Industry 4.0: Flexible Production Needs Secure Networking

Industry 4.0: Flexible Production Needs Secure NetworkingAs we sit on the edge of the fourth industrial revolution, businesses are preparing for sweeping technological changes that will impact their production. Governments around the world, particularly Germany, through its Industry 4.0 initiative, have tried to help businesses anticipate these changes.

Simply put, Industry 4.0 will help enterprises adjust their production processes very quickly. The idea is to move away from the conventional approach of production facilities serving only one specific purpose. Greater flexibility will be achieved through modularity and extremely high connectivity, based on IP standards for all components. This is a first for the industrial sector because, up to this point, industry-specific protocols, media and controls have been utilized. With Industry 4.0, IP addresses, routers, switches and Ethernet will find their way onto the factory floor and into assembly shops.

Along with cost considerations, the reason Industry 4.0 focuses on IP technology is the public’s experience with it. Hardware, software, and management approaches are constantly being enhanced by IP technology, which has been available for years. IT security technology offers compliance, standards and frameworks, as well as a variety of products for enterprises to choose from.

Up until now, only a few enterprises have put Industry 4.0 initiatives in place in their organizations. These pioneers include financially strong enterprises in highly competitive markets, such as those in the automotive industry. Hopefully, the implementation of Industry 4.0 initiatives will be based on the wealth of experience from the traditional IT industry, especially where security is concerned.

When IT departments are not consulted, gaps in network security could appear. Already, there are some examples of remote access points, installed at client sites by third parties to simplify device maintenance, which were not sufficiently secured and therefore were left wide open to attackers. Another threat are search engines developed to automatically find unsecured remote access points or Internet interfaces with vulnerabilities.

To protect against these vulnerabilities, network administrators can leverage a VPN to easily secure remote access, especially if used with TCP/IP. VPN technology has been available for many years. It can easily be installed, controlled and managed, however, when vigilance and robust IT policies are lacking, there are several ways for vulnerabilities to manifest. Implementation often fails because a third party supplier, not the customer, is responsible for installing the remote access system and information is not adequately communicated. Or the customer’s employees may not recognize a security threat. Or perhaps the documentation is not executed as well as it should be and remote access points are simply forgotten.

Every technology and technological process goes through a hype phase in which promises are made that are tough to keep. Presently, Industry 4.0 may be in this phase. However, the good news is, awareness about Industry 4.0 is being created by the hype. This has helped pave the way for security to be baked in as a fixed and seamlessly integrated component during the planning and introductory phases of Industry 4.0. Governments and enterprises around the globe should pay close attention to the progress of Germany’s Industry 4.0 and once they see its benefits unfold, follow its lead.


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