Data Diode and its application in Industrial IoT

IIoT or Industrial Internet of Things, defined as the interconnected network of sensors, instruments, and other devices with industrial equipment for their monitoring, has undoubtedly changed the face of manufacturing. As part of industry 4.0, the IoT has transformed the workplace by improving productivity and providing better insights into data captured. Plus, the future growth potential of IIoT is vast: Implementing IIoT can generate $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030 as per data available.

But this does arrive with some caveats.

As per Nokia’s Threat Intelligence Report 2020, IoT devices make up 32.72% of infected devices. This situation demands attention as it’s a 100% increase or 2X compared with 2019, where it was just 16.17%. So, Nokia’s report concludes that cybercriminals work day and night to hack IoT and mobile devices.

Fortunately, a hardware device like Data Diode provides a solution to this problem. So, what is a data diode, and what are its applications? We are going to look ahead in this article with a brief history of this device also.

What is a Data Diode?

A data diode, also called a Unidirectional Gateway, is a hardware network device that allows data to flow only in a single direction when placed between two networks of different security levels. 

When it comes to any physical asset or an object, there’s no disagreement that they need to be protected. Similarly, when it comes to data on sensitive networks, they need to be safeguarded too.

Now, we have two ways to do this. One is to completely isolate the sensitive networks from all kinds of external networks that make the secure network vulnerable to attack. But you can’t always do this as there will be times where we need to transfer data from one network to another. In such scenarios, a high assurance cybersecurity device like a data diode is helpful that makes it possible to meet our bottom line, i.e., transfer of data without compromising or risking the integrity of the network.

How does a data diode work?

Data diodes are essentially diodes – a device that aims to rectify AC into DC. It cuts the negative part of the cycle and allows the positive part to move on. So, the function is similar to a check valve, a fluid-controlled device that allows fluids to flow only in one direction.   

A data diode has a sender on one side and a receiver on the other, ensuring that data is transferred only from one direction to another without manipulation.

Not only a data diode can be directed out from a high-security network to send out sensitive information, but it can also be directed towards a secure network to collect or submit any data. In the latter case, a data diode will be helpful by preventing any leakage of sensitive data stored on a high-security network.

If you are in the field of network and security, then our discussion might be bringing another term called – firewalls – into your mind. So, how is a data diode different from firewalls? We are going to see this next.

What is a firewall, and how is a data diode different from a firewall?

A firewall is a software solution built on operating systems to protect the OS from external cyber threats. It monitors the traffic moving in and out from the networks and performs its task based on the instructions provided to it. 

So, the functions of a firewall and a data diode are pretty similar. And the difference between the two is – which we just mentioned, i.e., a firewall is a software-based solution compared to data diodes that are hardware devices. 

And this is where a data diode has some upper edges over the firewalls.

Firewalls are vulnerable to a wide array of external attacks and require frequent maintenance. They are software solutions and are programmed by engineers – making bugs arising in them an unavoidable thing. On the other hand, a data diode is a hardware that allows data to flow in a single direction on a physical level, making online attacks on it an impossible endeavor.   

In some cases, a data diode and a firewall can be implemented simultaneously on a network to implement a more robust level of security. Or an organization can also decide to go just with a data diode looking at the capabilities of a data diode or replace their firewall with a data diode.

Applications of Data Diodes

Data diodes, due to their effectiveness, are used in many areas for a variety of purposes, like:

  • Backup and disaster recovery repositories
  • Replication of database and other application data
  • Traffic flowing to/from remote sensors and other facilities
  • Printing from a less secure network to a highly secure network. This also reduces printing costs.
  • Transferring application and operating system updates from a less secure network to a highly secure network
  • Time synchronization in highly secure networks
  • Sending/receiving alerts or alarms from open to critical/confidential networks
  • Sending/receiving emails from open to confidential networks.

A Brief History of Data Diodes

Recognize that data diodes aren’t new, and their beginning dates back to the cold war era. There came a time when US and Russia signed a nuclear decommission deal, and they were supposed to send and receive sensitive data with each other. But how is it possible for these two parties to exchange data between them with feasibility without requiring any manual effort and without compromising the integrity of their network? These circumstances gave rise to the invention of the data diode.

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