Industry 4.0, IIoT and the ‘connected factory’ are beyond the point of being buzz words. In reality they offer huge opportunities for manufacturers. But as a smart factory goes online, how secure are communications in and out of the site? Let us consider and look at remote access and how companies can protect themselves against cyber threats.
Remote access to machines has become vital for OEMs and system integrators to meet response time and uptime obligations. But engineering resources and budgets are limited, so efficiency is key.
Resolving issues without the need for onsite visits saves time and money, however as businesses embrace connectivity, the threat of a cyber attack increases. Protecting data when connected to a network can be a complicated challenge.
Cybersecurity is top priority for the Danish solution, Secomea. Designed specifically for remote programming, monitoring and data-logging, it provides secure remote access without the need for advanced firewall configuration.
Moving on from VPN
Traditional VPN is widely used and suits the job of connecting networks remotely or providing remote access to a central site. However, it has some serious limitations for remote device monitoring and management.
VPN solutions can be complex. Connecting different engineers to different sites around the world by traditional VPN would be a huge task. Setting up a VPN is resource heavy, time consuming and requires the involvement of IT personnel. Subnet conflict issues, firewall setups and single level authentication can also trigger security concerns.
Secomea has developed an Internet-based technology that specifically addresses the security and usability requirements of linking service engineers with industrial equipment.
Each machine has a SiteManager, a small piece of hardware that the engineer connects to and uses to control the machine. The SiteManager can connect to industrial equipment via LAN, serial or USB ports. There are also multiple Internet access options including LAN, 3G and 4G or WiFi. The LinkManager Windows based client provides (VPN like) access to serial and USB devices, no configuration is required. A web version, the LinkManager Mobile, can be operated from multiple platforms with a browser allowing users remote access to equipment via a phone or tablet.
The solution also includes a GateManager, a M2M server that is either hosted by Secomea or by the customer themselves. All communication between the factory and the engineer through GateManager is via an encrypted connection. Through the web-based GateManager Portal users can administer accounts, manage SiteManagers and manage devices. It is also straightforward to determine who has access, what equipment and which sites can be accessed, and also when and for how long that access remains active.
The engineer can securely log on to the system via a X.509 certificate and associated password. GateManager also logs all events. Secomea has two and three factor security authentication, event audit trails, role-based account management and standard measures for eliminating the risk of vulnerabilities from configuration or human errors.
Secomea says it has achieved Industry 4.0 certification by enabling these connections in a secure way. Unlike an open VPN network, restricting access to certain devices for a specified time is easily achieved using a simple folder and drag and drop system.
The development of smart factories offers significant benefits for the automation industry.
If companies are to take full advantage, they must make timely decisions about how to utilise new technology that is designed to keep those connections secure.
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