Technical Article

Are Smart Devices Opening Production to Attacks?

April 10, 2020 by Jeff Kerns

This article mentions how to reduce threats by limiting connections and data sent to outside networks.

These security tips will also mention cost and lag that need to be considered when designing the architecture for a secure network.

IIoT Providing Competitive Edge

Technology, such as the IIoT can give companies a competitive edge. Having access to data and feedback from a production line is showing more benefits and adding features to factories.

However, what happens when a connected or smart device makes it easier for unwanted people to access data? The following is part two of a two-part series that will offer three tips to keep in mind for safe and smart production. Part one talks about protecting your connections, end to end encryption, and understanding what is connected and why.


Run at the Edge - Train on the Cloud

Offering feedback and more control options can give production lines more features such as inspection, improved automation, and monitoring capabilities.

Today, with large server hubs offering online computing, machine learning, and more, companies are able to use advanced software at affordable prices to add value to a production line that would have otherwise been impossible or taken large investments in time and money.

However, the easier it is to access a production line the easier it is for others to access it too. As companies scale the IIoT, connected, and smart devices can create more access points and weaken security in a system’s architecture. 

Limit external access to connected devices by only sending essential information or operations to the web or outside networks. Rover Robotics Founder Nick Fragale says, “I always tell clients to run at the edge, train on the cloud. Rent cloud space to send information, not raw data.” Sending everything to the cloud becomes expensive and takes time. 


Industrial engineer using a smart tablet with virtual reality IIoT technology to monitor machines in real-time.


While services are cost-effective, sending data from a photosensor that could be making tens of thousands of data points per second adds up. Additionally, in high-speed processes the time it takes to send data to the cloud, processes it, and return takes more time than processing information locally.

Finally, other than limiting cloud computing to reduce cost and lag in a system, sending everything to cloud services can create security concerns. Limiting what is sent to other networks, partitions, and outside cloud services will reduce access points and what a potential hacker might have access to.    

When scaling connected devices using decentralized technology, such as edge devices, you can limit access points and inherently partition a network. One way that might help think of digital access points is from a tangible design perspective.


Reduce Points of Failure

In mechanical design joints and moving parts are like access points as they are normally the points of failure. Reducing points of failure and strengthening necessary joints, moving parts, or access points creates a robust design. 

For many years production lines have been wired to large centralized PLC cabinets. While this is still seen in factories today, over the last several years an increase in IIoT, smart, and connected device adoption led to a trend in decentralized hardware. Instead of wiring everything to a central PLC, sensors can process everything on the chip or locally. Decentralized technology can operate independently, or send only the necessary information to another network or location. 

Decentralized technology, edge devices, local area networks, and other features help limit access and protect production. If you are still wondering what to focus on remembering what Sean Petterson CEO of StrongArm Technologies says, “Don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem.”

Take the time to analyze what data adds value and where it needs to go because smart can be dangerous.