As IT and OT converge, cyber security drives competitiveness

Nicola Scarpelli

As companies digitize, more and more are demanding real-time access and analysis of operational data

How can digitization help facilities to become data-driven and perform better?

Digitization is about doing more with your data. For manufacturers, that could mean getting quality data back into their design process – or factoring energy consumption data into their facility and process management. These small gains have long been too difficult to realize, but are now within reach.

Industrial systems are becoming more interconnected and tightly integrated with Information Technology.

It’s about giving the right people a deeper understanding of their company’s operations in ways that can have a direct impact on the bottom line. For plants, buildings and industrial processes, communication networks are now an important part of their efforts to improve sustainability, productivity and reliability. Connectivity and power distribution are often one of the priorities because of the benefits for energy management.

 

Does connecting industrial equipment to the cloud expose operational technology to the same cyber security threats as an organization’s IT?

Cyber security is a hot topic right now, but it’s not new. Modern automation, protection and control systems were potential cyber risks even before internet connectivity. Cloud technology offers the possibility to increase the scalability and cost-effectiveness of on-premise systems, while enhancing the data-reach and opportunities for optimization with respect to legacy.

While the convergence of information technology and operational technology may increase the potential exposure to cyber threats, with the right strategy, the risks are no greater than with existing on premise solutions. Companies just have to be aware and put in place the right mitigation measures to protect their facilities.

 

How do you connect power devices to the cloud without compromising security?

We isolate the data from protection and control functionalities. The ABB AbilityTM Electrical Distribution Control System, for example, is designed with only outward communication to the cloud and encrypted and secure communication throughout all the solution’s layers, from the field components to the web-browser.

 

How do you know how secure your system is?

We work with the best in the business – and it’s an end-to-end dynamic process. Teaming up with Microsoft on the ABB Ability platform means we have a long-term partner committed to providing state-of-the-art cyber security. We also employ teams of third-party IT security experts, who bring best practice from other sectors, including banking, for implementing secure design, secure development and penetration testing principles and practices. These “white hats” continuously monitor, assess and validate our cyber security, clearing and validating any new releases and updates.

 

Could there be security benefits to connecting power distribution systems to the cloud?

The feedback so far from customers is that the ABB Ability Electrical Distribution Control System makes supervision of the facility more vigilant and proactive. With your facility connected to your smartphone or laptop from wherever at anytime, you’re more aware of what’s happening in your facility’s power network.

So, if a key process fails unexpectedly and the power changes, either shutting down or exceeding a threshold, the solution’s alert functions make the appointed personnel aware immediately. The same thing happens if devices stop communicating with the platform for any reason – or next if there’s an attempt to access the system. It’s like those emails checking “is this you trying to log on?”

 

What does ABB do with the data stored on its cloud?

The data from a customer’s plant remains theirs alone as well as all measurement data. ABB’s end user agreements explain clearly what data we can and cannot see and how their consent is required before any data can be accessed or shared. We think others should do the same: trust is all-important.

About the author

Nicola Scarpelli

Nicola works as Global Product Manager for Protection and Connection’ s Connectivity & System Solutions, focusing on Internet of Things, Connectivity and Digitalization projects, cross-BU collaborations, and the Innovation Playground team. He joined ABB in 2015, in the low-voltage air circuit breakers’ Product Management team, after a short experience in the automotive industry. Prior to that, he lived in Shanghai where he worked as Scientific Collaborator and Course Instructor, and in Belgium. He holds a M.Sc. in Nuclear Engineering from Politecnico di Torino along with the EMSNE diploma from the European Nuclear Energy Association. Nicola is a passionate traveller, always eager to bring together diverse knowledge and experiences.
Comment on this article
Community guidelines