Viewpoint: keeping motion control systems safe from hack attacks
10 Oct 2016
As Industry 4.0 begins to take shape, it’s time to properly protect motion control systems from cyber attacks, says BHR Group’s Mark Fairhurst.
The days of hydraulic and pneumatic systems being simple setups are over. With the advent of wireless networks, data collection and the Internet of Things (IoT), fluid power systems have become much more sophisticated.
Nowadays they are not just about power transmission, but more about motion control, with a focus on moving in a more precise and predictable fashion.
Achieving this has required technologies such as electro-hydraulic or electro-pneumatic actuation and has therefore resulted in an increase in the wireless communication transmissions shared between the two.
Careful thought needs to be given to who should be allowed to access the system/wider network and be able to make decisions in terms of operating, maintaining or making changes
The shift is good news for the plant controllers and maintenance engineers who no longer need to be in such regular close proximity to the plant and equipment in order to control and monitor their operations. Through the use of sensors and wireless technology, their processes could feasibly be undertaken from anywhere in the world.
This wider network scenario is, in essence, linked to the ‘Industry 4.0’ revolution, whereby communication aids the accessibility of information to and from a system.
However, along with all the benefits from today’s integrated high-tech motion control systems, certain important choices and decisions need to be made, with some of the most important being around security.
Access all areas?
Careful thought needs to be given to who should be allowed to access the system/wider network and be able to make decisions in terms of operating, maintaining or making changes.
Moreover, making this type of decision regarding individuals’ access to, and mandate to control, the system is just the start.
Without careful control and monitoring of communication protocols, information kept within the system could be open to infiltration or malicious abuse by other parties.
Outside intervention is a big risk factor; if people were able to maliciously intercept these communication systems, it may not be long before a serious injury or fatality happens.
In the wake of a serious injury, the subsequent court case could then set a precedent whereby a whole new level of cyber policing is put in place – deemed necessary to bring the situation under control.
If this high level of policing were to become a reality, it could potentially stop the growth in further development and deployment of Industry 4.0-related systems technology.
It is therefore important to understand how robust a company’s data communication system is. Some setups are likely to be more resilient than others. For example, in a manufacturing plant a radio-frequency (RF) wireless transmission system could prove to be more reliable and robust than Wi-Fi.
It is also worth ensuring that any computer software used as part of the system has certification for being secure, and that proven encryption technology is deployed to make it as hard as possible for malicious hacking to take place.
As industrial devices become increasingly connected, cyber security needs to be considered to help mitigate risks and secure systems
Additionally, companies should make sure that immediate IT-related advice is at hand in the event of such a security breach occurring. And from a design perspective, it is important that systems are thoroughly beta tested ‘in the real world’ in order to monitor their performance and resistance to security abuses.
As industrial devices become increasingly connected, cyber security needs to be considered to help mitigate risks and secure systems. We should develop efficient, reliable and robust motion control systems in order for them to conform to the best ideals of Industry 4.0 without risk of compromise.
Fortunately these security issues are being addressed by information network providers who have realised that the consumer internet and existing wireless platforms are not fully suitable for industry.
Mark Fairhurst is technical director at BHR Group.