Is it possible to provide a high level of security for industrial automation systems using a wireless network? Practical tests of SCADvance XP software have demonstrated that it is.
Ericsson is a global company founded in 1876 in Stockholm. Ericsson is a provider of solutions and services to telecommunications operators. The company operates in 175 countries. The company’s portfolio of products includes fixed and mobile network infrastructure, broadband Internet, multimedia solutions, IoT solutions, and IoT application development and maintenance. Ericsson is a pioneer and active promoter of 5G solutions.
In the industrial sector, digitalization is often referred to as the development towards Industry 4.0. It involves the robotization of manufacturing and business processes, where artificial intelligence and machine learning mechanisms and advanced data analysis software are often used.
It is obvious that the implementation of new solutions requires an infrastructure allowing for the launch of modern applications and systems. It is based on telecommunication networks that allow data transmission as well as monitoring and control of devices operating in the system.
As a telecommunication medium, 3G/4G/LTE wireless networks are quite often used in industry, but the real breakthrough is the emergence of 5G technology.
“4G mobile networks are great for serving end users, but they do not meet some of the advanced requirements of industrial systems. The 5G standard offers a new quality, as the technology has been developed from the ground up for industrial applications, among others,” says Marcin Sugak, Account Director – Critical and Managed Infrastructure at Ericsson.
Today, 5G networks are being deployed by telecom operators around the world, not least because they can leverage existing LTE infrastructure. “For example, most devices sold by Ericsson already since 2015 can be adapted to support 5G using only a software upgrade,” assures Marcin Sugak.
5G in the industry
The main advantages of 5G are the ability to provide connectivity to mobile devices and their users with high reliability, ease of use for many distributed devices, and low latency that allows for real-time communication. These features make 5G networks potentially an interesting and cost-effective solution in many industries.
For example, a private 5G network allows to build a network with unified connectivity, optimized services and a high level of security against unauthorized access within a defined area. At the same time, it is a dedicated network and independently managed by the company that owns it.
What the business benefits of implementing such a solution might be depends on the specific applications. But it’s worth noting the key advantages of 5G over previously available technologies, as they are the basis for an individual assessment of the suitability and potential benefits that deployment can bring.
“We have many customers who want to use 5G in industrial networks. Most often, this concerns deployments of closed private networks rather than public services offered by telecom operators,” says Krzysztof Wójtowicz of ICsec.
In industrial systems, the use of LTE does not offer as good network performance as solutions based on wired systems. 5G changes that, in terms of performance, latency and density of supported devices without being inferior to wired solutions. “But the biggest advantage is flexibility, ease of system modification and the ability to support mobile devices or users,” emphasizes Marcin Sugak.
For example, if a production line needs to be upgraded or modified to manufacture new products, with 5G there is no need for costly and time-consuming modification of network wiring.
“At the same time, what we observe in the Polish market of industrial companies is a desire to keep data in local systems,” says Marcin Sugak. This stems from the belief that digitalization and the deployment of mobile networks can cause an increase in cyber threats.
Therefore, there is a need to use tools that will allow monitoring of the network so that we can quickly detect emerging threats and anomalies occurring in the network and counteract them.
Key benefits of 5G technology in industrial applications
• Wireless network implementation reduces the need for wiring, which is costly to install when supporting a large number of devices, makes it difficult to modify the infrastructure and does not provide support for mobile devices or users.
• Private network managers can have full control over the infrastructure, security mechanisms and policies, and the use of various system resources. The network can be configured so that critical devices have priority access to transmission bandwidth.
• 5G allows the creation of multiple virtual, isolated networks that can be independently customized and optimized for the services and traffic they carry.
• 5G technology provides significantly lower latency than existing wireless technologies, enabling real-time communication. This is critical for applications such as security, traffic control or robotic systems.
• A private 5G network offers higher security than current technologies because the operator can set its own security policies and store data locally.
Cyber security in industrial networks
Industrial companies, especially those that manage mission-critical systems, need to pay special attention to security. This includes resilience to both ordinary failures caused by hardware or software defects, as well as those caused by potential cyber-attacks.
”The telecommunications networks themselves are secure, and the problems with providing protection against cyber attacks are generally related to applications and endpoint devices that are misconfigured or have vulnerabilities,” says Marcin Sugak.
Therefore, situational awareness is important, i.e. precise definition of what devices are in the network and how data exchange and communication between them takes place.
With 5G, reconfiguring production lines is much easier than in systems using classical solutions. “But as easy as it is, it can be dangerous. Because if you have to walk up to a device and plug in an Ethernet cable, that’s some form of protection against unauthorized access. With a wireless network, attempts to connect to the system don’t require physical access to the devices and so other security methods are required. Such as, for example, SCADvance XP software, which allows to detect anomalies occurring in the network, for example when a new device is connected to the network” says Krzysztof Wójtowicz.
The importance of machine learning and artificial intelligence for network security
Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are increasingly being used in security systems. This is an inevitable direction of technology development, and AI and ML are not products out of the box. Developing appropriate AI algorithms, training the system and implementing ML mechanisms to modify its operation according to changing conditions requires tailoring to specific applications and user needs.
Ericsson is developing AI and ML technologies by creating solutions that will allow analysis of huge amounts of data sent by mobile base stations in order to predict impending failures, as well as to optimize network operation. But these are solutions dedicated to telecom operators.
In industry, it is necessary to use other algorithms and adapt the security system to monitor the OT operational network. This type of solution developed by ICsec. SCADvance XP software is a specialized system designed for industrial automation applications that uses AI and ML mechanisms to detect anomalies in OT networks.
Practical verification of security in an industrial network
SCADvance XP is a system proven also in solutions using classic cable networks. Therefore the question arose: can it work well in a system using wireless communication?
ICsec, in cooperation with Ericsson, implemented a project to practically test the operation of SCADvance XP in an infrastructure where communication is supported by mobile networks.
The laboratory created for the tests simulates a real industrial automation system, where communication in the OT operational network is carried out wirelessly. The 2020 tests used LTE technology and were designed to practically test how SCADvance XP’s network traffic capture probes and data analysis software would function in such an environment.
It is important to clarify here that SCADvance XP does not monitor the performance of the LTE or 5G network, only the communication between devices within it.
There was also an additional server installed in the lab, whose task was to simulate attacks on the infrastructure, such as attempts to change the system configuration or sending commands to devices that do not conform to the planned model of infrastructure operation.
Test results showed that the solution developed by ICsec can operate in a wireless-based infrastructure providing real-time anomaly detection capabilities. 100% of the tested events were detected and correctly interpreted.
Although LTE network was used in the tests, we can conclude from them that SCADvance XP will function seamlessly in 5G networks as they provide higher throughput, lower latency and higher reliability of operation.
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