Work with IT to foster remote monitoring

May 25, 2011
IT can help create a secure network connection to the industrial plant floor.

It can be ideal for a machine builder to monitor and connect to a piece of equipment in a plant remotely. However, how many machine builders have tried to cross that invisible barrier? As soon as you mention you want to open a connection through the network’s firewall, what happens? You meet the Knights of the IT department. Just like a medieval knight who is sworn to protect his king and the riches of the kingdom, the IT person takes an oath to protect the network and all the data therein.

It’s not their fault. They’re not bad people. They’re just doing their job. Once we understand what that entails, we won’t only have a better appreciation for them, but learn to speak the IT language and gain admittance into the kingdom they hold so dear.

What are some of the threats the Knights of IT have to contend with?

Malware: Once installed, this threat materializes in a number of ways. It acts as a Trojan horse software program performing any number of malevolent acts, including information-stealing keyloggers, fast flux botnets, relays and remote control agents.

Malicious insiders: From stealing trade secrets to installing malicious software to shut down systems such as environmental controls, this is one of the most effective threats and one of the most difficult to contend with.

Careless employees: Authorized personnel walking away from PCs without logging out allow unauthorized persons access to vulnerable data.

Social networking: Uh oh. Did I hit home there? Facebook, Twitter and a number of other sites are changing the way we communicate. They also contain the threat of many malicious worms, Trojan horses, phishing and other nuisances. The list goes on and on.

How about the added burden to the already understaffed IT department? Understaffed? According to 1,400 CIOs who were interviewed recently in a survey conducted by IT recruiter Robert Half Technology, 43% said they are either understaffed or very understaffed. We must consider the effects on capacity and the bandwidth it consumes, and must plan for the overall resources required. Time must be allocated to maintain this new PC and connection, patches and hot fixes must be maintained, and backups regularly made to ensure timely mean-time-to-repair.


IT is continuously reviewing the gathered performance statistics with baseline statistics to improve performance and to forecast future software/hardware acquisitions, maintain the list of applied service packs and updates, check for new hot fixes and service packs, apply updates for related non-OS services and perform critical security updates ASAP. All the while the IT Knights must maintain an immediate response team to fix downed PCs to keep you and me working. Imagine doing today’s job without the aid of a PC.

So now we see what these folks contend with; no wonder they’re protective when a vendor wants to jump on their network and potentially open up a gate for others to run through. “You want to connect with what? And send data where? And it’s a machine, so you don’t want to put antivirus software on it? No, no and oh no.”

So how do we both get what we want? Well, what do we want? We just want to be able to offer a service to the machine that plant is asking for. To do that, we need to connect to the machine to the real world. What do they want? One word — security. They want to be able to tell the king that, yes, his borders are secure. So, how do you make a connection to the machine, but securely?

This is where you do your homework. Meet with IT. Get to know them. Understand their concerns and address them. But, do this before you get too far down the road. It’s better for a knight to be expecting you than to find you wandering around in the woods of their kingdom. The latter invokes a response similar to a defensive tactic in chess. King rook side. They are going to put themselves between you and the king. And they carry a mighty sword.

In closing, don’t become enemies with IT. Become partners with them. Learn the threats involved with what you wish to do and develop a plan to mitigate them. Find a solution that benefits both you and them and sit down with them and go over that plan in detail. Be willing to modify it and compromise. In the end, you both get what you want — a secure connection to the machine on the plant floor.

Rodney Price is senior electrical engineer at Belvac ( in Lynchburg, Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].

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