Managing Network Security on Your Plant Floor

May 14, 2022
A safe and secure network is paramount to ensuring a company’s ability to thrive in today’s digital age. Simply making the change from an unmanaged switch to a lean managed industrial switch could be the key to saving you from a cyber-attack.

There is no doubt that network security for manufacturers is a top priority now more than ever. Controls engineers are constantly looking for ways to stave off cyber-attacks and put programs in place to help reduce security risks. The risks at the OT (operations technology) level are continually changing and keeping up with protecting a company’s operational technical infrastructure may seem time consuming and costly. However, there are ways to ensure the safety of a company’s products, property, and processes in a concise and cost-effective way.

On the most basic level, one of the ways to ensure security against outside hackers is making sure that the proper industrial Ethernet switches are being used. Some companies are happy with just the essential levels of networking, opting for low-cost options. This will provide the bare necessities to run plant floor operations, usually in the form of an industrial unmanaged switch. These switches are an excellent option for networks with a control panel used for a plug-and-play option that has a fixed configuration. This approach eliminates any work on the IT end requiring encryptions, prioritizing channels or creating a set of segregated devices to manage traffic and data. The downside of unmanaged switches is that they do not provide any security functions.

Companies with larger networks may want more than the basic functions of an unmanaged switch. With just a slight increase in cost, the effectiveness of a lean managed switch can give controls engineers on the plant floor the peace of mind they need when running their systems. Lean managed switches can be configured to a company’s specifications, monitor settings, turn off unused ports, set up and manage encryptions, and help protect the network and data from active threats. VLANs can also be installed to reduce security risks and help increase network performance.

Wago’s family of industrial Ethernet lean managed switches are designed to meet security and redundancy requirements, while being easy enough to maintain by plant floor technicians. Wago focused on creating an intuitive interface for these switches, which include a diagnostic dashboard allows for quick system troubleshooting—even if users have no IT knowledge. With each port configured for specific connections, transmission errors can be detected along with any improper connections or active threats. These switches are available with either eight or 16 ports with two extra SFP slots for connecting fiber optic cable for longer connections.

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