Skkynet Travels to India

Last month Xavier Mesrobian and Michael Quartarone from Skkynet took a trip to India to visit our Sales Partner, Masibus Automation and Instrumentation Pvt. Ltd., and meet with some of their key clients in Ahmedabad and Mumbai.  Masibus is one of the top automation companies in India, representing major hardware and software brands like Schneider Electric and AVEVA, as well as designing and producing electronics for automation, security, and industrial use.  They are active in most industrial verticals, and have a network of dealers and system integrators across India and reaching the Middle East.

Masibus has been a distributor for Cogent and Skkynet products and services since 2013.  The purpose of this visit was to strengthen ties of friendship and cooperation, and explore new business opportunities together.  Both Skkynet and Masibus are keen to implement Industrial IoT applications in India, focusing on current opportunities in manufacturing, energy, and wastewater management.

“India’s economy is growing and changing in so many ways and to the benefit of her people,” said Xavier Mesrobian, Skkynet’s VP of Sales and Marketing.  “So the opportunity to travel there and meet with Masibus and some of their customers was one we were looking forward to.”

“Having Skkynet spend time with us and visit with customers was a tremendous opportunity to build relationships and expand the presence of the Skkynet brand,” said Dominic Cordeiro, Technical Director for Masibus.  “Customers were very interested in the technology and could recognize the benefits in supporting their project requirements.”

The visit started off with an overview of the Masibus company organization, and a training session on Skkynet software and services for the Masibus sales and technical teams.  Following that were in-depth discussions on how to best meet the needs of Masibus customers by employing Skkynet technologies.

Then most of the time was spent visiting customer sites in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, meeting with management and engineering teams, and discussing how Masibus can best address their requirements using Skkynet software and services.

“We were impressed with the Masibus team in terms of their enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment to growing the business for the DataHub,” said Michael Quartarone, Director of Channel Sales for Skkynet.  “Having lived my entire life in the Toronto area, arriving in India was quite a cultural shock.  Travelling there on business and not as a tourist gave me a unique perspective on the people and how they live and work.  I was so intrigued by their culture; people are friendly and happy―and despite the chaotic traffic―it all works surprisingly well.”

Think Big, Start Small, Scale Up

Every so often we get reports of how things are going with Industrial IoT and digital transformation projects. Although our customers keep us informed, it’s also interesting to hear from the rest of the world, through trade shows, conferences, industry publications and the like. In a recent event in Singapore hosted by ARC Advisory Group, executives and technical experts shared their experiences with colleagues, suppliers, and industry gurus. A summary of three of these presentations was published in a blog titled Lessons from the Industry of Things.

Funnily enough, among those three presentations, two of them had an almost identical approach to implementing Industrial IoT. They even had similar terminology, which is essentially: Think Big, Start Small, Scale Up Fast. The idea is to keep your thinking about IoT as broad as possible at the beginning, with no idea left off the table. Then start with small, inexpensive, easily-managed pilot implementations. As soon as something starts working well, scale up quickly.

“Prototype small is about telling people to stop writing business plans and give it a go―quickly and at low cost,” said the Executive VP and CTO of Australia’s largest producer of natural gas, Shaun Gregory. “And because you lower the consequence of getting things wrong, as long as you’ve learned something, I don’t really care if you fail. Once you have a working prototype, if you do not scale this into your business, you won’t reap the benefits you anticipated.”

The challenge: Scale Up

It all sounds very good. But there is more to the story. There seems to be a challenge in moving from step 2 to step 3, the “Scale Up” step. The article goes on to say, “Mr. Gregory admitted that scaling solutions is the aspect the company has struggled with the most.”

He’s not alone. User surveys from industry analysts show that there is a significant drop in IoT project completion and success compared to the number of working pilots and prototypes. There are probably several factors at work here, including:

  1. Industrial IoT is very different from consumer IoT. In production-level implementations data volumes are much higher, real-time performance is typically a must, and security requirements are much more stringent.
  1. Industrial IoT is very different from in-plant industrial data communication. Again, security is a big issue, as well as protocol translation, gateway technologies, and the need to integrate with IT.
  1. Human factors, like adapting to new ways of thinking, a need for retraining, and new approaches to security, are often overlooked.

All of these factors can be addressed―the first two with the right technology, and the third by appropriate human resource development. Our focus is on the first two. Skkynet technology works equally well on turn-key projects as it does for pilots. For hundreds of connections, or just one. For thousands of data points or just a handful.

The DataHub technology, with its secure-by-design architecture and ability to seamlessly integrate the most important industrial protocols, meets the most stringent requirements for security, throughput, and ease of use that the world’s top engineering and system integration companies value.

Just last month we announced a new partnership with Siemens to use the DataHub with their DCU (Data Capture Unit) to offer “Bulletproof IIoT”. This partnership came after extensive testing of the DataHub to ensure that it meets Siemens’ high standards for security, robust performance, and ease of use that Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT demand. Customers installing the DCU, or any other DataHub connected system, can rest assured that when it comes time to scale up, they will be fully-equipped and ready.

Security by Design

“Security by Design is strongly needed to reduce risk,” said Maximillian G. Koń, CEO at WisePlant, in a recent article in Advancing Automation: Industrial Cybersecurity. He tells how so many industrial automation and control systems were created decades ago, long before the idea of sending plant data to IT or the cloud was ever dreamed of. He says that security weaknesses were generated “during system design, engineering, construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and retirement.” And he warns that security must be inherent in the system, not simply added as an afterthought.

Wake-Up Call

To illustrate his point, Koń tells the story of the S.S. Eastland, a passenger ship that sailed the Great Lakes at the beginning of the last century. The ship was not well-designed to start with, having problems with stability. After the sinking of the Titanic, new safety regulations required installing enough lifeboats on any ship to hold all the passengers it was rated for. The owner of the S.S. Eastland complied, and soon the vessel had a full set of new lifeboats, mounted above the upper decks.

However, the ship was not designed for this additional weight so high above the center of gravity. One tragic day as several thousand people were boarding for a pleasure cruise, the Eastland began listing heavily, and then suddenly rolled over and sank, right next to the pier, in 20 feet of water. Over 800 people were lost.

To avoid such tragedies in the industrial realm, Koń lays out an Industrial Cybersecurity Program that follows a security by design approach in three phases: Assess, Implement, and Maintain. When discussing the Implement phase, Koń talks about “bolt-on security vs. built-in security.” He says that existing systems must use bolt-on security, while new systems can be designed with built-in security. Although this principle makes sense, it begs the question: Why should existing systems have to settle for bolt-on security?

A New Approach

Most traditional technologies do require bolt-on security. But a new approach to data communication, Skkynet’s DHTP protocol, supports software and services that are secure by design and ideal for Industrial IoT and IT-to-OT applications. This security-by-design implementation works equally well for new or existing systems, providing the best of both worlds. Rather than adding security to an existing system, it connects that system to a complete, stand-alone, secure-by-design IoT implementation.  It’s almost like enveloping a ship in some kind of new, sink-proof technology, rather than simply adding lifeboats.

With Skkynet’s technology, the enterprise can keep its legacy equipment and SCADA systems as long as needed, and yet provide secure access to live production data for authorized parties―on-premise or in the cloud. Whenever new hardware is acquired, it can be phased in as necessary, with no disruption to data links between shop floor and top floor.

The important thing is the principle: Security by Design. Security is not something that can be bolted on at the end. It needs to be an integral, built-in part of the design of hardware, software, and industrial control systems. Let’s take to heart the lesson of the S.S. Eastland, and keep our systems on an even keel. With the right technology and approach, Industrial IoT and IT-to-OT data communication can be as secure as the air-gapped systems of yesteryear.

Trust and the Industrial IoT

They say that in business, it all comes down to trust. American author H. L. Mencken once wrote, “It is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest, that holds human associations together.” To succeed in life, we need to trust people. The same holds true for technology. To succeed in today’s world, we need to trust technology―from products like smart phones and cars to the tools and industrial processes that created them. To whatever extent that we trust technology, we apply it to improve our lives.

But just as there are some people we cannot trust, we should not blindly trust any technology that comes along. Some technologies are more trustworthy than others. So how can you know which ones are best? Take the Industrial IoT for example. Although it offers many benefits, engineers are justifiably cautious in adopting the various IoT technologies available, citing concerns for reliability and security.

Addressing this question, the Industrial Internet Consortium recently published a document titled Managing and Assessing Trustworthiness for IIoT in Practice. It defines trustworthiness as “the degree to which the system performs as expected” and to that end states, “Confidence comes from the assurance that several aspects of the system are under control: security of its data and of its equipment, safety for people and the community, protection of assets, privacy protection of data, reliability of operations and subsystems, and resilience of the system.”

Five Aspects of Trust

The document expands on this idea, locating within both OT (operational technology) and IT five basic aspects of trustworthiness: security, safety, privacy, reliability, and resilience. It shows how each of these may be more or less relevant to the requirements of OT or IT taken separately, and how they are all essential to any Industrial IoT solution. As we see it, this underscores the importance of a truly industrial approach to data communications:

  • Secure-by-design communications should not compromise in any way the security measures that are already in place in a production system. Indeed, the IoT system should measure up to those standards.
  • The safety of plant personnel should not be put into jeopardy as a result of connecting to the IoT.
  • Privacy of data has to be maintained, so that each connecting party gains access only to the information meant for them.
  • Reliability of data transfer must be ensured to the extent possible, given the fact that Internet connections are not 100% stable. Data protocols must be able to indicate the quality (trustworthiness) of the data at every moment so that clients can act accordingly.
  • Resilience of the connection, including the ability to optimize high-speed or low-speed connections over wide or narrow bandwidths, and to recover quickly and gracefully from an outage, keeps the data flowing in the best way possible.

“The network must be built with the expectation of heavy damage,” wrote Paul Baran, one of the developers of ARPANET, precursor to the Internet, back in 1964. So, too, should be the implementation of industrial data communications over the Internet of Things. As with personal relationships, it may be difficult to achieve 100% trustworthiness for this technology. But the value of any Industrial IoT system should be considered in light of how close it comes to that goal.

Ransomware Attacks – Choosing an Easy Way Out?

What would you do—right now—if your computer screen locked up and a message appeared, “Your files and data have been encrypted with a strong military algorithm. You have 3 days to pay for our decoder to get your data back.” What if it wasn’t your personal computer at all, but a company computer? What if you owned the company?

In a recent BBC video, reporter Joe Tidy describes the bold response that Norsk Hydro of Sweden made to that kind of a ransomware attack. Rather than succumbing to the hackers’ demands, the 35,000 employees at the company switched over to paper-based operations for days and weeks until the computers could come back online. Salespeople had to work on the factory floor and finance staff made sandwiches, but production in the 170 plants worldwide continued almost unabated.

“I think in general it’s a very bad idea to pay,” Jo De Vliegher, a company spokesperson, told the BBC. “It fuels an industry. It’s probably financing other sorts of crimes.”

Much as we may admire Norsk Hydro’s strong response, the attack and its after-effects cost the company over 50 million dollars. Small wonder that ransomware attacks on businesses have increased by 500% in the past year, according to some sources, and that ransom demands can be in seven figures.

Pay or Perish?

Unfortunately, these circumstances leave some companies with little choice—it’s pay or perish. A survey conducted by Small Business Trends shows that 55% of all SMBs would pay the ransom. It is hard to blame them when another recent report shows that 60% of small companies that sustain a cyber attack go out of business within six months. On the other hand, experts point out that paying the ransom may not solve the problem, since the attacker still may not release the data, or may release part of it and demand more money for the rest.

A Better Solution

Of course, a better solution is to secure your system against ransomware attacks. For a company’s IT department, all of the standard security guidelines apply, as well as ensuring backups of any data needed to run the company. OT (Operations Technology) systems that are increasingly being accessed from outside need to pay special attention. Threats like ransomware attacks that may have seemed irrelevant to an air-gapped system years ago take center stage when OT gets connected to IT. Even with a VPN, any virus that can propagate within IT can make its way into OT.

Strong, closed firewalls are essential, and DMZs can be very useful. In this environment, Skkynet’s secure-by-design software and services allow companies to access their production data without compromising on security. Rather than waiting until after an attack has occurred, the easiest and most cost-effective way to deal with a ransomware attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Academic Achievements

Around this time of year, as the warm spring breezes blow through open classroom windows, students and faculty alike in colleges and universities around the world look forward to graduation and summer holidays. This time of anticipation is also a time to look back, and review the accomplishments of the past academic year.

Now is a good time to recognize some of the year’s outstanding achievements of Dr. Pascal Vrignat and groups of his students at the Polytechnic School of the University of Orleans in Chateauroux, France. Using Skkynet software, they have conducted several sophisticated research projects and studies related to industrial data communication and the Internet of Things.

Back in September last year Dr. Vrignat was the keynote speaker at ECAR2018, the International Conference on Electrical, Control, Automation and Robotics in Xiamen, China. This annual conference invites professors, doctoral students, and other scientists to present their latest research findings. Dr. Vrignat’s presentation, OPC UA: Examples of Digital Reporting Applications for Current Industrial Processes, showed how an OPC UA data feed connected to the Cogent DataHub can be shared among SCADA reporting tools and Excel spreadsheets, populate emails and SMS messages, and power Matlab OPC Toolbox diagnostics and analysis.

In December Dr. Vrignat made a similar presentation titled: Examples of technological building blocks in the context of an application, at the Journee Pedagogique GDR SoC2 Club EEA in Paris. Also at that event he presented two student projects. In the first of these, seven teams of Dr. Vrignat’s students competed in the contest: The Industry of the Future, Internet of Things, is Now! Their entry was a web-based control system of a plastic forming machine that was connected to the Cogent DataHub for integration with Excel, emails, and SMS messages. The second student project was for the international challenge: Xplore New Automation 2018, where Dr. Vrignat’s students were finalists in the Environment category for their IoT project that controlled the deployment of irrigation tubing remotely, by cell phone.

This past January, some student teams and Dr. Vrignat received awards in the category of Pedagogical Innovation at the PEPS Soumission 2019 – Passion for Teaching and Pedagogy in Higher Education. “Offering this challenge for the 1st time in this format has been a complete success in several ways: for the students, for external professionals, in the results achieved, and in student motivation,” said Dr. Vrignat. “We have seen a significant increase in individual and collective skills, and we have shown that ‘project’ and ‘active’ pedagogies can be a very good strategy in teaching.”

Skkynet congratulates Dr. Vrignat on the work he has done, the academic awards earned, and most important, on the valuable contributions he is making to the lives and future careers of his students. We are pleased that he has chosen the Cogent DataHub as a basis for secure, real-time data communications in his projects, and we look forward to supporting his work in the years to come.