H Network Security

Industry 4.0 networking choices should not create security holes

March 27, 2023
OT teams need to come to the table during initial evaluation to understand where new connectivity technologies could introduce vulnerabilities and attack surfaces to their environment.

By Rajesh Pazhyannur, CEO and co-founder of Ataya

Industrial environments have complex connectivity needs. Industry 4.0 means that devices and cloud applications are connected, whether they’re on one shop floor, or operating across multiple sites. Connectivity demands are not universal but differ in terms of bandwidth, latency, reliability, mobility and power consumption. So, the means of connectivity also vary.

We have progressed from wired connectivity (e.g., industrial Ethernet, serial buses) to wireless’ mobility and deployment flexibility. Wireless has long meant Wi-Fi, but 5G’s low latency, higher throughput, reliability and security have delivered on many important requirements. While sometimes it’s great to have choices, the number of variables involved in Industry 4.0 has created struggles for operational technology (OT), as teams look to make deployment decisions in their physical and virtual environments.

Let’s take a look at some of the key challenges for teams.

Integration: Due to the complexity involved in integration, most plants are running isolated multiple connectivity networks (instead of one industrial network) because of integration challenges. For example, some wireless devices (such as sensors) only come with serial interfaces and need to be converted to Ethernet for transmission over longer distances. Wi-Fi’s origins in IT and 5G’s in CT means integration requires training for OT teams to integrate these technologies across the enterprise. If a 5G installation is isolated to the shop floor and not applied from production to ordering and delivery, it is destined to contribute to a lack of confidence in the promise of Industry 4.0. 

Security: Too often, security is not part of the evaluation phase and OT teams are left addressing problems during deployment and testing, creating unnecessary and often costly delays. Worse, decision-making as it stands today is leading to disbelief among stakeholders and never-ending proofs of concept as OT teams are stuck addressing avoidable downtimes due to security holes. OT teams need to come to the table during initial evaluation to understand where new connectivity technologies could introduce vulnerabilities and attack surfaces to their environment.

Migration: The reality of IIoT is that the majority of deployments are in brownfield environments. As a result, OT must migrate from existing to new connectivity solutions while minimizing disruption to ongoing operations.

Return on investment: Instead of focusing on the business benefit, OT teams can very often focus their use cases and deployment scenarios on the technology’s capabilities. The customer benefit or the urgency of the solution that the deployment will provide needs to be front and center: in other words, the value of the deployment is not its throughput—it’s about the impact on customer satisfaction and churn.

What do OT teams need to embrace to determine their Industry 4.0 success from a connectivity perspective?

Embrace an all-of-the-above approach to connectivity technologies. For most enterprises, the answer is a combination of wired and wireless. Wi-Fi will play an important role because it provides high bandwidth and a very extensive device ecosystem, but it is not the answer for everything. Wi-Fi connectivity can be unreliable, but this is where 5G shines with its mobility, reliability, throughput and scale. For example, most AMRs use Wi-Fi today, but teams complain that AMRs are not reachable in their warehouse, leading to manual intervention and productivity loss. Instead, teams should explore using private 5G. Or, they may even consider using both Wi-Fi and 5G selectively on the same AMR: 5G to support critical communications while Wi-Fi is a backup or performs tasks like software upgrades and security patches.

Simplify management: Building one industrial network (as opposed to isolated multiple-connectivity networks) is needed to manage multiple device types through a single management, policy and control pane of glass. While the scope of such universal connectivity is broader than just 5G, one industrial network becomes a prerequisite to 5G adoption and delivering on Industry 4.0.

Build security frameworks: Successful OT teams are factoring in devices/access credentials, network access control, network segmentation, and threat-detection/prevention. Even more granular, teams must consider how to define connectivity-agnostic security policies for device-to-device communication that span different connectivity technologies, and they also need to decide how to allow and/or disallow certain types of device communications (for example, horizontal device-device communication).

Lead the charge: OT teams need to embrace their role as the expert and the enabler of the industrial network enabling Industry 4.0. Leaders need to advocate for the training and resources their teams need, and connect with stakeholders across the organization on the business benefit of the industrial network in order to fully activate Industry 4.0.