The Industrial Internet of Things, referred to as the IIoT, is a ground-breaking business technology that is postulated by many as Industry 4.0. Essentially, the IIoT is a wide-span network of sensors and devices that convert physical inputs to digital outputs to address change and anomalies in an environment through a presentation layer connected to an application and the Internet. Moreover, the IIoT enables storage, processing, and communication between devices to generate a topology defined as “Edge Computing,” punctuating the real-time aspects of a mesh network of sensors that improves productivity, operational efficiency, and scalability in the industrial sector.
Although this technology is relatively new, it provides a springboard for the industry to advance along long-term trajectories associated with Industry 5.0 and robotics. As a result, the largest tech firms in the world are investing their resources into the development of the IIoT. These companies include well-known names such as Cisco, Intel, and General Electric. Since the IIoT is in its early stages of development, it is closely aligned with big data and artificial intelligence for optimizations and consumer preferences to better understand how companies can improve their operations.
There is no doubt that the IIoT has excellent potential and offers substantial value to companies in the industrial sector. However, given that the technology is still in its infancy, there are serious security risks that come with the implementation of the IIoT. The primary risk stems from the fact that every IIoT device is an attack vector that cybercriminals can leverage to infiltrate virtually any system or environment.
What exacerbates matters further is that new devices are manufactured and installed without adequate security measures in place. This has caused significant issues for businesses trying to facilitate a secure convergence between an OT and IT environment. Let’s explore further in the context of emerging security technologies.
What Are OT and the IIoT?
We, as a society, are currently entering the fourth Industrial Revolution, which is transforming the processes of various industries. One byproduct of this technological evolution is the IIoT. As mentioned above, IIoT is essentially a network of connected devices within the industrial sector. These devices, like sensors, all connect with an industrial or manufacturing unit to enable the transference of data between technologies without any human interaction. When devices interact with one another, data is stored, processed, and analyzed to optimize efficiencies in a production process.
Industrial Companies use information technology and operational technology in conjunction with the IIoT — operational technology (OT) being the hardware and software that alters, monitors, or controls the events within a factory. Currently, companies are implementing OT in the form of PLC, DCS, and SCADA systems. OT devices control technology that exists within the physical world, such as power grids, machinery, robotics, valves, etc. In addition to OT devices, there are also information technology (IT) devices, which comprise any software or hardware related to computer technology. IT devices manage the non-physical data within a device.
The Convergence of OT Technologies and the IIoT
An OT environment is very siloed and non-interoperable. Organizations struggle to balance the integration of the traditional, physical environment — including manufacturing systems, electromechanical devices, and industrial equipment — with digitization which includes storage, networking, and servers that process data.
To date, physical and digital technologies have remained separate, relying on human interaction. However, this is about to change due to the advancement of the IIoT and big data analytics, which are enabling physical and digital technologies to converge and allow companies in the industrial sector to merge business processes into one environment for better productivity and efficiency. We can attribute the convergence between IT and OT as the key factor in the development of the IIoT and its direction.
In all, IIoT devices facilitate the convergence of OT and IT technologies using a wide range of controllers, sensors, and actuators. These devices collect data regarding the physical environment in real-time and translate digital commands into physical actions. When IIoT devices communicate through standard networks, it enables the exchange of information between OT data and IT technologies.
The Importance of Data Privacy in the IIoT
A limiting factor that hinders the development of the IIoT is the lack of data security technology. The 2016 malware attack on the Kiev power grid demonstrates the perils of inadequate data security as the IIoT develops. Malware referred to as the “Industroyer” shut down the Kiev power grid, which left businesses and households without access to electricity for hours. As a result, cyber-security professionals in the industrial sector became aware of the drawbacks that come with implementing the IIoT within their business processes.
The need for advanced data security technologies has become more crucial than ever before. Global statistics from 2021 reveal a 50% increase in the total number of cyberattacks per week on corporate networks in comparison to 2020. In 2021, Colonial Pipeline became the victim of a ransomware program created by the Russian cybercriminal group referred to as DarkSide — a result of inadequate data security. Colonial Pipeline was forced to shut down 5,500 miles of pipeline in an attempt to prevent the malware from spreading throughout their OT network. This shutdown disrupted gas deliveries throughout the East Coast, leaving many trucks unable to fill their tanks. Colonial Pipeline paid an astounding $5 million ransom in order to get their company up and running.
IT transforms the manner in which businesses use OT as they realize the challenges that arise in the realm of data security. Until recently, IT has remained an application and data-centric technology that was not intended to merge with OT. However, as IT and OT converge, the industrial sector will expose itself to a high risk and similar issues experienced by smart homes, whereby cybercriminals can easily infiltrate devices that are not secure.
There is a dearth of data security platforms that the industrial sector can implement to mitigate these issues. However, Sertainty UXP technology accelerates the convergence of IT and OT assets by asserting data as a self-controlling sensor to prevent malicious cybercriminals from reaching their objectives. Essentially, the Sertainty platform functions by embedding its zero-trust architecture into an IIoT construct to enable Sensor Data to travel in uncharted mesh networks or communication channels.
The convergence of OT and IIoT environments has ushered a massive change to how companies deploy business processes, with a sight to improve operational efficiency and productivity drastically. As such, it is crucial that any implementation of these systems enacts proper security measures for this new technology to flourish. Data protection must remain a top priority for companies to avoid detrimental data breaches as companies improve business processes.
Here at Sertainty, we take data privacy and protection absolutely, understanding that information is the most valuable asset of any business. With Sertainty, infrastructure companies and utilities can rest assured that their data privacy is specific, provable, and manageable by building privacy intelligence directly into their data.
The Sertainty data privacy platform empowers sensitive data to defend, govern, and track itself, so privacy isn’t lost when the traditional measures of application, network, and infrastructure security fail. To some degree, data breaches are inevitable. But with Sertainty, privacy loss doesn’t have to be!