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Balancing Production and Security

Information System Departments have to keep up with operations, but how?
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At the recent ODVA (www.odva.org) annual conference, held in Atlanta, Ga., Peter Anderla, ITS consultant for Kimberly Clark, said his most significant challenge is “my users [operations,] and the need to educate them about security.”  He mentions their lack of knowledge regarding USB drives and password management when connecting to machines on the plant floor.

This statement resonated with me as I read in this month’s Industrial Ethernet Review’s feature article, titled, “Industry Interrupted: Tablets and Smart Phones Poised to Make a Big Impact” (http://bit.ly/awfeat097). In it, Automation World contributing editor Terry Costlow addresses security issues with tablets and smart phones.

Anderla, an IT professional since 1996, cited in his presentation that business needs and technology are moving quickly, but security policies are much slower to change. In Terry’s article, Erik Nieves, technology director for the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America, drives home that fact:

“Tablets and smart phones work very well as a dashboard so people can look at live data remotely,” Nieves says. “I’m very bullish on the role apps can play. Any time you can increase access to information about the production system, you get a lot of benefits. These apps democratize data and let users do anything they like with that data.”

One way to lessen the security risk with smart phones and tablets is to limit them as just monitoring devices, and block downloading of information from devices. As the article points out, in order to block downloading, this may require some upgrades to the existing network infrastructure.

Another great point Anderla made at the conference is that vendors, especially consumer vendors, don’t think about secure communication during product design. Anderla’s audience at the ODVA event was network industrial vendors and he emphasized that IT personnel would like to see more vendors thinking about secure communication when developing new products.

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