Growing Connected-Device Usage Exposes Manufacturers to Security Breaches

Networked manufacturing equipment offers factories flexible production and wireless mobile communications, but its rising usage by manufacturers creates room for security breaches and cyber attacks.

Due to the rise in security risks, companies are seeking new ways to protect their networks, according to the "Industrial Automation Sector Trends in 2014" whitepaper by IHS.

IHS reports wireless network connections in industrial automation components in global factories will rise from 2.1 million in 2012 to 3.4 million by 2017, increasing risk factors in manufacturing environments.

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Stuxnet was the first major issue to impact security in manufacturing networks. Known as the computer virus discovered in June 2010, it is speculated to have been created by U.S. and Israeli agencies to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Since then, much malware has been designed to infect and cause damage to manufacturing systems.

Now there is the recent introduction of  bring-your-own-device (BYOD). "The rising use of wireless networks and industrial Ethernet is leading to a growing trend in the so-called bring-your-own-device movement in the manufacturing business, with workers utilizing their own smartphones and tablets to monitor and control industrial equipment," said Mark Watson, associate director, industrial automation group at IHS. "However, such devices may lack adequate security, offering hackers easy access to confidential data — or allowing them to spread malware through factory automation systems." One of the many ways manufacturing operations are countering these cybersecurity threats is through the use of "honeypot," a site that mimics a manufacturing network but is really a system designed to divert and gather information about hackers.

There are a number of wireless technologies that manufacturers are adopting to reduce cyber attacks. These include:

Wireless LAN (WLAN) - an advanced, popular wireless protocol that allows knowledge and technology to filter into industrial applications.

Bluetooth – a popular protocol in the consumer space and in industrial automation networking. The technology can pair devices to improve security and reduce the potential for cyber attacks.

WirelessHART and ISA 100.11a – the truest of industrial wireless technologies. They are more widely used in process industries compared to WLAN and Bluetooth.

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