The Scope and Composition of Cyber-Physical Systems

The National Science Foundation (NSF) defines Cyber-physical systems to “… integrate sensing, computation, control and networking into physical objects and infrastructure, connecting them to the Internet and to each other.” Cyber-physical systems include Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and The Internet of Things (IoT).  The NIST definition of ICS is “an information system used to control industrial processes such as manufacturing, product handling, production, and distribution. Industrial control systems include supervisory control and data acquisition systems used to control geographically dispersed assets, as well as distributed control systems and smaller control systems using programmable logic controllers to control localized processes.”  Another term related to ICS is Operational Technology (OT).  Gartner defines OT to be “… hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events.” Some people classify IoT and ICS as subsets of OT.  I prefer to use the term Cyber-physical systems as the umbrella term because it highlights the physical impacts of these cyber systems.  

The term IoT was coined by Kevin Ashton in a PowerPoint presentation in the 1990s to convince the senior management of the Proctor & Gamble to put an RFID into every Procter & Gamble product. He believed the IoT could “turn the world into data” that could be used to make macro decisions on resource utilization. While there is no standard definition, “IoT” usually refers to the connection of physical objects to the Internet and to each other, through embedded sensors and wired and wireless technologies that continually sense, share, and analyze data and information to enable autonomous or semi-autonomous activity.

 ICSs are command and control networks and systems designed to support industrial processes in critical infrastructures.  There are many ICS that have been operating in production facilities for 30 years or more and are using proprietary protocols, software, and hardware.  However, today’s new ICS products are mostly based on standard embedded systems platforms utilizing commercially based hardware and software, interconnected with IT business applications. All this has resulted in reduction of costs, ease of use and enabled the remote control and monitoring from various locations. However, an important drawback derived from the connection to corporate IT intranets and communication networks, is the increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

In the next blog we will discuss the enormous growth and impact of cyber-physical systems in our many areas including economy, our lifestyles, and our health.

Learn about the ultimate solution to protect infrastructure networks, Net-Optix.


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