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When many think about the mining industry, they’re probably not thinking about new technologies. Instead, they might be conjuring up mental images of grueling manual labor. Scenes straight out of the 19th century, with workers swinging pickaxes and pushing carts in narrow tunnels where lighting and airflow are scarce and safety hazards plentiful.
But these impressions are no longer fully accurate. Subsurface resource extraction, like so many other industries, has become an increasingly technology-driven affair. Rio Tinto, for example, has been using industrial internet of things (IIoT) devices to operate a fleet of driverless trucks for more than a decade, and this solution has allowed it to reduce safety risks while also optimizing expenses and logistics. Likewise, Fortescue Metals Group uses connected monitors to obtain mobile views of the loads carried by its vehicle fleet, and this solution allows it to alert drivers in real time when trucks are not operating at full capacity, thereby conserving resources. Meanwhile, Goldcorp has developed an IIoT solution that uses tracking devices in miners’ helmets to determine when, where, and how to regulate air flows in mine shafts.
These companies’ experiences are leading more and more mining principals to realize the advantages – operational, financial, and logistical – offered by IIoT devices. As a result, demand for smart mining solutions that utilize wireless communication, real-time monitoring, advanced analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) is growing.
Indeed, in its recent “Smart Mining Market: Growth, Trends and Forecasts 2020-2025” report, Mordor Intelligence estimated the value of the market for connected solutions in the mining industry at US$8 billion in 2020. It also predicted that this value would more than triple in value over the next five years, rising to $24.23 billion by 2026.
Nevertheless, fully realizing all the benefits of this growth is not necessarily an easy matter.
Mining companies considering IIoT solutions must also be aware that every single connected device has the potential to serve as a point of entry for malicious actors.
If these points of entry are not adequately protected, they will be vulnerable to cyberattacks that have negative consequences. These include but are not limited to operational disruptions, downtime, equipment malfunction, loss of access to equipment and data, theft of intellectual property and corporate secrets, and financial losses.
The bad news is that it’s not always easy for mining concerns to guard against such consequences. Operational technology (OT) networks and industrial control systems (ICS) that rely on IIoT devices may not be very well integrated with existing information technology (IT) structures. They may have been installed on legacy devices that lack appropriate traffic aggregation systems or require uni-directional connectivity. They may also be affected by differences in speed or media connections or reliance on switch SPAN ports that aren’t secure, reliable, or available in their specific environment.
The good news is, it's certainly possible for mining companies to avoid or minimize risk, provided that they adopt the right cybersecurity solutions. The mining company teams we speak with often run down a security checklist that I thought may be useful:
We recognize that natural resource extraction often takes place in extreme environments. After all, mining operations make regular use of explosives and some of the heaviest equipment in the world. They take place in settings where health and safety hazards are both ubiquitous and severe. As such, cyber-physical systems used in mining operations need to be rugged and physically durable, as well as robust in their defenses against cybercriminals. They must be able to withstand vibration, atmospheric contamination, and fluctuations in temperature and pressure conditions.
Garland takes these environment challenges seriously, as we understand what’s at stake. In the process of working with a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to develop visibility solutions for extreme environments, we developed a military-grade industrial test-access point (TAP) that is designed to operate in the field and is vehicle mountable, with secure mighty mouse connections and power connectors for demanding conditions. Because packet visibility in extreme conditions can be mission critical.
Garland has also pioneered TAP visibility for extreme temperatures. These Copper OT breakout TAPs provide 100% full duplex traffic visibility and are engineered for temperature variations between -40C and +85C / -40F and +185F and are now being deployed across the globe.
That’s why, along with Garland’s rugged steel products, and high quality standard, the mining industry turns to Garland to ensure their security and monitoring solutions are able to see every bit, byte, and packet, even in the most extreme environments.
Looking to add visibility to your extreme environment, but not sure where to start? Try joining us for a brief network Design-IT consultation or demo. No obligation - it’s what we love to do.
Chris Bihary, CEO and Co-founder and of Garland Technology, has been in the network performance industry for over 20 years. Bihary has established collaborative partnerships with technology companies to complement product performance and security through the integration of network TAP visibility.