How safe is your data?

Jon Lawson

Adrian Swindells investigates how plant managers can keep themselves safe from data loss

As the internet of things (IoT) becomes increasingly common in both industrial and commercial environments, the risk of data theft and loss is becoming increasingly worrisome to businesses.

A 2014 IoT study from HP showed that as much as 70% of devices do not sufficiently encrypt their communications, in addition to 60% raising interface security issues. When you consider this alongside the ever-growing frequency of cyberattacks, it becomes apparent that plant managers must be proactive in securing their industrial PCs and protecting their data.

However, much of the conversation about securing industrial computing focusses too heavily on cybersecurity. While there are certainly some worrying figures circulating about hacking rates, this is by no means the only risk to a plant’s data.

The trend towards IoT-enabled devices has created a business culture of always-on, in which industrial PCs are constantly required to monitor and collect data from processes. As such, they are a prime target for hackers, but this is also why it is essential that plant engineers and managers keep PCs sufficiently protected. Any process data or insight is lost when the PC goes offline.

For example, if one part of a food processing plant is hit with a voltage spike, it could lead to connected devices powering down. Any industrial PCs in that area would shut down and possibly lose data, with the plant manager being held accountable for the lack of sufficient traceability.

Beyond data recovery

Unfortunately, when we talk about securing PCs, the conversation often revolves around the words disaster recovery. Plant managers will all too often plan for recovering data and functionality after a problem arises. As good as it may be to restore data, this does little to offset the financial or production losses of downtime.

Instead of bouncing back from downtime, plant managers must look beyond data recovery to find solutions that keep plants operational in the face of disaster. This means investing in fault tolerant software to ensure things don’t go wrong for a plant's production system, even if they go wrong for its power supply or cybersecurity.

However, what should businesses look for in this software? To get the best possible business continuity, plant managers responsible for procurement should target software that provides virtualisation of operating environments. This sounds complex, but is effectively digital mirroring of systems to ensure reliable performance.

For example, everRun enterprise software by Stratus uses virtualisation to connect two separate systems. Should one system fail, applications will continue from the secondary system until the first one is operational again. Similarly, it can mitigate the impact of any component failures by effectively borrowing component functionality from the second system.

What this means is that, by investing in fault tolerant software, plant managers can stay safe against any data loss that occurs because of physical failure or software crashes. Using this alongside sufficient cybersecurity measures will provide full protection of industrial computing systems from data loss.

Assurances such as this are vital as we enter the age of IoT enablement. While the IoT certainly does bring risks with it, these are outweighed by the efficiency and productivity benefits of adoption. With proper protection in place, plant managers can ensure their businesses get the best of IoT.

Adrian Swindells is a director of industrial computing specialist Distec Ltd