Can Edge Computing Address IoT Security Concerns?

October 3, 2018 - 5 minutes read

Edge computing is a new buzzword used to describe a powerful paradigm of processing that’s incredibly flexible, seamless, and fast.

Can it solve security issues by acting as an additional layer of protection between the devices that interface with a corporate network and the rest of the devices in an IoT system?

Vintage = Vulnerable

In edge computing, analysis and processing happen on the device itself, not in the cloud or somewhere else in the network. This means there’s less chance for a data breach affecting a network to infiltrate the edge computing devices as well; thus, edge computing devices are expected to continue working despite network outages or cybersecurity attacks.

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is growing so quickly that cybersecurity hasn’t been able to keep up. As a result, industrial IoT is ripe for malicious hacking, according to Eddie Habibi, the CEO of industrial cybersecurity firm PAS Global.

In his 15 years of experience, he says, “The hardest thing about these older systems that have been connected over the past 25 years is that you can’t easily do discovery on them.” Warehouse workers don’t know about all of the equipment in the facility, and IoT developers can’t issue a security patch if they don’t know the device exists in their company’s operations.

Habibi says industrial IoT users won’t update their decades-old devices for a few more decades, and that is one scary thought.

But there may be hope in including edge computing devices in industrial IoT for better privacy and security. And experts say it’s much cheaper than overhauling every device for ongoing security patches.

A Quick Fix?

Mike Mackey is blockchain startup Atonomi’s CTO and vice president of engineering. He agrees that introducing edge computing devices adds an additional layer of trust between unsecured IoT devices and the backend.

Windmill Enterprise’s CEO, Michael Hathaway, says he’s more concerned about the cloud-based backend that most industrial IoT setups use. He worries that enterprises don’t have enough control over their security every time they add another cloud service to their IoT setup. He says, “Enterprise customers can be very nervous about hooking up an automation system directly to the Internet – it needs a last layer of intelligence and security.”

Edge computing devices can be effective because most industrial IoT configurations wouldn’t cause further adjustments or introduce more new devices into the ecosystem. As a buffer and link between the network and operations, it could be a quick and dirty way to improve an organization’s IoT cybersecurity.

Not All Security Solutions Are Created Equal

Hathaway argues that not all edge solutions should be treated equally or set up equally. Each business has different operational requirements which should be accounted for. As a result, security solutions for each industrial IoT system won’t be the same, even in the same verticals.

Simon Dowling is the CTO of London-based edge computing vendor ORI. He says, eventually, most industrial IoT systems will create enough data to drive decisions about the future of the company and their business plan. And during that phase of business growth, protecting the data sent back for analysis is an extremely high priority.

“As we’re moving towards a world where there is – whether it’s industrial IoT or it’s more commercial/consumer-focused IoT – a level of expectation that these devices will provide more meaningful action,” says Dowling.

No more patching up inadequate security systems. No more overhauling entire warehouses for the cost of millions of dollars. Inventing new applications for disruptive technologies is how we continue innovating and refining our current technological landscape. And this particular use for edge computing seems perfect.

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