Data Security in the IIoT Age

With the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in the manufacturing universe, there is exponential growth in the amount of data that is being generated, shared, and stored. After all, data and the ability to study and analyze it is the key to these platforms being able to optimize efficiency and insight for the operations they’re serving. But with increasing data generation, cross-platform and cross-organizational sharing, storage, and ongoing utilization of data, there is an increased risk of sensitive information becoming compromised or falling into the wrong hands and causing catastrophic fallout. For this reason, it is crucial that these third-party platforms are meticulous in instituting and maintaining data security measures to protect the operations they serve.

The Risks of Not Properly Securing Customer Data

Securing customer data is the most crucial component of any third-party system, especially machine learning and artificial intelligence, where more details and more information are the keys to unlocking the true power of the platform. The security measures taken by these operations protect more than just this esoteric data–they’re at the center of keeping the whole system safe. Improperly secured data can be an entry point for a ransomware attack that can shut down entire operations for long periods of time and impact thousands of victims in the process. No industry vertical and no operation, big or small, is immune to these dangers, which is why it is of paramount importance that anyone with access to your data would follow best practices to keep your operations secure.

Best Practices for Data Security

Every industry and every operation uses data in different ways, but there are some common practices that can be used to make sure the data is safe and secure, regardless of the vertical. As the creator of Helios, the machine learning and IIoT platform engineered to increase profit and minimize loss in the corrugated industry, Sun Automation has incorporated as one of its core best practices the encryption of data. We practice encryption both when the data is being transmitted between sources, and when it is at rest in the database. This is done so that no matter when or where in the process data may be seen or accessed, it means nothing to a third party without the encryption key. The significance of this practice is that it protects operations against virtual hacks and leaks as well as physical attacks, such as somebody exiting a facility with a physical harddrive, whether deliberate or accidental.

Another practice that is implemented by the Helios team is “cyber-first” software development application. This is not so much a security measure as it is a philosophy and approach to the type of sensitive information we know we are using. Cyber-first development means that everything that is built and engineered is done with a security-conscious mindset from the very beginning of the process. Understanding that the final product is going to depend on accessing and storing sensitive information leads to an ingrained mindset of safety. This approach, when compared to retrofitting an existing platform to handle sensitive data, leads to a much safer and more secure outfit. This is analogous to building a new construction with the plan to incorporate security measures such as cameras, bulletproof glass, and motion detectors from the get-go, as opposed to adding these measures after the fact to an existing building–while it is possible to do an adequate job with a retrofit, there is no comparison to planning around safety from the outset.

Because hackers and nefarious operations make a living by finding new, creative ways to access sensitive information, it is important to have an ongoing protocol to make sure the system has not been compromised. Third-parties who have access to sensitive data should provide for ongoing support in their service agreement, and it is best practice to ask how this is handled prior to giving anyone access to your data. Our Helios system makes use of a CREST-certified security scanner that checks our entire cloud for over 10,000 vulnerabilities each day. CREST is a not-for-profit accreditation and certification body representing the technical information security industry. This type of protection is all accounted for in the Software as a Service (SaaS) agreement that customers get when they enlist our services.

The Importance of Checking Your Service Agreements

While data leaks are the primary concern, it is not at all uncommon for third parties with access to data to utilize it for their own benefit. This can mean using data to gain a competitive advantage or even selling data to third parties, such as Google, Amazon, or Facebook, depending on the industry. While this is not illegal, it poses potential conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas. It is important to check your service agreements to see if and how your data might be being used. Helios does not use customer data for any reason other than to serve it directly back to them by improving the uptime and efficiency of their corrugated operation. We never use it to gain a competitive advantage by learning about competing operations, nor do we sell it to advertisers or other third parties, as we qualify this as unethical.

Every Operation Is Different, But Data Security is Always Paramount

The importance of data security is agnostic–it spans industries, sizes of operations, functions of products, and types of users. But regardless of how innovative a new technology may be, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, or an IIoT tool that can change the way business is done, it is crucial not to lose sight of the safety of the data that powers these tools. Never hesitate to ask practitioners about these new services for answers regarding data, and to demand the highest standards of data security, even if it might cost more. Shoring up security from the outset not only gives you peace of mind, but it protects your operation from shutdowns, loss of revenue, loss of customer trust, and even lawsuits.

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