Smart manufacturing is the future – but brings ‘significant security challenges’

14 Dec 2021

Image: Dr Amrita Ghosal

Confirm researcher Dr Amrita Ghosal discusses how smart manufacturing could be a ‘promising step’ towards the next industrial revolution – as long as we deal with potential security issues.

After studying at Asansol Engineering College in India and doing a postdoc at the University of Padua in Italy, Dr Amrita Ghosal made her way to the University of Limerick.

She is now a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions fellow based at Confirm, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for smart manufacturing.

Here, she is investigating the security of industrial manufacturing systems, looking at existing vulnerabilities and potential future cybersecurity challenges. She focuses on privacy for mobile and wireless networks, and the detection and prevention of different denial-of-service attacks.

‘The integration of complex smart manufacturing technologies massively increases the scope for attack from adversaries’

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I was always interested in science and new discoveries, innovations attracted me. All these factors were my motivation into doing research.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

Smart manufacturing is an evolving form of production that incorporates the manufacturing assets of today and tomorrow with sensors, computing platforms, communication technology, control, simulation, data-intensive modelling and predictive engineering. It employs the concepts of cyber-physical systems together with the internet of things, cloud computing, service-oriented computing, artificial intelligence and data science.

Once implemented, these concepts and technologies would make smart manufacturing a promising step to the next industrial revolution. But the integration of complex smart manufacturing technologies massively increases the scope for attack from adversaries aiming at industrial espionage and sabotage. The potential outcomes of these attacks range from economic damage and lost production to catastrophic nationwide effects. System protection from cyber vulnerabilities without compromising the functionalities is needed throughout the manufacturing enterprise.

I plan to analyse the security of existing industrial and manufacturing systems, existing vulnerabilities, potential future cyberattacks, the weaknesses of existing measures and the levels of awareness and preparedness for future security challenges. My project looks to minimise the cyberattacks prevalent in smart manufacturing using preventive techniques in the form of prediction, using machine learning and rigorous monitoring.

Also, this project envisions secure data access in smart manufacturing using attribute-based access control techniques. The implementation of the objectives of this project will provide an enhanced secure and reliable smart manufacturing ecosystem.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

My research activity will make smart manufacturing more robust against cyberattacks and allow faster detection of cyberattacks, thereby making smart manufacturing more acceptable to industry.

Also, this research work will help in the deployment of smart manufacturing, thus leading to more personalised products for consumers, more energy efficient manufacturing and less repetitive tasks for workers in manufacturing but resulting in more high-value jobs.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

From the commercial point of view, I envision integrating my research findings with smart factories for dealing with possible cyberattacks. Interaction with the respective industries will further help me to design more efficient systems by imbibing the feedback from industries into my research results.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

The concept of smart manufacturing has been gaining momentum and promises enhanced performance and greater agility for the factory of the future. Recent advances in internet of things, machine learning, big data analytics, cloud and fog computing are enablers to transform factories into the industry 4.0 future.

But the primary benefits of adopting industry 4.0 technologies and making manufacturing smart also come with significant security challenges. These include vulnerable components, management of processes, increased connectivity, convergence of operational and information technology, supply chain complexity and insecure protocols.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

As industries are implementing connected technologies, they cease to exist as insular entities. Based on their characteristics, smart factories are very much expected to grow far beyond the boundaries of their own facility to emerge as a part of a larger ecosystem.

Therefore, it is very much evident that this increased connectivity adds new operational risks and unknown security challenges. Manufacturers that implement industry 4.0 technologies suffer many of the same cybersecurity threats as other industries. As manufacturers connect pieces of operational technology, this can make the system vulnerable to attacks.

It is now high time that cyberthreats are taken into serious consideration during the development of smart manufacturing. My research will investigate attribute-based access control techniques and their integration into a smart manufacturing ecosystem for secure data access, together with investigation of machine learning approaches and their integration into a smart manufacturing ecosystem for cyberthreat monitoring and prevention.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

In the coming years, as smart manufacturing is gaining speed, I would very much like to see how blockchain and smart contracts can play a role in securing such factories from relevant threats.

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