Industry 4.0 and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) have entered the vernacular, but many of us are unaware of what gets lost in translation when internet of things (IoT) principles are applied to factory processes.
The IIoT was built on the belief that the technologies that accelerated IT progress could do the same for operational technology (OT). The idea remains valid, but some nuances have been left on the factory floor, and the two environments are still worlds apart.
On one hand, Moore’s Law, time and again, has satisfied IT’s insatiable appetite for faster, more powerful processors. Then along came artificial intelligence (AI). As deep learning has been adapted to disciplines as varied as machine translation, drug design, and chess, manufacturing industries have realized that machines can produce results comparable — and, in some cases, superior — to human experts.
On the other hand, there are control systems deployed in the OT world right now that are stuck in the Industrial Age. Most factories and utility facilities have not been networked. They are built on proprietary controls and are designed to work in a closed environment, independently of IT infrastructure.
Factory managers are discovering that the advances made in IT infrastructure do not transfer readily to industrial controls. IT mechanisms must first be translated into OT, and the companies best equipped to do that are ones that are already familiar with the factory floor. Think Infineon Technologies, Renesas Electronics, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments.
Comparing IT and OT systems, Ray Upton, TI’s vice president and general manager for connected microcontrollers, said that OT imposes drastically different requirements in areas such as energy consumption and latency. “We are talking about hundreds or thousands of sensors used inside pumps and motors on the factory floor, where no downtime is allowed,” he told us. “Predictability, security, reliability, and energy efficiency become critical to industrial control systems.”
A smart factory demands an infrastructure whose robustness and reliability are an order of magnitude higher than the typical IT infrastructure.
Public internet connection?
One of the thorniest IIoT challenges is connectivity, whether wired or wireless. By definition, the industrial internet of things implies connection to the internet, and yet the last thing that factory managers want is to make manufacturing systems vulnerable to cyberattacks. Indeed, for years, the assumption was that most industrial control system (ICS) environments were air-gapped from IT networks to guard against hacks.
But most experts now acknowledge that “the air gap is a myth” in all but a specialized subset of environments, such as nuclear facilities, as Phil Neray, vice president of industrial cybersecurity for CyberX, told us.
“IT and OT networks are increasingly connected to facilitate remote monitoring and maintenance of industrial equipment, and this increases the available attack surface,” said Neray. According to CyberX’s “Global ICS & IIoT Risk Report,” one-third of OT networks are connected to the public web.
“To make matters worse,” he added, “most OT protocols were designed many years ago” and are “insecure by design.” For example, such regimes don’t require authentication for uploading new ladder logic or firmware to the controllers. In short, an attacker who cracks the OT network usually has free rein to compromise many of its ICS devices.
Clearly, there’s a lot more factory security work left to do than your average OT manager would care to admit.