Securing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is critical if industrial operators want to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0.
For industrial operators, the world is changing rapidly. Digitalization and the adoption of IIoT devices, sensors, and networks is having a profound impact on everything from how they manage their supply chains to the types, quantities, and level of customization of the finished goods and services they produce.
Referred to collectively as Industry 4.0, industrial operators across verticals are using digital technologies and low-cost sensors to up-end centuries-old business models (think product-as-a-service), increase efficiency, improve safety, gain visibility into their supply chains, and predict machine failures (and fix them before they happen).
Ultimately, the goal is to simultaneously improve the customer experience, reduce costs, and increase profits using the same set of commercially available technologies like systems-on-a-chip, low-cost sensors, and TCP/IP network protocols that also underpin the consumer IoT market.
There are many moving parts that make up the digital value chain enabling these benefits: high-speed wireless data networks and protocols, cloud computing, AI and machine learning, big data, analytics, mobile devices, cheap data storage, faster CPUs—the list is long and, as one technology improves, it tends to enable yet more innovation in other areas as well.
Just like with past technological and industrial advancements like robotics and automation, operators who embrace these technologies are, over time, expected to outperform those who do not. And while digitalization and the IIoT present a host of benefits and new business opportunities, they do not come without some risk. Specifically, an increased threat of cyber attacks on operational infrastructure and systems.
What Is an IIoT Device?
But before we can talk about the opportunities and risks presented by the IIoT, you have to define it first. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) defines an IIoT device or endpoint as a “component that has computational capabilities and network connectivity”. This can include a lot of things in an industrial setting; from simple temperature sensors to connected pumps and valves to fully-functioning, autonomous robots. For the purposes of this paper, we are focusing on the sensors, actuators, and industrial control points that make up the vast majority of IIoT deployments and serve as the foundational elements of most IIoT ecosystems.
While industrial operators have been using these devices in their operations for decades, what’s changing today is the different types and ever-increasing number of these devices being put into operation; the operating systems they run on (and vulnerabilities of each); where they are being used; the use cases to which they are being applied; the increasing connectivity between IIoT devices, controls systems and other IIoT devices; and the fact that the communications networks they use are no longer isolated from the outside world.
Taken together, these various factors can make each IIoT device a potential point of vulnerability that attackers can use to infiltrate your operational systems. Granted a dumb temperature or vibration sensor that does little more than report back to a control system via a secure gateway that does not allow for bi-directional communications is much less of a threat than an unpatched actuator that is connected to the control system of a chemical plant.
But even “dumb” sensors are getting smarter and more powerful all the time. As their capabilities increase so will the number of places where they will be deployed.
Over the next five years the uptake of IIoT devices, platforms, and applications is predicted to be significant. Growth estimates vary widely because of the many use cases, different definitions of what IIoT is, and the verticals into which IIoT devices and applications can be applied. Studies have placed the CAGR anywhere between 8 and 18% between now and 2024. The dollar value estimates of these markets are in the tens to hundreds of billions.