Digital Twin technology is cool but the benefits must be protected

Heavily depending on IoT and the human factor that handling the Digital Twin technology, the benefits and major security risks are inevitably linked to these two factors.

Digital Twin technology

The Digital Twin technology is described as a digital replica of physical assets (physical twin), processes, people, places, systems and devices that can be used for various purposes.

The digital representation provides both the elements and the dynamics of how an Internet of Things (IoT) device operates and lives throughout its life cycle. By bridging the physical and the virtual world, data is transmitted seamlessly allowing the virtual entity to exist simultaneously with the physical entity.

The promise of this technology is to simulate plans or build ‘what-if’ scenarios for the products, facilities, and processes before the organisations engage its precious resources for implementation.

This technology is actually not that new. It dates 17 years back when it was for the first time used by Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan. However, the Digital Twin technology started flourishing only when another technology – Internet of Things – becomes affordable and accessible to business, governments, universities and other institutions.

Due to the prediction that there would be 21 billion connected IoT sensors by 2020 and the perceived almost limitless use of the Digital Twin technology, it was included on Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017 and 2018.

Since the Digital Twin technology can give a real-time view of what is happening with equipment or other physical assets, companies like Chevron and General Electric anticipate huge savings from the investment in this technology.

General Electric was an early adopter of this technology and now the company has more than 1.2 million digital twins of physical assets, up from 660,000 at the end of 2016. On the other hand, the Chevron Corporation uses the technology to predict maintenance problems in its oil fields and refineries. Chevron aims to have sensors connected to most of its high-value equipment by 2024.

Medical health, sports and education are also taking a more data-driven approach. These areas are recognised as being disrupted by the Digital Twin technology. NASA uses the Digital Twin technology for space exploration in order to solve the issue of operating, maintaining and repairing systems. This technology is also used in the automotive industry, manufacturing, and smart cities.

Protecting benefits

By its definition, the Digital Twin technology heavily relies on vast data coming from IoT. Companies are currently handling an average of 9.7 petabytes of data, a whopping 569% more than in 2016 (1.45PB).

This also means an increased risk of costly data breaches. The Panda security report shows that only 16% of companies believe that their data protection solutions will be able to respond to future challenges, while almost half have trouble protecting the data generated by technology such as IoT, artificial intelligence or machine learning.

On the other hand, the users and employees in charge of handling the Digital Twin technology are another source of security risks, i.e. insider threats possibilities.

Although not being only, these two cybersecurity risks are, in our view, currently the most significant threats to the beneficial use of the Digital Twin technology and are ones that deserve further elaboration.

IoT risks

Internet of Things (IoT) can be described as a network of separate, uniquely identified devices that can have the ability to correspond with each other even without requiring human to human or human to computer interaction. The predictions over the last years suggest that there will be at least tens of billions of connected IoT devices by 2020.

As we have already published, a significant number of Internet-connected devices are, unfortunately, lacking even the most basic cybersecurity protocols. Hence, it is often possible to hack these devices in a few minutes and steal individual or corporate data, conduct espionage or even cause physical damage to digital and industrial equipment.

For example, the ForeScout’s IoT Enterprise Risk Report identifies seven IoT devices that can be hacked in as little as three minutes but can take days or weeks to remediate. According to this report, the most endangered devices include those used in the Internet-connected security systems. Needless to say that disabling these devices allows for an easy physical break-in.

Recent reports also stress the utmost importance of protecting IoT devices For example, it was published a few days ago that the UK government ups security protection for the IoT devices. In other words, IoT-connected devices will need to ensure they measure up to basic security standards under new rules being proposed by the UK government.

This means that manufacturers will need to make smart devices such as TVs, routers and even children’s toys conform to a new ‘Secure by Design’ protocol. Furthermore, these devices will soon need to carry a security label informing users how secure they are – and warn about possible hacking risks.

Insider threats

Various reports show that the human factor is often ignored though it is a crucial element in building strong cybersecurity defence. Although there might be numerous combinations of human circumstances and unfortunate contexts that can trigger an insider threat, the main drivers behind these kinds of threats are human greed, anger, curiosity and unawareness or carelessness.

As we recently alerted our readership, employees are actually a significant problem as most cyber-attacks are designed to take advantage of human errors rather than flaws in software.

Negligent employees or the users of the Digital Twin technology can unintentionally or purposely cause a high number of security breaches and data leaks. Over 80% of cyber-attacks are caused by human error or behaviour and only 18% were directly caused by external threats. As reported by consultancy Willis Towers Watson, employee negligence or malicious acts accounted for two-thirds of cyber breaches.

Preventing insider threats can be complex endeavour but it can also be as modest as enforcing employees and the users of the Digital Twin technology to adhere to the cybersecurity policies. In that regard, training should be provided aimed at enabling them to distinguish the difference between normal and suspicious activities. With the right insider threat prevention strategy, policies, procedures and tools in place, organisations using the Digital Twin technology will stand far greater chances of averting these threats and keeping its information assets safe and secure.

Elaborating more on the topic would require more space than allocated for this article but, if you are interested in finding more details on the topic, please feel free to contact us at VM Advisory.

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