need for security and the need to prepare for a connected future. Yet, they want to get the most from their automated manufacturing. The article Becoming the Factory of the Future envisions a time when factories "will be measured not so much by their ability to produce, but to produce with the most flexibility."

This means being connected to cloud-based solutions will be necessary to realize "the competitive advantages of real-time data acquisition and the ability to respond in timely and adaptive ways to market demands."

Secure cloud computing will replace local networks, web services will replace software, and devices with Internet protocols will replace devices that use proprietary advantage to bind factories to the limited industrial protocols of the past.

Not being connected may be a problem that's greater than security risks. In the article Industrial Internet of Things: Sifting Reality from Hype companies see value in being connected, but the risks weigh heavily on management.

View security issues in a holistic approach, says Mike Hannah, commercial program manager for the connected enterprise, Rockwell Automation. "Believe it or not, you can actually become more secure if you have a connected device than if it’s just sitting out there unknown. If you don’t know about a device than you can’t protect it from internal or external threats.”

Use Data as a Defense

Think of the cloud-based future as a converged, secure, and collaborative operation. The article Robotics 2015 and Beyond: Collaboration, Connectivity, and Convergence points out that robots or sensors on a robot will have to communicate together to achieve the value of the Internet of Things. The holistic approach to security is also taken here.

If you're planning a connected future, make network convergence a real critical part of the entire infrastructure of your plant or operation. Move away from proprietary standards and into safe communication over open standards, which, according to Rockwell's Mike Hannah, is an EtherNet/IP network.

While it's not possible to ward off all attacks, being connected and using data analysis can act as a strong defense. Proper monitoring of networks can alert a company to problems within hours or a few days instead of weeks or months later and keep your automated manufacturing safe. Technology doesn’t manage itself. People, procedures and processes work in tandem to provide appropriate support.

A connected future holds great promise for manufacturers in asset utilization, employee productivity, horizontal integration, customer experience, and innovation. Plan your security well to make use of your system's full capabilities.

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