Adapting to the new mobile device landscape

Using mobile devices on the plant floor offers many potential benefits, but the right approach is a must because of safety and cybersecurity concerns.

By Travis Cox June 5, 2019

Mobility is changing the game in the industrial space. The adoption of mobile devices (cell phones) far exceeds tablets and desktops and is the preferred computing platform today. The younger workforce expects to leverage their mobile devices not just in their personal lives, but at work as well. Many industrial organizations are trying to adopt the bring your own device (BYOD) model. This model can increase industrial applications’ visibility and provide exciting new features. However, there are risks that come with adopting mobile devices. It’s important to understand the risks—and how to mitigate them with tried-and-true security practices.

Mobile devices and web browsers have matured enough for use in the industrial space. They have sensors and features designed to take advantage of technology such as GPS, accelerometers, camera, Bluetooth, and more. These features, if embraced, offer exciting opportunities in the industrial space.

Phones and other mobile devices on the plant floor have overtaken tablets, though tablets still play a useful role. Courtesy: Inductive Automation[/caption]

Mobile devices are changing the way we acquire, view, store, analyze, and act on data and information. Vendors and end users have to adapt to this changing landscape.

Making the right security moves

First, end users need to embrace Wi-Fi to leverage mobility. End users have been hesitant to embrace Wi-Fi for many reasons. Security is the number one concern. Mitigate wireless risk in the following ways.

  1. Use encrypted communications.
  2. Ensure each operator has a separate login.
  3. Use strong passwords and change them often. Today, federated identity providers can provide password management with two-factor authentication (2FA) and single sign on (SSO).
  4. Turn on auditing to track all changes.
  5. Use role- and zone-based security to lock down the applications-based user identity and location, to avoid risk from unintended remote machine operation.

Operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) also need to work together to provide a high level of security. OT needs to take advantage of the technology and run operations while IT can be an asset with management, maintenance, security and backups.

It’s important the platform has support for web and mobile devices through native apps. Courtesy: Inductive Automation[/caption]

Protect data

Another concern with mobility is that sensitive information can leave the plant with the devices. It is important to understand how mobile applications work. In most cases, information is not necessarily leaving the plant. An operator may gain access to the application and information remotely, but that information may not reside on the device itself. Typically, these systems rely on a connection to a server in the plant. If the user is remote, the device also will rely on a virtual private network (VPN) connection to the plant. The mobile device cannot function without the connection to the server in the plant. Data is stored either in the server or in a structured query language (SQL) database on the premises.

There are potential security risks, but the benefits of using mobile devices on the plant floor outweigh the risks. Courtesy: Inductive Automation[/caption]

While mobility comes with changes and risks, the potential benefits far exceed the risks since they can be mitigated with best security practices. Embracing mobile technology will allow operations to provide more access to users in the organization. Users have mobile tools that allow them to view, store and analyze data like never before.

Travis Cox is co-director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Keywords: mobile devices, cybersecurity

The adoption of mobile devices far exceeds tablets and desktops and is the preferred computing platform today.

Data security and information security are crucial when learning and understanding how mobile applications work.

The potential risks of mobile devices need to be considered in light of their potential benefits.

Consider this

What best practices and policies does your company have with mobile devices on the plant floor?

Author Bio: Co-director of sales engineering, Inductive Automation.