Despite only being in his current job for less than a year, Andres is already getting his teeth stuck into it. “It’s a really, really good opportunity,” he says. “We’re literally starting from scratch. There are no guidelines here — we have to make our way.”
As Digital Business Development Manager at Siemens’ headquarters in Germany, Andres and his team are busy creating new ways to secure connections based on the technology of the Data Capture Unit. With the rise of Internet of Things (IoT), more and more of our technologies are connected to the internet — but that connectivity comes at a price. “We believe that the lower cost of sensors combined with increased bandwidth and processing has allowed the IoT to become mainstream and make an appearance in many of our homes,” he says. “When it comes to the development of an industrial IoT, security will be Siemens’ contribution.”
Andres explains that the Data Capture Unit is one of a kind. Unlike firewalls or other existing ways to secure data, the Data Capture Unit is a physical connection that creates a cast-iron gateway. “It’s only one-way and doesn’t allow for a reciprocal stream of data,” Andres adds.
So, despite its heavily fortified walls, the Data Capture Unit allows safe data extraction. Connections like wireless updates are necessary for any product but the DCU makes sure they can only be triggered from the inside, keeping the system secure. “At the same time, a new chip and other methods are also being developed,” he says.
Primarily a way to increase and protect connectivity, the technology behind the Data Capture Unit has a strong cybersecurity use because of how it’s been designed. The way Andres and his teams protects the industrial and critical systems is with an impenetrable wall that physically separates them from the internet or other networks. “It essentially eliminates the typical inroads hackers normally use to attack, while still having the ability to extract data without interfering with IT systems, edge analytics or the cloud,” he says. “That’s because it’s all hardware-based.”
The general problem with cybersecurity is that any connection is a potential vulnerability. If you can extract data, chances are so can someone else. “It doesn’t matter how good your system is, if it’s software based, they’ll get in. It’s just a matter of time and will,” Andres explains.
That becomes even more complicated thanks to wireless connections like the internet because it means hackers don’t have to be in the same room as whatever they’re attacking. “Say two computers are trying to talk to each other,” Andres goes on to say. “That would be fine if they weren’t using a system that’s plugged into an entire world of other computers. And you only need one to cause a lot of headaches. We believe we have the most reliable and secure connectivity solution in the market right now and are excited to see it already working in places like offshore oil platforms, big marine engines, water plants, and in our railways.”
Making a case for security
In this digital age, companies will go to all sorts of lengths to keep hackers at bay. Keen to fight fire with fire, they employ state-of-the-art software and spend enormous amounts of money on audits and continuous maintenance (like perpetual patches) to curtail data breaches. “Everyone is in a rush to connect everything, but few people are thinking about how we should protect ourselves — even fewer are thinking about how we stop creating these vulnerabilities in the first place,” Andres says. “For us it’s simple; we can’t keep using the same technology we use to connect our heaters or smart plugs at home to connect to our industries. But, with industrial IoT, most of the time, that’s what we are still doing.”
One way that big companies and plants try to get around these vulnerabilities is by isolating most of their critical systems because — when they’re compromised — the consequences are disastrous. “Look at how Ukraine’s energy grid got hacked or the ransomware attack on San Francisco’s railway system,” Andres says. “In just three or four hours, these events can paralyze a city or even a country, and I don’t see how that’s going to be less likely in the future if we keep doing the same things.”
Until now, secure connectivity solutions like data diodes only existed in the defense industry and the oil and gas territory because of their cost. Despite being extremely robust, these massive systems lack the flexibility different industries need — after all, a nuclear power plant doesn’t need the same level of security as a small factory.
“Our mission is to encourage a higher security standard in the industry and raise the bar in connectivity, hopefully until it becomes an industry standard to allow all industries to take advantage of the benefits of the IoT without having to compromise on security,” he adds. “We have already lowered the cost of secure connectivity by 10 times and our job is to keep improving that until we make the technology behind the Data Capture Unit mainstream.”
Creating an appetite, and ultimately a market, for secure and controlled connections means also setting the agenda. To do this, Andres spends part of his time searching for use cases to help push it forward. “I’m trying to create awareness of why the industry needs this type of technology,” he says. “I write white papers, talk to partners, think tanks, government officials, and research how different industries could benefit from the technology we use in our Data Capture Unit.”
In the past couple of months alone, Andres has made six inventions and two of them are patent pending. They include ideas about future autonomous driving scenarios for cars and trams by redefining the way they are networked and secured when connected to the world. In addition, he is working on chips that allow secure wireless updates and a cyber-physical ecosystem that regulates the interaction between vehicles and infrastructure. But none of this would be possible without Andres’ diverse and inspiring work environment. “The possibility of having a wild idea and being able to discuss it over a coffee with a wide range of experts like we have in Siemens is something we should all exploit,” Andres explains. “There’re so many catchphrases out there but I do believe we should all at least try to change the world one idea at a time, there’s really nothing to lose, if it doesn’t work out at least you get to have a nice coffee!”
He says that working with innovative technology gives him the unique opportunity to be a part of something new. “It’s going to be really influential,” he says. “If we make real just a small fraction of what we have in mind there’s no doubt we will be impacting the way we connect devices on a global scale.”
Andres G. Guilarte works at Siemens global headquarters in Germany. Find out more about working at Siemens.