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Securing the Edge of the Network

Jason Andersen
By Jason Andersen Vice President, Business Line Management, Stratus Technologies

As IIOT-enabled devices usher in a new era of connected factory floors, manufacturers must 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 managing operational technology (OT), security has traditionally been a major organizational headache, innovation in manufacturing has helped establish a go-to set of best practices for securing the edge.

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 the supply chain, one device losing its integrity can lead to production problems.

That is why we are seeing more and more customers deploying cybersecurity solutions for edge compute devices. Solutions like these can provide an additional line of defense to ensure smooth, reliable production processes. 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.

Manufacturers now view the deployment of OT security software at the edge as an established best practice. First, 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 security risks. Also, deploying OT security software at the edge can be particularly useful for complicated manufacturing environments. Security at the edge is critical for manufacturers that introduce IIoT devices. IT staff at these firms may not be able to immediately secure each 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, OT teams must understand that there is a set of standard best practices that often need to precede using these security tools. 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 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 should move at a comfortable pace and schedule regular software updates over longer time frames.

Physical security is another edge security consideration. While old-school physical attacks may seem relatively harmless compared to malware attacks and hacking attempts, companies must consider physical risks as much as digital risks. The good news is that many top-edge computing solutions maximize physical security. For example, some of the biggest industrial security issues in recent times could have been prevented just 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 that utilize the unique capabilities of edge computing for individual devices, manufacturing environments, and entire networks.

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