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Apr 03 2017

Ensure Your Material Handling Process is Cyber Secure

Posted by Jon Herrity in Automation

For machines and conveyor systems enabling the movement of cargo, raw materials or manufactured parts, the final delivery of the end product is very important. This depends entirely on a fully operational control system. In a lot of cases, machine downtime is not even an option. As a result, it is imperative for companies to have spare parts on hand, along with a strong maintenance department. What a lot of companies overlook or choose to ignore, however, is the imminent threat that exists from cyber-attacks. These attacks come in many different forms and can produce incredible damage on companies. Amazingly, the plan for preventing these types of attacks often takes the backseat.

In 2017, implementing security solutions is just as important, if not more important than implementing solutions for machine safety. It only takes one cyber-attack to cause significant damage to a company’s bottom line compared to, in many cases, multiple safety issues. Cyber-attacks have the ability to affect the livelihood of a much larger number of employees. As a result, it’s critical for companies to be prepared for handling cyber-attacks. It’s no longer a question of whether or not an attack will happen; it’s a question of when it will happen. Having solutions in place for enhancing security and detecting unusual activity is critical for maintaining a sustainable material handling business.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is an ongoing process that encompasses software, hardware, procedures and policies. As part of security as a whole, cybersecurity can be comprised of three types of actions:

  • Prevention – To prevent unauthorized access or modification to a system asset.
  • Detection – To detect and gather information on an attack or threat.
  • Reaction – To recover from or stop an incident in progress.

Cybersecurity involves the protection of important company assets and is often interpreted differently depending on the company or department. For example, an IT department may value the confidentiality, data integrity and availability of a system in that order, whereas a controls or maintenance department might focus on system availability as top priority, data integrity and then confidentiality.

Why is Cybersecurity Important for Material Handling Applications Today?

While being connected to the internet is an asset for retrieving and monitoring production data, it can also provide a backdoor for cyber-attacks. A compromised control system can result in damaged material handling equipment, lost production, a damaged company image, an environmental disaster, or even worse, the loss of life. With standardization toward Ethernet protocols in factories including Modbus TCP/IP and EtherNet/IP, control systems suddenly become more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Caution must be taken especially when a path is created that provides a bridge between the corporate office network and the plant network.

What can I do to Protect my Material Handling Process from Cyber-attacks?

Knowing that cyber-attacks can be initiated from within or outside an organization, it is equally important to focus on both preventing and detecting unusual activity. There are many hardware and software products available that can be assembled and customized to boost security and protect valuable assets. These include industrial firewall devices, virtual private networks (VPNs) and virtual LANs (VLANs), gateway devices, and software solutions that can be embedded into existing SCADA solutions for example. One path is to deploy a defense-in-depth approach to security, which implements multiple layers of security controls throughout an information technology system.

For more information on security solutions that are available to protect plant networks, please contact your local Standard Electric Supply account manager. Solutions for enhancing your cybersecurity are readily available from Hirschmann, Schneider Electric, eWON, Tatsoft and RedLion. One product that is particularly useful for monitoring and restricting Modbus TCP/IP or EtherNet/IP traffic on an industrial network is the Tofino Firewall product from Hirschmann. With help from Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), this product allows for pre-emptive threat detection, threat termination and threat reporting.