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Smart Factories Need a Robust Security Architecture

Authored By Megan R. Nichols is a manufacturing and technology writer who regularly contributes to IoT Times and Manufacturing Tomorrow. She also publishes easy to understand manufacturing articles on her personal blog, Schooled By Science, to encourage others to explore STEM topics. 

Smart factories have become the inevitable future of manufacturing. Making the transition will mean faster turnarounds, more efficient use of time and materials, and higher productivity and improved safety for workers.

As physical and digital infrastructure continues to merge under the Industrial Internet of Things, this functionality comes at the potential cost of security. With the right precautions and architecture, though, this doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s what smart factories must do to maintain robust security against known and emerging threats.

Begin With Data Mapping

Recent research indicates that between 60 and 73% of enterprise data goes unused. This isn’t exclusive to smart factories, of course, but it reveals a huge potential attack surface for companies that don’t take security architecture seriously. Companies collect vast amounts of information as a matter of course, much of which functions as an attractive nuisance for hackers, whether the company is actively using it or not.

Industrial data is a virtual representation of everything that goes on under a factory’s roof. Companies need a comprehensive understanding — a map, if you will — of the types of data it collects. They need to know every place it’s generated within the factory, the people and parties that have access to it, how it’s transported or communicated, and everywhere it can be exfiltrated from company networks.

Effective data mapping provides a foundation on which the rest of a factory’s security architecture is built.

Implement Protection for Communication Channels

One of the key reasons why manufacturing companies choose to transition to smart factories is to improve the flow of information from one end of the enterprise to the other.

You’ll hear the phrase “data siloes” used frequently because separate departments or different partners within the same supply chain may generate, but do not always share, their information. Smart factories are all about data mobility and improving synergy between processes and partners.

That means smart factories need to be incredibly deliberate about how they secure the communication channels used to transmit this information. This is where data mapping begins to pay dividends. Securing communication channels includes:

  • Adding and regularly updating anti-malware protections for industrial control systems and all connected equipment.
  • Having a repeatable workflow in place for encrypting all enterprise data before it’s transferred to the cloud or an outside party.
  • Making use of firewalls to protect internal networks, including industrial PCs and all peripherals, like sensors and IIoT equipment, from unauthorized access. Firewalls are also useful for segmenting factory networks into discrete sections, which stops intrusion attempts, viruses and other issues from spreading through the company.

Use Machine Learning to Achieve Constant Vigilance

Machine learning is now a vital part of cybersecurity in smart factories and elsewhere in industry. This is closely related to the challenge of securing communication channels. However, the market for AI-driven cybersecurity products is expected to grow to $34.81 billion, with a CAGR of 31.88 percent, by 2025. This class of smart factory security deserves special mention.

Today, a single company might face thousands of hacking attempts in an average year. With this in mind, smart factories should implement machine intelligence solutions to keep themselves protected around the clock. These systems learn on their own to tell legitimate traffic apart from attempts at unauthorized access.

By automating the classification and routing of traffic on an industrial network, companies can identify security breaches, or attempted breaches, in a matter of minutes or hours. This is compared to the days, weeks or even years it can take for IT specialists to perform the same task without help from machine intelligence.

Develop a Plan for Patching and Updating Digital-Physical Assets

When a manufacturing enterprise invests in a piece of equipment, it’s done with a certain expectation that it will stand the test of time. According to industry insiders, chemical manufacturing equipment rarely dies before its expected lifetime elapses, thanks to the lack of moving parts and the ease with which they can be reconditioned and repurposed.

Routine maintenance on key components like generators and transformers can yield a useful lifetime of a decade or even longer. Sensors can gage voltage and current using a microcontroller. The IoT enabled device can make sure the levels are in the proper range. Remotely monitoring transformers can help prevent loss of time and money since systems are monitored online.  

The prevalence of digital-physical systems in smart factories adds a new wrinkle to maintenance cycles and expands the definition of preventive maintenance into the digital realm. Today, keeping machines safe involves applying software updates and security patches as soon as they become available.

Many manufacturers that use connected smart factory equipment put off updating and patching because they worry that doing so will result in downtime. Rest assured that distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) or man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks result in considerably more downtime and lost profits than the time required to patch critical infrastructure.

Using service-based IIoT platforms can greatly simplify this step for manufacturers. These products receive updates wirelessly, directly from the manufacturer, whenever they become available. Updates may still be deferred until the machines aren’t in active use, or they may maintain basic functionality during the process.

Either way, the risk of neglecting an update is substantially smaller with managed smart factory IIoT services.

Reaping the Benefits of Smart Factories Requires Security Vigilance

Recent research shows that manufacturing companies braving the transition to smart factories could realize productivity improvements of 17-20% and quality improvements of 15-20%. For industrial manufacturers, the gains can be as high as 67%.

There’s clearly a compelling business case to be made for the smart factory. When they’re part of the transition plan from the very beginning, these security infrastructure fundamentals help companies bring their connected infrastructure online without exposing themselves to unnecessary risk.

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