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Industrial IT Takes Some Trust When the Internet Is Not a Guaranteed Safe Place

Oct. 16, 2014
Microsoft has Tried Hard to Protect the Online Account, But Can You Really Protect Your Assets by Trusting that Microsoft or Any Cloud-Based Vendor Will Protect Your Things?
About the Author
Jeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Pollard has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.

I help an electronics repair shop with its IT dilemmas and guide the owners through the realms of jargon, hardware, software and custom applications. I've saved them a ton of dough by steering them away from bad people selling bad software.

They are targets since they have no deep knowledge of some of the technology they need, but they do know what their business needs are. One software vendor wants $120 per user per month to run a database. At 12 users and growing, $1,500 per month is ridiculous.

This is akin to my colleague's wife, who goes to buy a service for their house on the waterfront. The address and wedding rings give something away that says they can pay more because of their address.

Vendors play this game all the time.

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My electronics friends are searching for a replacement for my database, which they have been using at zero cost for more than 15 years. I'm a nice guy, but the real thing here is that I can't support it anymore. They found a web-based system with a low recurring monthly fee that serves their purposes.

Fear Factor #1: It's on the Internet, so what if the account is hacked? However, the pricing models, which are not based on your address, are open to all to see. The contractual costs for warranties are front and center, as well as all the accounting stuff that competitors are looking for.

Fear Factor #2: The service is hosted by a competitor. Refer to FF #1.
Great idea, but maybe bad implementation unless some trust enters in. But, let's face it, if my business suffers because a competitor is doing better business than I am, then trust just gets in the way.

So I decided to have a look at Visual Studio Online. This is a service for collaborative development from Microsoft using something called Visual Studio Scrum.

Now trust comes in big time.

In order to set up your account, you have to jump through some hoops to set a password. Then Microsoft wants to email you a verification code, not once, but twice, as well as entering Captcha characters twice to be sure you are not a bot.
The program also allows for two-factor authentication, which really is just two stages of passwords and codes. You are emailed a current code that you enter, so that the bot potential is taken out of the equation.

Then you have access to "your" development environment, and up to five users can be active. Very cool.

Then the barrage of emails start to come about tying all your apps, devices and the like to Microsoft.

To stay competitive, industrial companies had to own their customer base, like Google and Microsoft do now. Rockwell Automation is the prime example in North America, where they want you to be captive to their long and winding road. Invensys, now Schneider Electric, is the same.

Bigger companies buy smaller companies to grow their businesses, but this trust thing now comes into play because we're trusting them for everything.

And once they have you, they have you. Moving platforms is very tough, and that's no accident. If you listen to commercials on TV, the word "trust" is everywhere, which is, in my opinion, because we have minimal trust in just about everything job-related.

Microsoft has tried hard to protect the online account, but can you really protect your assets by trusting that Microsoft or any cloud-based vendor will protect your things?

So what if a developer from Rockwell used the online service and used a Gmail account for verification? This all-net-based authorization platform can be shared with anyone with a browser. Competitive information and visuals would be easier to come by and might soon be called the Snowden effect—not for whistleblowing, but for public domain distribution of company secrets.

I have warned my electronics buddies that, when push comes to shove, the hosting competitor will access their accounts at some point, so be prepared to host your own server and manage your own accounts. It will cost some dough, but they will be able to sleep at night.

Trust and perception can create a wonderful and exciting environment or a very dark and sinister one. We must be diligent, and, if the experience on setting up my online Visual Studio account is any indication, there is no trust on the net, and, in fact, distrust is front and center. 

Why can't we all just get along?  

About the Author

Jeremy Pollard | CET

Jeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Pollard has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.

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