Supplier Alliance Secures Big Data for Users

More Connections May Mean More Vulnerabilities, but Awareness, "Security as a Habit" and Helpful Partners Are the Best Defense

By Jim Montague

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Industrial networks are rapidly multiplying and diversifying, giving users access to big data sources, better analyses and wiser production and business decisions. However, closer and more numerous network ties can also leave users open to potential intrusions and attacks, according to Rick Esker, senior director of the Industry Solutions Group (ISG) at Cisco.

"Four or five years ago, we didn't think too much about malevolent actors, but since then, security has become one of the top issues that users at our customer conferences care most about," said Esker. "In fact, one of the main white papers at this summer's Black Hat conference was about how to hack the software and controls on a Toyota Prius." And while this may seem a bit removed from industrial control, Esker said, consider whether a sophisticated, latent worm infecting a fleet of maintenance vehicles might be used to take down the controls at a refinery or other process facility.

Esker presented "The Internet of Things: Balancing Big Data and Security" today at Rockwell Automation's Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) meeting in Houston.

Besides the worries raised by Stuxnet and other software-based worms and viruses, Esker added that many process control engineers and their organizations are facing rapidly aging and retiring workforces. Simultaneously, "It seems like most young people want to go to work for Facebook and Google, but few want to work in industrial companies in remote locations," added Esker.

To resolve these dilemmas, Esker reported that many process applications and companies must seek to build new infrastructures with the added sensors they need to gain big data's advantages, but include enough security to reduce risks and ensure safe operations. At the same time, these new infrastructures can allow them to preserve and disseminate expert operating practices from their veteran engineers, as well as allow remote monitoring and troubleshooting, which will also be more attractive to the best and brightest new engineers and software developers.

Read Also: Rockwell Automation Deepens Process Inroads

"Security is about maintaining awareness, policies and education, and then building the services to support them," explained Esker. "Big data initiatives need these same kinds of assistance."

Cisco's Security Information Organization (SIO) has a long history of identifying threats, sandboxing and quarantining them, and even identifying early-warning triggers and anomalous behaviors that could lead to threats on industrial networks. "However, security is no longer just about isolating and protecting against threats. It must be paid attention to as a habit," he added.

"The targeted addressable market (TAM) for the 'Internet of Things' is about $14.4 trillion, and the biggest piece of this is industry. For instance, as video inputs are added to SCADA systems, and as more applications can't suffer latency above 800 milliseconds, they'll need network routers that can serve as computing devices as well. The heart of being able to do all of this is network security."

Fortunately, one of the primary ways to improve awareness of security and make it a habit for users is to establish and nurture exactly the kind of partnership that Cisco and Rockwell Automation have had for more than seven and a half years. "The Converged Plant-wide Ethernet (CPwE) architecture that Rockwell Automation and Cisco developed together is the crown jewel of our alliance," said Esker. "It's one of the best examples of how industrial networks have moved from historically proprietary to open systems and is really the heart of all we've done together. Now we're going to extend our joint leadership in industrial networking even further with cloud-based services, virtualized desktops, manufacturing execution systems and more distributed computing."

Esker explained these new capabilities will be essential for users and their applications, and help them take in and analyze all the added data from the new and better sensors they'll be employing soon. "The explosion of big data will add richness to what we already know and increase awareness from formats like video. However, we'll also know more about factors that were previously unknown, and both will help avoid negative outcomes," he said. "For example, we'll be able to contextualize video so we can close control loops by recognizing when a video input needs to indicate an alarm situation."

Esker added that Rockwell Automation and Cisco's alliance and their recent collaboration with Panduit is going to start producing smaller and even more capable devices, such as core computing components that also have Ethernet, wireless and other industrial networking capabilities. "With Stuxnet and its 85 families of worms, Pandora is really out of the box. It really flipped our world because its vector came from the bottom up," added Esker. "As a result, Cisco and Rockwell Automation have been working on deep-packet inspection, detecting anomaly behaviors and finding advanced network threats. We have a much more integrated approach, thanks to our enduring relationship, and this lets us successfully address the primary concerns of our users, help them become more aware and practice security as a habit, and protect them against threats in the future."

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