Advancing Industrial Automation Security with OPC UA

August 1, 2022
Richard Theron

It’s been 16 years since the first version of OPC UA, also known as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture, was released. Since then, there have been numerous iterations to make OPC UA stronger and more secure than ever.

With the increased attacks on SCADA devices, as reported by the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency or CISA, there’s never been a more important time to protect your SCADA systems and automation devices.

What is OPC UA?

According to the OPC Foundation, OPC UA is:

The data exchange standard for secure, reliable, manufacturer and platform-independent industrial communications. It enables data exchange between products from different manufacturers and across operating systems.

OPC UA is used across a wide variety of industries, including industrial automation, oil & gas, and energy metering. In addition to supporting an array of systems, platforms, and functions, OPC UA’s built-in security features offer effective countermeasures against today’s most pressing security threats. Threats include scanning, compromising, and controlling automation devices, leading to disruption of critical services and functions.

For OEMs, incorporating OPC UA into your products not only helps position you as a leader in Industry 4.0, it also enables you to offer customers a plug-and-play-style of secure communications and data exchange among your devices and machines to their systems and the Cloud.

For Systems Integrators, OPC UA can help you simplify connectivity among devices, systems, and applications to achieve a higher level of secure, reliable interoperability.

The Popular Protocol

With three security levels (user, application, and transport), OPC UA has risen in popularity among those within the industrial automation space.

That’s because those who leverage the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Cloud connectivity need a modern, highly secure protocol that can support protected enterprise-wide network visibility and control.

It’s also why we, at MSA, added the OPC UA driver to our most advanced IIoT gateway solutions way back in 2020. It’s also why we’re continuing to enhance and evolve our BACnet, BMS, IIoT Cloud gateway, and Cloud computing solutions.

Like anyone using a SCADA or other industrial control system, we want to keep pace with digitization innovations while staying ahead of data security and cyber threats such as, malware, viruses, and denial of service (DoS).

OPC UA: The Smart, Secure Data Connector

As an interoperability standard for industrial automation devices, OPC UA can be used with embedded devices, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), sensors, Cloud applications, and more.

And because information security and data integrity are of paramount importance, OPC UA is specifically designed to be a firewall-friendly protocol that addresses such critical security concerns as:

  • Platform independence for integration with a variety of operating systems, servers, and sensors
  • Standard transports and encodings for seamless connectivity
  • Secure encryption at varying levels
  • Authentication of users, clients, and servers
  • Sequencing to reduce exposure to cyberattacks
  • Message signing for verification of origin and integrity
  • Activities logs and audit trail

Even better, according to the OPC Foundation, OPC UA offers users a “future proof framework,” by incorporating advanced security measures for transports, encoding, and algorithms, while also maintaining backwards compatibility with current devices.1

Clearly, as a globally recognized open standard, OPC UA offer many benefits as a secure, reliable protocol to enable intelligent machine-to-machine and Cloud-based communication.

Connecting Disparate Devices to OPC UA

But OPC UA alone may not be enough. If you’re looking for interoperability but have devices that are not Cloud-enabled, then you need something else (preferably not new devices). What you need is an IIoT gateway with the OPC UA driver, like MSA FieldServer™.

As one of the most advanced gateways available, FieldServer can help organizations like yours achieve next-generation interoperability with OPC UA. It’s one of the reasons we designed our Dual Ethernet QuickServer Gateway and FieldServer ProtoNode Gateway to meet the requirements of the OPC UA driver as set by the OPC Foundation.

The OPC UA Driver for the FieldServer can give your engineers a powerful protocol option for both Cloud and SCADA applications.

Here’s how it works:

Simplify Your Journey to Cloud-Based Automation

  • Where are you on your connected journey?
  • Are you in need of secure, platform-independent, Cloud-based connectivity?
  • Are you “Team OPC UA” or are you not sure if OPC UA is the protocol for you?

Contact us to learn more about how the FieldServer with the OPC UA driver can put you on the path to powerful, open system automation.


References:

OPC Foundation. Unified Architecture, opcfoundation.org. Accessed 23 June 2022, https://opcfoundation.org/about/opc-technologies/opc-ua/.

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Richard Theron
Richard Theron is the product line manager for FieldServer at MSA, where he works intimately with companies in the building automation, industrial automation, energy management and life safety markets to help them cloud-enable their equipment.

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