assembling_a_digitalized_lasagna_

Assembling a digitalized lasagna

Feb. 20, 2024
System integrator Gray Solutions shows how audits, skills, standards and cybersecurity build combined wireless, mobility and edge computing solutions

Just as digitalization breaks down data silos, networking and other barriers, it’s also allowing formerly separate wireless, mobility and edge computing technologies to lean on and assist each other. For example, to meet growing demand for automation and remote monitoring, manufacturers are increasingly turning to sensor networks and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to monitor and control production process with fewer onsite personnel.

Frank Curry, network engineer at Gray Solutions, a system integrator in Lexington, Ky., and a certified member of the Control System integrators Association, reports there are several factors easing adoption of sensors and IIoT-enabled devices, including:

  • Standardization of protocols and interfaces that simplify integration and interoperability between devices and systems.
  • Continued miniaturization and cost reductions for sensors and computing that make it more feasible to deploy them.
  • Improved OT cybersecurity practices that make it safer to implement connected technologies without substantially increasing risk.
  • More vendors offering integrated solutions designed for the manufacturing sector, which include support and maintenance, making it easier for manufacturers to adopt these technologies.
  • Increased digital skills training enabling smoother transitions to advanced technologies.

When thinking about implementing wireless, mobility and edge computing, assessing needs is the first step,” says Curry. “Understanding your destination and planning the journey to get there is key. Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of your manufacturing processes, and identifying where wireless technology can make the most impact. Determine the specific goals and objectives you want to achieve through wireless implementation, mobility and edge computing.”

Assisted by audits

Curry adds that users can perform a variety of audits to determine what types of wireless, mobility and edge computing will be the most suitable for their applications. These audits include:

  • Security—examine the posture of wireless networks, mobile devices and edge computing platforms to identify vulnerabilities, assess the effectiveness of security protocols, and ensure there’s no unauthorized access.
  • Compliance—ensure that wireless, mobility and edge computing technologies adhere to relevant industry standards and regulations, such as GDPR for data privacy, ISO/IEC 27001 for information security management, NIST standards for cybersecurity, and industry-specific standards like ISA/IEC 62443 for industrial automation and control systems security.
  • Performance—evaluate wireless, mobile and edge computing devices by checking on network latency, data throughput, connection stability and their ability to handle required loads, and make sure they meet the manufacturing processes’ operational requirements.
  • Interoperability—assess the ability of the systems to communicate and function effectively with other devices and systems. Also check for compatibility issues, data exchange efficiency, and seamless integration of components in the OT environment.
  • Network penetration testing—simulate cyber-attacks on wireless and other networks to identify and address potential exploitation points before they can be leveraged by malicious actors.
  • Physical security—because edge devices are often distributed throughout plants, it’s important to audit physical security measures to protect these devices from theft, tampering or damage.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity—ensure there are effective plans in place for maintaining operations if a system failure, disaster or other disruption occurs, especially because processes often rely on continuous availability.
  • Data integrity—verify that data from edge devices is accurately and reliably collected, processed and stored without corruption or unauthorized modification.
  • Mobile device management (MDM)—establish policies and procedures for device provisioning, application management and enforcing corporate policies and security measures.

Skills and standards

To implement wireless, mobile and edge computing, Paige Minier, OT infrastructure manager at Gray Solutions, reports users must acquire several essential skills. These include:

  • Basics—learning about Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, near-field communications (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), 5G and other wireless technologies, as well mobility data management (MDM) and edge-computing ecosystems.
  • Cybersecurity know-how—implement security protocols for wireless networks and secure edge computing, and learn encryption and secure data transmission methods.
  • Compliance and standards—get familiar with standards and compliance requirements, such as ISA/IEC 62443, ISO/IEC 27001 and general data protection regulations (GDPR), and understand data privacy requirements.
  • System integration—ensure interoperability between new and existing control systems, and learn to implement application programming interfaces (API) and software development kits (SDK) for integrating mobile applications with backend systems.
  • Project management—develop best practices pilot testing, phased rollouts and user training.
  • Vendor-specific training—learn about support and maintenance services offered by vendors for long-term sustainability of the technologies.
  • Hand-on experience—attend labs, workshops and real-world projects, and participate in simulations or pilot projects to understand practical challenges and considerations.

“We have many customers adopting advanced technologies, such as automated guided vehicles (AGV), drones, autonomous mobile robots (AMR), IIoT-enabled sensors and cobots/robots that require dedicated, wireless OT solutions that provide high availability, and have zero tolerance for latency issues,” says Minier. “Many of these customers are starting to implement dedicated, wireless-mesh networks that provide uninterrupted connectivity and increased security compared to traditional, enterprise, wireless solutions. For example, Rajant Corp. (https://rajant.com) provides wireless-mesh hardware that meets industrial demands.”

Securing the layers

Because wireless, mobility and edge computing form so many links, they also need require exceptional security to protect their processes. Minier adds these cybersecurity steps include:

  • Risk assessments to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Network segmentation to separate OT and IT networks, and isolate critical devices and data, s well as using virtual private networks (VPNs) for secure remote access.
  • Strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, and employing role-based access control (RBAC) to ensure users have minimum necessary permissions.
  • Encrypt data in transit to prevent interception, and encrypt data at rest on mobile and edge devices to protect against unauthorized access.
  • Use the latest wireless security protocols like WPA3 and regularly update them, and routinely.
  • Change Wi-Fi network passwords and use complex password policies.
  • Implement MDM to manage, monitor and secure mobile devices, and further secure
  • edge devices by using trusted hardware and secure boot processes.
  • Regularly update firmware and software to patch vulnerabilities, and automate patch management processes to ensure timely updates.
  • Deploy firewalls to monitor and control network traffic, and use intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) for real-time threat detection.
  • Implement a security information and event management (SIEM) system for continuous monitoring and analysis of security alerts, and develop an incident response plan.
  • Secure physical access to wireless access points, mobile devices and edge-computing hardware, and use locks, security cameras and access logs to prevent and monitor unauthorized physical access.
  • Provide regular cybersecurity training for all staff, and raise awareness about social engineering attacks and the importance of physical security.
  • Adopt secure coding practices for any custom applications developed for mobile or edge computing, and regularly conduct code reviews and application security testing.
  • Work with vendors that comply with security standards and can demonstrate strong security practices, and ensure that service level agreements (SLA) include security requirements and incident response times.
  • Ensure compliance with relevant industry security standards and regulations, such as ISO/IEC 27001, NIST and ISA/IEC 62443, and conduct regular security audits and compliance checks.
  • Develop and regularly test business continuity and disaster recovery plans that include scenarios for cyberattacks.

In the future, Minier reports that Wi-Fi 7 (802.11b) will provide even faster speeds and more reliable connections, while wireless mesh will link more formerly isolated islands of automation. Curry adds the ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) aspect of 5G will enable applications requiring even more reliable data transmission with minimal delays, while secure access service edge (SASE) will combine network security functions with wide area networking (WAN).

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.