IIoT Fog Computing Must Not Cloud the Need for Cybersecurity

Cloud computing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are opening up all kinds of new horizons for manufacturing and industry. From connected cars and smart cities to real-time analytics and 5G mobile, IIoT sensors are generating data in unprecedented volumes.

Many factory systems, however, rely on sensors and actuators with built-in time constraints. Any delay sending a signal to the cloud and receiving back a response could prove critical.

The answer is a distributed virtualized platform that enables essential device processing, storage and networking services to occur locally while remaining connected to the public cloud infrastructure.

Encryption is a tried and tested way to secure the many millions of connections in such a complex environment. Robust protection for digital communications can be achieved using enterprise virtual private networks (VPNs).

No Time to Lose

Many essential smart factory services would simply not be possible without lightning responses from IIoT systems. Any latency or break in signal to operational sensors or actuators could have catastrophic consequences. To overcome this challenge, leading technology providers have developed Fog computing. 

Appropriately named because fog is a form of cloud close to the ground, fog computing is a virtualized platform that runs essential cloud processes locally across a distributed network of IIoT devices.

This enables consistent, two-way cloud communications between local operational components and remote management points via the Internet to be accomplished in milliseconds.

Close to the Edge

Though still in its infancy, fog computing is already being rolled out for a range of IIoT-based applications.

Smart cities, for example, rely on access to data in real time to run public services more efficiently.

In the case of connected cars, some of the sensor data – road conditions, geo-positioning and physical surroundings for example – has to be analyzed in real time at a local level.

At the same time, other types of data such as engine performance or condition of components may need communicating to the manufacturer so they know when to offer maintenance services or vehicle usage checks.

Sometimes, IIoT devices are located in remote areas. Here, processing data close to edge devices becomes essential.

An oil rig is a good illustration of this. A typical oil platform may have about 100,000 sensors generating data at the rate of several terrabytes every day. To relay all this data over the Internet and back for analysis and response is neither practical nor economical. Instead, cloud services must be brought closer to the edge.

Other applications in the cloud analyze the aggregated data from many thousands of sensors to identify opportunities for productivity improvements or trends over time.  

5G mobile is yet another application to benefit from this technology. In dense antenna deployment areas, for example, a fog computing architecture with a centralized controller may be used to manage local applications and connectivity with remote data centers in the cloud.

Remote and Vulnerable

It is widely acknowledged that most IIoT devices do not have security built-in. Nevertheless, among energy providers and industry in general, it is frequently necessary to deploy IIoT systems in remote, exposed locations.

Yet, universal security standards governing smart devices are still some way off.  

The combination of many thousands of smart yet vulnerable mechanisms and physical isolation is a cause for concern among leading industry commentators. F-Secure’s Mikko Hyppönen, for example, recently described smart devices as the “IT asbestos of the future” for their potential to store up hidden difficulties for years.  

Another risk factor with IIoT is that data shared across factory ecosystems and the cloud may be readily visible to casual observers.

A recent study by Thales involving more than 3,000 IT and IT security practitioners worldwide revealed more than half (51%) of organizations still do not use encryption to protect sensitive data in the cloud.

Keep Fog Data Impenetrable

For now, the best way to compensate for the lack of built-in security is to add enterprise-grade privacy and protection measures to Fog computing systems.

Encryption is a long-established and widely implemented technology for preventing confidential industrial data such as intellectual property or operational information from outside observers like hackers or spies.

It is, perhaps, a little surprising that more industrial and manufacturing organizations have yet to introduce it into their IIoT environments.

With professional, enterpise VPN software factory owners and energy companies can add robust connectivity throughout their IIoT networks. Secure tunnels protect all digital communications flowing between local systems and the cloud, ensuring fog computing remains impenetrable to outsiders.

In summary, a complex combination of cloud computing and IIoT equipment is fast being introduced to a wide variety of manufacturing systems and industrial processes.

The objective is produce productivity and efficiency improvements leading to rapid and quantifiable revenue returns. Unifying the two environments – with their different operational requirements – requires the application of a new technology known as fog computing.

Securing all the data processed by these critical ecosystems is paramount.

VPN software provides secure, reliable connectivity for remote IIoT communications and cloud-based control hubs, ensuring all data passing between them and over the public Internet is properly shielded from the scrutiny of cybercriminals and unauthorized third parties.