Securing supply chains powered by edge3 min read

28/May/2020

This blog was originally published on techUK as a part of their #TransformingEdge week. 

Supply chains are becoming increasingly digitalised at all levels, from manufacturing to procurement to delivery. However, control in the cloud is inherently time-consuming, as machines attempt to communicate with a centralised authority on spotty or weak networks, and insecure, as vulnerabilities can be quickly exploited by nefarious actors. Therefore, the next necessary step in digitalisation is edge computing, which utilises the central authority model of cloud digital transformation – but keeps it local.

Edge computing makes it much easier to track the different moving parts of a supply chain, using IoT devices that communicate quickly and locally to a dedicated central hub. For example, manufacturing devices can communicate errors, damages and outputs to a factory hub, saving the time it would take to directly transfer this data to the business’s main hub. The factory hub can then sort through the information and send the relevant data to the centralised hub. The entirety of the supply chain can then be completely visualised, and significant data can be used to optimise operations. Of course, edge has applicability beyond just manufacturing – industries that rely on secure machine-to-machine communications include transportation networks, national grids and logistics, among others.

The proliferation of IoT devices across industries is making this very quickly possible. According to Gartner, by 2022 approximately 75% of enterprise data will be processed using edge computing, as opposed to in a centralised cloud environment. However, there are serious cyber security challenges that must be considered when applying this technology. Increasing the number of local hubs inherently escalates the attack surface exponentially, making a digital ecosystem seemingly impossible to protect. Both in cyber and physical terms, local hubs that handle sensitive or critical information will become key targets for hackers.

This is not only critical from an information security standpoint, but also from a compliance standpoint – if businesses cannot keep their customers’ personal identifying information safe, they are liable to massive fines under regulations such as the EU’s GDPR. Therefore, edge computing is both a cybersecurity and business consideration, and it’s being taken seriously: two-thirds of IT teams view edge as a threat to their security status, per Kollective.

However, edge computing is a great opportunity for organisations, reducing latency and ultimately giving businesses a greater visibility into their third parties. Therefore, organisations looking to optimise and further digitise their operations – which is becoming more and more of a necessity in today’s business landscape – must change how they think about their cybersecurity measures.

If large amounts of data will be flowing into local hubs, there needs to be several layers of security, including a communication protocol that safeguards data integrity and can withstand potential cyberattacks. The same visibility that allows for optimisation can also benefit hackers as they seek to disrupt a supply chain.

Consequently, organisations must build – or digitise – their supply chains with cyber security in mind from the very beginning. IoT devices should be implemented with the highest security standards and consistently monitored to ensure their performance is as expected. An automated integrated risk management system which monitors and gathers risk data, highlighting critical indicators is the most comprehensive solution. This allows organisations to fully understand their risk and make educated cyber risk management decisions for their business.

Despite the risks, edge computing is the perfect complement to the Internet of Things. As both of these new technologies continue to develop, organisations must seriously consider the cyber security implications – and manage them in order to reap the greatest benefits from edge computing.

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