Strategic industries are under pressure to support new services, reduce their carbon footprint, meet new regulations, improve their safety, improve their customer satisfaction and provide automation to reduce operational costs and issues.
They only way they can achieve this is by modernizing with new technology allowing them to monitor and control all the parameters in their networks in real time, in short they need to become “smart”.
However, I also suggested that becoming “smart” is not without its problems, in this blog I will talk about some of these problems and then in my next blog I will discuss how a modernized communications network can be used to counter some of these problems.
Complexity of multiple systems and technologies:
A vast array of different sensors and actuators will be used in constructing a smart system. These devices will use many different connection technologies. Multiple wireless technologies such as 3G, 4G, 5G, Wifi, LoRa, ZigBee, as well as current and legacy fixed transport technologies such as Ethernet, SDH etc.
Need: A network able to converge the data from all these systems and access technologies.
As the number of connected devices increases, the security risks and the impact of these risks increases. Increasing the number of sensors and actuators means “bad guys” have many more points of entry to the system. Whilst modern devices have full security mechanisms implemented on them, the network will also have devices in it which are decades old and have no security implemented. Even the modern “secure” devices only slow-down people with malicious intent, rather than stop them.
Need: a mechanism to determine if network devices have been infiltrated
Risk of one comprised system impacting other systems
There is also the risk that when one part of the network is compromised, this will give intruders access to other parts of the network. And with interlinked systems thee is the risk that intruders will be able to jump and take control of totally different systems.
Need: a way of isolating networks from each other.
Risks of interlinked systems:
There are risks associated with ever increasing reliance on inter-connected smart systems. There is the potential for small failures in one system to cause dramatic failures in associated systems. We had a small taste of this in the UK on August 9th 2019, an outage in two power generation plants ultimately caused chaos on the rail network.
As systems become even more tightly coupled, their supply chains become even more interdependent and failure in one system will inevitably cause failure in the dependant systems. And it is not just accidental failure, these systems will become increasingly attractive to malicious hackers who will look to infiltrate the weak points in the chain and then look to cause maximum disruption and even destruction of the associated systems.
Need: A network that is reliable, resilient, offers redundant systems and is secure.
Risks of automated systems:
In the financial trading industry there is a strong belief that automated trading systems enable crashes to spread very quickly across the world, and magnify depth of any collapse. Some directly attribute the Black Monday crash of 1987 to the newly deployed large-scale electronic trading systems. As strategic move to implement smart, automated, control systems, they must be cognisant of the fact that automation has the potential to make bad situations rapidly far worse.
Need: Need real time information to provide automated systems with a control loop to understand what is happening in the network – in realtime.
Evolution to smart systems are inevitable as the benefits they bring vastly outweigh any risks associated with their introduction. However if the issues introduced by theses smart systems are not addressed we will all understand, first-hand, how those commuters felt when the train came to a stand-still or how those traders felt on Black Monday when the electronic trading systems spiralled the market , downwards.
In my final blog of the series I will discuss the role a modernized communications network can play in helping address the issues involved with introducing smart systems.