Industrial Peril

Without a doubt, “Internet of Things” is one of the biggest trends in technology today. Gartner’s 2016 Internet of things Forecast estimates that by 2020 there will be over 3 BILLION “smart” devices connected to business and industrial networks, and over 12 billion “smart” consumer devices in the world.

This revolution is presenting significant challenges for traditional industries – can we capitalize on the economic advantages of IoT, but keep our factories and power grids safe?

Savvy technologists realize that the Internet of Things has been with us for decades already – in the form of connected industrial devices such as factory robots, power generation systems, water treatment facilities, and the like. Collectively, many of these systems fall into a category called Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Sometimes the more general label of “Industrial Internet of Things” IIoT) is used to describe them.

Like so many parts of our world, the internet is driving a transformation in how IIoT devices are connected and accessed. This transformation promises new efficiencies and business opportunities for nearly every sector of the economy. For example, factories and fleets are benefiting from predictive analytics which save money while also increasing efficiencies. Equipment can be remotely managed, saving truck rolls and travel expenses.

However, there is a hidden problem – security. Traditionally, these industrial networks have not been very “secure” in the traditional IT sense. Factory equipment, for example, is not normally patched the way your windows devices are because of fears of downtime or even regulatory obstacles. The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is still the mantra of many plant managers.

Therefore, physical access has been the primary security measure. IIoT networks have been walled off from corporate networks and the internet in much the same way that classified networks are protected at the Pentagon – with the “air gap”. Access was strictly through through the 20th century technology known as “sneaker net”.