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Adding Security and Flexibility to MQTT

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) recently published a case study titled Adding Security and Flexibility to MQTT in which an implementation of MQTT was made more secure, and at the same time more flexible, using Skkynet’s DataHub technology.

In a large wood processing plant in North America, managers had planned a data collection and integration system to cut production costs, improve output and enhance network security. However, their chosen protocol, MQTT, did not provide sufficient security and flexibility. The project depended on connecting multiple MQTT inputs to a single MQTT broker in the cloud, while also allowing plant personnel to consolidate, log, and analyze the data along the way. And they had to keep the production system secure behind a DMZ.

No conventional MQTT broker could do all that. Bit they found that DataHub software, with its MQTT Smart Broker, logging, tunnelling, and other features was well suited to the task.

Industrial IoT in 2020 and Beyond

As the new year and new decade of 2020 begin, all indicators point to continued growth of IoT and digital transformation in the industrial space. A recent Gartner analysis sees no slowdown in growth of Industrial IoT markets. In areas as diverse as manufacturing, natural resources, automotive, and healthcare, the rate of adoption is expected to increase.

“Economies, jobs, and personal lives are becoming more digital, more connected, and more automated,” according to CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2020 report. Here are a few of the trends in data communications that the report highlights:

  • Redefining IT Architecture for Digital Transformation – “As with cloud computing and mobile devices, the groundwork has been laid for IoT to advance digital transformation.”
  • Increased Demand for Integrating Platforms, Applications, and Data – “According to CompTIA’s Tech Buying Trends Among Small & Medium-Sized Businesses, the top technology area where SMBs need the most work is integrating various platforms, applications, and data. Large businesses are focused on integration as well, but they have more internal resources that they can lean on.”
  • A Proactive Approach to Cybersecurity – “The theme of cybersecurity over the past decade was a shift from a purely defensive mindset to a proactive approach that combined technology, process, and education. … organizations are beginning to treat cybersecurity as a dedicated function.”

Another publication, IoT World Today, has published 6 IoT Security Predictions for 2020. Among these, two stand out for us as particularly relevant. On the one hand, there is a growing awareness among plant engineers and managers about the need for OT security. “Customers I talked to with OT environments are very nervous about security,” said Andrew Howard, CEO of Kudelski Security. “And I think [this trend is] likely to accelerate.”

On the other hand, IoT World Today editors are seeing the concept of secure-by-design gain wider acceptance. They quoted Hima Mukkamala, senior vice president and general manager, IoT cloud services at Arm saying, “Security will be a key factor in the decision-making process for organizations as they look at deploying IoT infrastructure in 2020.”

Looking further down the road

In past years, many IoT forecasts looked ahead to the year 2020. Now that we are here, most people are accustomed to the idea of an Industrial Internet of Things. So what lies ahead? Here are three intriguing possibilities:

Quantum Trends and The Internet of Things
Chuck Brooks, Chair of the IoT and Quantum Computing Committee of Quantum Security Alliance looks at some of the expected advantages of quantum computing for the IoT, as well as potential pitfalls.

Swarm Robotics and IoT
Swarm robotics, inspired by ant and bee colonies, is a technology that coordinates large groups of simple robots to cooperate and perform complex tasks that a single robot cannot do.

Microbiology for the IoT
Harnessing bacteria as IoT endpoints? It might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Equipped with their own sensors, processing engines, and data storage, bacteria have come under the microscope in a whole new way―as candidates for the Internet of Bio-Nano Things (IoBNT).

All of these endeavors in the near and distant future share a common requirement―secure, real-time data communication. It seems we have quite a decade ahead of us.

Secure IoT Gateway Architecture

An enhanced, secure-by-design OPC UA to MQTT gateway can pass data through a DMZ or IT department, keeping all inbound firewall ports on the plant closed.

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.

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.

IoT for All

With each passing year the IoT (Internet of Things) becomes more familiar, more of a household word. What once seemed a futuristic dream—having billions of devices connected and chattering over the Internet—is now almost taken for granted. Case in point is the IoT For All website whose very name speaks volumes. It seems that everyone is using or at least touched by IoT in one way or another.

At the beginning of the year, IoT For All published an article Where Is IoT Headed in 2019? that collects and distills the thoughts of industry experts regarding the near future for the IoT. Although not specific to Industrial IoT, there was significant discussion on several themes that are of interest to us here at Skkynet:

Secure by Design

Several experts have predicted that the rapid development of the IoT with little attention being paid to security will lead to widespread attacks in the coming year—often directed at industrial and infrastructure targets. At the same time, they lament the lack of robust security solutions built into hardware, software, and services. James Goepel, CEO and General Counsel for Fathom Cyber mentioned new regulations in California that mandate a secure-by-design approach to the IoT. “I think we’re going to see many more states, and possibly the federal government, following California’s lead and creating legislation that imposes new cybersecurity-by-design requirements on IoT manufacturers,” he said. Skkynet’s customers will be ready, as they have been employing our secure-by-design approach to the IoT for years.

Edge and Hybrid Computing

This year “will be a defining year for edge and hybrid computing strategies as IoT and the global network of sensors pile on more data than the average cloud has had to handle in the past,” according to Alan Conboy, working in the Office of the CTO at Scale Computing. “This transition will officially crown edge computing as the next big thing.” This has certainly been our experience. As interest in edge computing grows, we are seeing a corresponding demand for Skkynet’s edge computing and hybrid cloud solutions.

Remote Access

“Experienced engineers are hard to find and those they do have can only visit so many remote sites in a year. Enabled by 5G and the speed with which data can travel through the air, AR (augmented reality) will enable engineers-in-training to be able to have instant intelligence about a device on which they may be working just by pointing their tablet towards it,” said Jeff Travers, Head of IoT Connectivity Management at Ericsson. Much of this remote connectivity will depend on secure, real-time, two-way data flow. Again, Skkynet’s unique approach to Industrial IoT solves problems that many managers and executives are only now beginning to realize exist.

In short, the future continues to brighten for IoT in general, and Industrial IoT in particular. At least part of our mission is to make the move to IoT as smooth and easy as possible. We want it to become the logical choice for anyone who considers it—so that it really does become IoT for all.