Cybersecurity high on the list of obstacles to Internet of Things

June 11, 2018
​Done properly with the right suppliers, a little Internet connectivity can safely translate into faster, smoother, more efficient operations with significant cost savings

Before the Illinois Tollway adopted its iPass transponder-based collection system in the early aughts, I used cash to pay three tolls each way on my daily commute. I always made sure I had sufficient change, so I could use the faster, coin-operated, unmanned lanes. These were simple in a car but more complex on a motorcycle because it’s easy to fumble dimes with gloves on. (I got good at sorting coins with my tongue.)

​When tolls rose and the Tollway Authority gave the option of paying less by getting a transponder, I was tempted, but cautious. Automatic payment would be a big convenience, but the authorities would not only know where I went, but also when.

​From that, they could easily calculate my average speed, which, like everyone else’s and maybe more than most, would be significantly above the limit. I called and asked the tollway representative if they had any plans to use the data for measuring my speed. They calmly assured me they did not, and to my knowledge, they never have. Those were the days.

​Over the past 15 years, much has changed. Alongside that transponder sits the smart phone, giving me directions, road hazards, traffic conditions and police presence, updated in real time. Waze knows exactly where I am and when, and I don’t care. Anyone can have my home phone number and e-mail address, and apparently already does. My computer’s RAM runneth over with cookies. So what?

​But there’s a limit, and we’re running into it in both our private and professional lives.

​Privately, every day brings a new story of accounts compromised, hacking and data abuse, as well as evidence of increasingly creepy awareness by Internet-hosted marketing apps.

​On the professional side, people in charge of the safety and security of their industrial facilities see no shortage of news reports—and evidence—that their plants are under constant attack, and the Internet remains the major vector.

​Still, the Internet wants everything connected, and many otherwise respectable folks are exhorting you to do just that with your systems and equipment. Regardless of the topic, it seems that Control articles now almost always have some mention of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its industrial subset (IIoT).

​Cybersecurity remains high on the list of obstacles to IIoT implementations, alongside how to move the data into a system in the first place, and how to use it to solve problems and improve operations.

​Until the IIoT came along, cybersecurity wasn’t much of an impediment to selling automation and system integration services, and we expected it wouldn’t be solved until plants blew up and people died. Now that it’s standing in the way of sales, we notice that it’s getting more of the attention it deserves.

​This month’s list of issue topics includes both IIoT and cybersecurity, and I suggested to Jim Montague, executive editor, that in many ways, they’re the same topic and could be covered with a single article. He protested, partly, I think, on the grounds that they’re different, but mostly, I suspect, because there’s so much going on in both areas, he wanted more space to write about it.

​We’re finding increasing numbers of clever, innovative applications of IIoT technology, contained and engineered, so they don’t ramp up cyber insecurity. Some are in Jim’s stories, some will unfold in our news coverage of this year’s user group meetings, and some will be highlighted during our own Smart Industry event during Sept. 24-26 in Chicago.

​Done properly with the right suppliers, a little Internet connectivity can safely translate into faster, smoother, more efficient operations with significant cost savings. Like a toll road transponder or Waze, it’s worth the hassle, and we’ll live with the problems.