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Securing the Edge of the Network

20 September 2019

By Jason Andersen, VP of business line management, Stratus Technologies

As IIoT-enabled devices usher in a new era of connected factory floors, manufacturers must be sure to protect critical equipment at the edge of their production networks. Companies are rapidly investing in edge computing, which enables data and analytics gathering at the source, pushing computing applications, data and services away from centralized locations. While traditionally, managing operational technology (OT) security systems was a major organizational headache, innovation in the manufacturing industry has helped establish a go-to set of best practices for securing the edge.

The value of a secure network edge

For most, readily available stories of security risks often involve hacking attempts and data theft, but the bigger risk for many manufacturers can be less sensational issues such as decreased system performance, or improperly functioning devices. As IIoT devices proliferate across entire supply chains, one device losing its integrity can lead to problems across the entire manufacturing process and potentially impact production. Protecting equipment from external attacks is essential, but creating a dependable production cycle is equally important.

That is why we are seeing more and more customers deploying cybersecurity solutions upon edge compute devices. Solutions like these can provide an additional line of defense to establish smooth, reliable production processes for manufacturers. On-premise computers can analyze security anomalies in real-time, providing knowledge to staff who are in the best position to address complications and keep systems running. Insights from the edge can help OT and IT teams identify and react to anomalies in system performance, whether from malware attacks or improperly functioning devices.

Edge security spreads throughout the network 

Manufacturers across industries are now viewing the deployment of OT security software at the edge as established best practice. First and foremost, edge computing can make OT security programs more effective. Locating protection resources as close to critical data as possible minimizes the time required for software programs to register, analyze, and address potential security risks. Additionally, deploying OT security software at the edge can be particularly useful for the most complicated manufacturing environments. Security at the edge is critical for companies that introduce IIoT devices at a fast pace or on a large scale. IT staff at these manufacturers may not immediately be able to secure each individual endpoint device, so dedicating an edge computer to provide a degree of umbrella protection from potential anomalies can establish a vital line of defense. 

Must-haves for edge security

Despite the benefits mentioned above, OT teams must be aware that these new tools are powerful, but often there is a set of standard best practices that need to proceed these efforts. Undeniably, software is the bedrock of effective edge computing. The top security risk in most edge deployments is obsolete or outdated software applications and infrastructure. Before implementing more complicated security strategies and applications for edge deployments, OT teams should take measures to ensure all edge devices have up-to-date software. Otherwise, software integrations may hamper or even defeat the purpose of the larger solution. OT teams would be smart to move at a comfortable pace and establish regular maintenance procedures to maintain updates over longer time frames. 

Physical security is another major edge security consideration for OT teams. While old-school physical attacks may seem relatively harmless when compared to malware attacks and hacking attempts, companies need to be thinking about the physical just as much as the digital risks. And the good news is that many top edge computing solutions are actually designed to maximize physical security. Secure edge computing solutions should take cyber and physical security into account before they are deployed. Some of the biggest industrial security issues in recent times could have been prevented by locking the cabinet or the USB port.

Rapid innovation in IIoT and edge computing presents both new risks and new opportunities for manufacturers. Thankfully, best practices are emerging across multiple industries that utilize the unique capabilities of edge computing for individual devices, manufacturing environments, and entire networks.

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