Network and security key to robust Industrial IoT – Axians IIOT blog

The Industrial IoT (IIoT) is spreading across multiple verticals, but organisations must make sure their network and security infrastructure is up to the job.

Though still at a relatively early stage of its development, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is on the cusp of rapid and large scale expansion. Public and private sector organisations are discovering new ways for connected devices, real time data collection and analysis to help them improve existing processes and operations.

The Industries of Industrial IOT

Key vertical sectors for IIoT adoption include automotive, healthcare, retail, agriculture, manufacturing and utilities, with a bridge between industrial and consumer IoT being built by evolving smart cities that use the technology to deliver a range of consumer services.

Most smart city projects are focused on using IIoT to optimise the delivery of essential utilities such as water, electricity and gas, but many councils are also interested in deploying automated sensors to dim public lighting, monitor weather and road conditions, optimise the fleet management of waste disposal services and also deliver free WiFi in public spaces for example.

Forecasts from Juniper Research suggest that the development of smart grids linked to smart cities will result in a collective saving to the world’s citizens of US$14bn by 2022, driven by smart meter rollouts, energy-saving policies and sensing technologies to improve grid and electricity usage, reliability and efficiency. The majority of smart city rollouts to date have been in the US and Asia, but continental Europe is starting to catch up whilst urban councils in the UK too are at the beginning of their own smart city transformation projects.

VINCI Energies and Axians

Smart Cities

One is Bristol, enabled by a joint venture between the city council and the University of Bristol which have invited private sector companies to contribute thought leadership and infrastructure. The Bristol initiative is currently exploring a variety of different smart city applications using a range of different sensors and networks. Participants will use their own smart phones and GPS devices to provide information on energy, air quality and traffic flows in the city centre for example, with various digital inclusion activities provided over a series of wireless and mesh networks enabled by SDN/NFV technology.

Other UK smart cities include London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brighton, Liverpool, Oxford, Birmingham and Milton Keynes, whilst the CityVerve and Smart City project in Manchester is currently providing a test bed along the Oxford Road corridor for companies wanting to develop and deliver IoT services around energy usage, water quality, public transport, street lighting, healthcare, waste services and education.

Manufacturing leads the way

Arguably the industry that has led IIoT adoption to data is manufacturing however, as factories and product facilities are equipped with a range and volume of equipment and technologies. Everything from GPS and RFID tracking devices to temperature, humidity and air pressure sensors – in parallel with cloud computing and artificial intelligence to optimise existing processes.

“Interest is growing in improving automation in operational processes through the deployment of intelligent connected devices, such as sensors, robots and remote connectivity, often through cloud-based services,” stated Gartner research director Ruggero Contu. “This innovation, often described as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0, is already impacting security in industry sectors deploying operational technology (OT), such as energy, oil and gas, transportation, and manufacturing.”

Most of that activity is being driven by process optimisation to increase the efficiency of production systems. but manufacturers can also automate the switching on and off of machines that are under or little used to save on energy costs and deliver predictive maintenance. Allowing them to fix problems before they occur to avoid disruption to the production process.

German conglomerate Siemens estimates there are currently 30m devices connected to its MindSphere IIoT platform, with US counterpart GE claiming a similar number for its Predix framework. Others are Schneider Electric WonderWare, SAP Hana, Bosch IoT Suite, Kuka Connyun, Fanuc Field, ABB Ability, Honeywell Connected Performance Services, Cisco’s IoT System and Hitachi’s Vantara.

Those IIoT platforms have paved the way for companies to introduce new as a service business models. German manufacturer Kaeser Compressors for example used SAP Hana to introduce a Sigma Air Utility operator model that charges customers based on the quantity of compressed air they use, measured using a new generation of connected machines equipped with sensors that feed back data in real time.

Video: Axians UK and Juniper Networks on Cyber Security in the Industrial sector

Network and security core IIoT building blocks

Whether embedded into smart cities or factories, the network is one of the core building blocks of any IIoT infrastructure project. Connecting the thousands of devices which regularly transmit the data they collect back to edge devices and central processing and storage systems. Zigbee and Bluetooth, combined with a range of other proprietary short range technologies, handle device to device connectivity, whilst the IIoT also uses wireless cellular, WiFi, fixed Ethernet and a raft of new low power IoT networks (eg NB-IoT, LoRa, Sigfox) for device to cloud connectivity.

And Gartner estimating that 20bn IoT devices will be online by 2020 (85m by 2025 according to Forbes), it is likely that high capacity backbones will be required to transmit large volumes of aggregated information between the network edge and cloud hosting facilities via the core. As such any organisations involved in IIoT data collection or service provision needs to make sure they have robust, reliable network connectivity to transport information in real time, supplemented by network traffic monitoring and optimisation tools to track what is happening.

The prospect of IIoT security vulnerabilities must also be addressed Particularly at the device level where the level and sophistication of embedded security controls vary considerably from one sensor to the next. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems for example play a major role in industries like oil and gas, electric power, agriculture, and utilities. Connected devices often control heavy machinery and potentially dangerous systems, whilst engineers increasingly log into factory production lines using IoT enabled remote access systems where secure, efficient identity access management and authentication tools are needed to avoid hackers taking control or diverting resources elsewhere.

Major incidents like the Mira botnet which hijacked thousands of IoT connected cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) to launch a crippling distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on ISP Dyn in 2016 show just how dangerous an unprotected IIoT can be. Whilst not exploited, vulnerabilities have been also been discovered in connected healthcare monitors and connected cars.

The Stuxnet worm was deliberately designed to stop operations at an Iranian nuclear facility by taking down the plant’s SCADA system whilst other attacks from unconfirmed sources (widely believed to be Russian state sponsored) crippled part of the power grid in Ukraine. Perpetrators do not have to be Mossad, the CIA or the KGB – industrial espionage undertaken by cyber criminals as part of a broader ransomware attacks are likely to become increasingly common in the future.

Indeed a Gartner survey conducted earlier this year [2018] found that nearly 20% of organisations observed at least one IoT-based attack in the past three years. Regulatory compliance initiatives too are likely to put IIoT security front and centre in the future however, as new government and industry guidelines demand that CNI organisations in particular do more to protect their IIoT enabled networks and infrastructure.

With so many devices, end points and networks to protect, automation will therefore be key in handling the IIoT security configuration, management and maintenance overhead, and organisations will have to work hard to find the right balance of human and machine oversight.

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