Industrial networks have become increasingly common over the last decade as more companies realize that they can use data to improve diverse processes. Recent innovations make business operations even more effective. Before you invest in a new or existing industrial network, learn about the benefits of upgrading and any challenges you might face.
What Is Industrial Networking?
Industrial networking often incorporates a number of features that make it easier for companies to control multiple processes and manage data. Common features of industrial networks include:
- Simplified infrastructures that connect specific computers, data servers, and sensors.
- Networks that deliver critical information to managers about events taking place on production floors.
- Upgradeable hardware that can move forward with evolving trends.
- Connections that integrate with office Ethernet and other infrastructure options.
Perhaps most importantly, companies need to recognize that industrial networks can send large amounts of information even though they rarely have as many connections as office networks. For example, you might need an industrial network's ability to move large amounts of data when automating aspects of your production line. When data can travel between the automation and the manager, human operators can maintain careful control to avoid accidents.
What Goals Does Industrial Networking Seek to Achieve?
Industrial networking relies on several features to help companies achieve their goals.
High-Volume Data Flow
Industrial networks need the ability to provide real-time, high-volume data flows that keep managers informed. When you explore your options, you will likely find 10-gigabit Ethernet interfaces that make real-time data flows possible even when you need to deliver massive amounts of information. This is extremely beneficial when an operator needs, for example, to identify which waste product from one industrial application can be used as the primary resource of another application, and redirects that product to save money and lower environmental impacts.
Industrial Network Security
Many companies put a greater emphasis on their office computer networks than their industrial networks. The approach makes sense considering that office networks often house industry secrets, analytics, and sensitive client information.
As a result, less attention gets paid to industrial networking. And it's true that newer hardware comes with integrated security features, such as VPN encryption and firewall capabilities. While the information moving through industrial networks rarely needs as much protection as office networks, you still need to protect your data and processes. Consider the effect that security exploits had on the Colonial Pipeline in May of 2021. When hackers attacked the system, gas stations ran out of fuel, gasoline prices spiked, and the company had to spend $4.4 million to regain control.
Industrial networks often exist in areas with extreme temperatures. For example, if you have an industrial network on your manufacturing floor, the equipment and wiring might experience fluctuations in temperature that cause the components to degrade quickly.
Similarly, sensors located inside extremely hot or cold environments could fail unless they have been designed with appropriate protections.
How Are Industrial Networks and Regular IT Networks Different?
Don't spend too much time trying to compare industrial networks and regular IT networks. You will encounter abundant differences. Some standouts include:
- IT networks connect to dozens or hundreds of devices while industrial networks connect to relatively few IT assets.
- IT networks tend to analyze data while industrial networks excel at moving large amounts of information quickly.
- Regular IT networks need user-friendly interfaces while industrial networks must focus on accomplishing difficult tasks without much assistance from human users.
- Industrial networks need carefully constructed components that can withstand extreme environments while standard IT networks only need basic maintenance.
Of course, there are some similarities between these types of networks. You must focus on the differences, though, to ensure robust security and optimum functionality.
What Security Considerations Are Unique to Industrial Networks?
Built-in VPN and firewalls certainly improve the security of industrial networks. Industrial network security does, however, have a few unique considerations that companies need to consider.
Industrial Networks Get Disregarded
Intellectually, you know that your industrial networks need cybersecurity protections. In practice, it's easy for executives to forget that networks that exist outside of your office deserve the same level of security as the networks inside your office.
As a result, cybercriminals can pinpoint weaknesses in outdated industrial networks. They might even find ways to use the industrial network to infiltrate your regular IT network, which gives them access to even more trade secrets.
Black Hat Groups Have Found Weaknesses in Industrial Network Security
The massive amount of information flowing through your industrial network makes it a premium target for hackers. For years, black hat groups have attacked industrial network security. Some of their attacks intended to steal information. Others have tested systems, found vulnerabilities, and offered to solve issues in return for payment.
Cyber Threats Will Always Evolve
Cybersecurity and cyber threats play a constant game of cat-and-mouse. Shortly after developers find ways to seal vulnerabilities, hackers look for new ways into systems. In response, developers review their solutions thoroughly to seal and identify potential vulnerabilities hackers might exploit in the near future.
Since cyber threats will never cease, it makes sense for companies to scan their industrial networks regularly. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time before someone steals critical information that puts your business and clients in jeopardy.
Enhancing or Improving Your Industrial Networks?
Do you need a way to enhance or improve your industrial networks? Perhaps you need help setting up a new industrial network that will streamline your business operations.
Contact Dymin Systems to talk to an expert about your options.
Image Credit: Photo on Piqsels (All Creative Commons)