What is Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

Industrial Internet of Things

The industrial internet of things or IIoT is used with respect to the extension and application of the internet of things (IoT) in industrial sectors and applications.

With an intense focus on big data, machine learning, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, the IIoT helps industries and enterprises to achieve better reliability and efficiency in their operations.

The industrial internet of things encompasses industrial applications, including medical devices, robotics, and software-defined production processes. The IIoT goes past the regular consumer devices and internetworking of tangible devices, usually related to the IoT.

What makes it different is the intersection of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). OT is used in reference to the networking of operational processes as well as industrial control systems (ICSs), including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, human-machine interfaces (HMIs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and distributed control systems (DCSs).

The convergence of OT and IT offers industries greater system integration when it comes to optimization and automation, as well as better clarity of logistics and the supply chain.

The control and monitoring of physical infrastructures in industrial operations, like in healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, utilities, and transportation, are made more accessible through the application of smart sensors and actuators as well as remote control and access.

In the context of Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, the IIoT is essential to how cyber-physical systems and production processes are prepared to transform with the help of analytics and big data.

Real-time data from sensors and other sources of information assists industrial devices and infrastructures in decision-making by coming up with insights and particular actions. Machines will further be enabled to take on the kind of tasks that previous industrial revolutions could not and automate them.

In a broader sense, the IIoT is vital to use cases that are related to connected environments and ecosystems, such as how factories become smart factories, and cities become smart cities.

The consistent data capturing and transmission among smart machines and devices provide industries and enterprises with several growth opportunities.

The data allows enterprises and industries to pick up on inefficiencies or errors in the supply chain, for instance, and address them immediately, thus pushing for efficiency in finance and operations on a day-to-day basis.

The right integration of the IIoT can help to optimize the use of assets, trigger maintenance processes, and predict points of failure, autonomously.

By adopting smart and connected devices, businesses can gather and analyze more substantial amounts of data at faster speeds. Not only will this promote performance and scalability, but it can go a long way to bridge the gap between general offices and the production floors.

Integration of the IIoT can enable industrial entities to access to a more accurate insight on how their operations are going along and assist them with making informed business decisions.

What are the security considerations and challenges in adopting the IIoT?

Adoption of the Industrial Internet of things can change how industries operate, but we must point out the challenge of having strategies in place to accelerate digital transformation efforts while maintaining security amid increased connectivity.

Industries and enterprises that deal with operational technologies can be expected to know their onion in such aspects as product quality, and worker safety.

However, given that OT is getting integrated into the internet, businesses are seeing the introduction of smarter and more automated machines at work, which also invites a slew of new issues that would require a good understanding of the inner workings of the IIoT.

With the implantation of IIoT, three areas must be focused on: namely availability, scalability, and security.

Of course, availability and scalability may be second nature to most industrial operations already, since these two could have been established already or in the business for some time already.

However, security is the angle where many companies stumble when it comes to integrating the IIoT into their operations. For one thing, several businesses still make use of legacy systems and processes. Many of which have been in operation for many decades and have stayed unaltered, thereby complicating the adoption of new technologies.

Also, there is the proliferation of smart devices, which has given rise to vulnerabilities of securities as well as the concern of security accountability.

Adopters of IIoT have the de facto responsibility of keeping the setup secure and using their connected devices, but device manufacturers are ladened with the obligation to protect their consumers when they launch their products. Manufacturers must be able to guarantee the security of the users and offer them remedies or preventive measures when security issues come up.

Even more significant is the need for cybersecurity, which is brought to the fore in the rise of more risky security incidents over the years. Hackers securing access to connected systems not only cause a significant risk to the business, and lead to abrupt shut down of operations.

To a particular extent, enterprises and industries that adopt the IIoT must plan and operate like tech companies if they must manage both digital and physical components securely.

Adopters of the industrial internet of things are also faced with the problem of adequately integrating IT with industrial operations, where both information and connection must be secured.

Users’ data must be processed in line with applicable privacy regulations, like the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example. While gathered data has a vital role to play in generating insights for the infrastructures and devices, it is essential to maintain a separation between personal information and general log data.

Information such as personally identifiable information (PII) must be saved in an encrypted database. When unencrypted information is stored together with other useful activity in the cloud, it could mean businesses dealing with the risk of exposure.

One of the main concerns that have been found to surround the IoT is technology fragmentation, and by extension, the IIoT isn’t separated from the coexistence of various protocols, standards, and architectures.

The different use in IIoT systems, for instance, of protocols and standards such as Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) and Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), may hinder the interoperability of IIoT systems.

What are the risks to IIoT systems?

Many security problems are associated with the IIoT, and they stem from a lack of having necessary security measures in place. Security gaps, such as inadequate authentication practices, exposed ports, and obsolete applications contribute to the rise of risks.

Combine these factors with having the network connected directly to the internet, and you will successfully invite more potential hazards.

Businesses may have become familiar with the likely business impact of having their IT systems go down due to malware infection or cybercrime. However, the new convergence of IT and OT births a further significant risk factor: we are talking about real-world threats that may affect even innocent civilians.

Unsecure IIoT systems can cause monetary loss and operational disruption, among other considerable consequences. Also, connected environments can only mean more security risks, like:

  • Software vulnerabilities that can be exploited to attack systems.
  • Publicly searchable internet-connected systems and devices.
  • Malicious activities, like targeted attacks, hacking, and data breaches.
  • System manipulation can lead to operational disruption ( product recalls, for example) or sabotage processes (production line stoppage).
  • System malfunction can lead to damage of devices’ injury to operators and people nearby or damage to physical facilities.
  • OT systems held for extortion, as compromised via the IT environment.

A typical example of a compromised OT system through the IT environment is the cyber attack of December 2015 against a power grid in Ukraine, where the enemy successfully Infected the IT infrastructure and shut down critical systems, as well as disrupted power in thousands of homes.

How should industries and enterprises go about securing the IIoT?

While making moves to push for productivity in operations is essential for IIoT systems, security must be regarded as much.

When OT is connected to the internet, businesses can be made more viable, with the aid of several sensors and connected devices at work, as well as the real-time data that they generate.

However, the failure to invest in cybersecurity may undermine the benefits. At this point is where security by design, as well as embedded security approaches, must come in.

Installing a security operations center (SOC) is useful in proactively monitoring and defending businesses against the full range of threats that plagues connected environments.

With this centralized unit, industries and enterprises are allowed to oversee the significant amount of alerts that they may deal with and to quick response possible. SOCs are quite beneficial for facilities that need to have better visibility and get consistent analysis of their security posture.

The goal of the SOC teams is to detect any unusual activity or security incidents and be able to address issues before any compromise can happen promptly.

This approach tackles the challenges that may come with low system visibility, legacy systems, as well as slow response times. With a security operation center, alerts will be prioritized, and there will optimized threat correlation to enable enterprises to manage both their IT and OT.

There are many other ways industries and enterprises can go about securing the IIoT, but the bottom line is to adopt a technique that exposes them to fewer threats.

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