Blog   |   March 18, 2020

Axiado's Innovative IIoT Solution

by Axel Kloth

Having your own computer hacked can be personally devastating, but most of the time it’s more of an annoyance. No, when it comes to digital security, the biggest problems facing the world are found in industrial and government infrastructures that are controlled by devices developed before internet access was common and engineers were aware of hacking.

Power grids can shut down, dams can flood communities, even entire factories can be rendered unusable if hackers take control. All pose a clear and present danger to society, so those sectors need to be addressed first. That’s why Axiado will start with technology targeting the system of connected devices, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Depending on who you talk to, estimates have between 20 and 30 percent of network attacks focused on getting through the corporate firewall. That leaves 70 to 80 percent occurring behind the firewall. Those attacks may be initiated by several methods, but they all come from either contractors or employees that:

• have been deliberately inserted into the work force;
• have been turned by a malefactor to initiate an attack; or
• have unwittingly brought in a seemingly innocuous device that plants malware.

For example, Warren Savage, a guest researcher at the University of Maryland for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said during his keynote at DesignCon 2020 that one of the most common attacks come from USB devices that are giveaways at trade shows. The exhibitors are never aware that malware exists on the devices, which were infected somewhere along the supply line from the manufacturer to the companies buying the devices. Even if a device is wiped clean immediately, there is still enough time for malware on the device to make itself at home in a user’s system and infect the network as soon as the user’s computer connects to it.

But random USB sticks are just part of the problem. The IIoT has lots of devices that connect directly to networks. Cameras, sensors, telephones, proprietary handheld devices, even typical computers, all can be the “patient zero” of an infection. In order to provide physical as well as virtual protection, each device needs to be able to authenticate itself both in front of and behind the corporate firewall.

A Gartner report forecast 25 billion devices will be in operation globally by 2021 and some estimates put the number at 75 billion devices by 2025. The problem of authentication and establishing trust within any network cannot be solved one device at a time. The solution needs to be more pervasive.

To that end, Axiado is developing an aggregation system that sits at the customer’s edge and a firewall processor that sits either at the customer’s edge or on their cloud protecting the network. This system creates individual keys and employs a unique ID to pinpoint the kind of processor in each device, along with the processor family and the serial number. By creating unique IDs for devices as they are removed and added to the system, the threat of a malicious device being deployed in the system with a fake ID is eliminated.

Let’s look at a practical application. As I mentioned in a recent article, the satellites currently orbiting Earth are vulnerable to any hacker with an uplink and basic coding skills. By the end of the year, SpaceX plans to deploy more than 1,500 of the 50kg satellites in low Earth orbit in relatively close proximity to each other. If a rogue nation, or someone with malicious intent, manages to crash two of those satellites into each other, the debris field will be so large and fast that even an extremely small piece of shrapnel from one of the pieces that made up the two satellites will be capable of damaging and bringing down almost everything in its path.

Axiado’s system utilizes security processors on both the satellites and uplink ends, so communication between the ground station, ground control, and the satellites can be secured and fully authenticated.