Digital Industrial World: Securing Physical Machines in a Virtual World

Digital Industrial World: Securing Physical Machines in a Virtual World

November 01, 2015 at 07:11pm

By Paul Rogers, President & CEO of Wurldtech

General Manager of GE Industrial Security

Imagine telling someone 10 or 15 years ago they needed to think about “securing” their light bulbs and thermostats against cyber attacks? The idea would seem absurd to anyone but a futurist.

But in today’s world of the Internet of Things, with smart light bulbs and smart thermostats, we face a whole new realm of threats that simply didn’t previously exist.

It’s the same with industrial and infrastructure assets — an issue of particular concern in this region where oil and gas facilities are linchpins of local economies, and where climate means disruptions to power and water producing plants are many orders of magnitude more significant than in more temperate climates.

Until recently, the risk of cyber attacks on industrial assets made about as much sense as attacks on a home lightbulbs and thermostats.

But as we begin to tap into the tremendous productivity and efficiency benefits of connecting big machines, big data, powerful analytics and human decision making through the Industrial Internet, we must address the new risks faced by these “cyber-physical” industrial assets.

The challenge here is that while we have decades of experience addressing the evolving nature of cyber threats in the IT and enterprise space, we can’t directly apply this experience and these tools to the “operational technology” of industrial assets.

There are lots of reasons why. For example, in IT, systems are generally configured to put confidentiality as the top security priority. So if you forget your password, you won’t be able to access your company’s network. In the OT environment, the top priority is availability, since the costs — in terms of finances, environment and health — could be quite substantial in a case where control of a large industrial asset was lost.

Another example of the differences is how operators interface with their systems. OT systems are more intuitive and visual, with drag and drop operation, rather than IT environments, where operators are expected to know a whole encyclopedia of prompts. To facilitate OT security, IT solutions must be modified to meet the intuitive nature of the OT environment.

The tremendous benefits of the Industrial Internet and connecting large industrial assets to the cloud — productivity enhancements generated by the Industrial Internet through 2030 could add US$15 trillion to global GDP — mean that these vital assets will be connected to the grid.

We have developed solutions to secure OT environments. Our goal is to raise awareness of the security challenges and the new available solutions, so that those responsible for these assets can safely and reliably realize the enormous opportunities that the Industrial Internet offers.

By taking proactive decisions to secure industrial assets at the same time as we unlock the additional value that this connectivity creates, we provide a powerful and secure springboard for regional — and global — economic development.

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