Rethinking the Web

Cybersecurity at Siemens

An EU initiative designed to support the establishment of a new, decentralized web architecture has been launched with a view to boosting user friendliness. Siemens is participating in this initiative with an advisory function. One item on the wish list is enhanced cybersecurity. 

Internet startups, research groups, hackers and other innovators have all sorts of good ideas on how to make the internet more robust and user-friendlier. But the voices of this small sector are often not loud enough to be heard. A European Commission initiative, launched in the fall of 2016, is committed to supporting industry players without significant financial clout who are pursuing new ideas for the internet – and potentially make it less dependent on large companies such as Google or Facebook. Itgoes by the name of the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative.

The NGI includes projects such as NGI Zero to enhance data protection for web searches, and NGI Dapsi to develop solutions enabling the transfer of user data from one web service to another as smoothly and securely as possible. “These are all linked by a common NGI objective: to promote open source projects for the internet of tomorrow which embody values supported by the EU, such as openness, social integration and privacy,” says Jean Luc Dorel, project officer of the NGI program at the European Commission. 

Internet renovation

Open source programs of this kind, which are both free at the point of access and industry neutral, form the backbone of the internet, keeping supercomputers and robot factories running, and powering processors in household appliances and vehicles alike. Open source software is thus vital for companies of the likes of Siemens. Not only is it a regular component of in-house products, but it also renders efficient cooperation between market operators much easier.

This explains why Natalia Oropeza, Chief Cybersecurity Officer at Siemens, has joined the advisory board of a new NGI program – NGI Pointer (Program for Open INTErnet Renovation), scheduled to run from January 2020 until 2022. Its aim is to support projects designed to render web architecture and central processes more resilient, efficient and secure. “If there are ways of enhancing cybersecurity or web stability by means of new structures – if we come up with new approaches to data protection by identifying and preventing data leaks automatically, for instance – everyone stands to benefit,” says Oropeza. “That’s why I’m happy to be involved in NGI Pointer in an advisory capacity.” Industrial internet security is one of the focus areas of NGI Pointer – and a key topic for Siemens, which is why Oropeza proposed it as a topic worth exploring. The idea is to find solutions designed to protect networked production facilities from attack, identify outages, faults and data leaks quickly, and ensure the security of supply chains in the Internet of Things.

If there are ways of enhancing cybersecurity or web stability by means of new structures everyone stands to benefit!

Blue sky thinking

NGI Pointer is seeking to harness the power of creative brainstorming and come up with blue sky ideas for the web with the potential to bring about fundamental change in its processes and organizational structure, whether in the field of data protection, energy efficiency, edge computing or industrial security. Funds to the tune of EUR 5,6 million are available to this end. “If we merely tweak a few individual elements, we will never create a new internet geared to the needs of users that gives us the ability to manage our own data, for instance,” says Mirko Presser, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Digital Business Development at Denmark’s Aarhus University, and a member of the NGI Pointer management team. “We have to completely rethink the web architecture – which is why we welcome such a wide range of ideas.”

Two ongoing projects demonstrate the benefits of a new web architecture compared with the one currently in use. At the science and technology university ETH Zurich, computer scientist Adrian Perrig is pursuing his vision of a more decentralized and, consequently, secure internet in a project known as SCION. This involves breaking down the existing global internet into a number of ‘isolation domains’ for better management of the data flow. Senders themselves can control the path taken by data packets within a domain or between domains – opting for either faster or more secure transmission. 

Focus on industrial security 

Another approach is the brainchild of World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who is seeking to solve the problem of data protection via a platform dubbed ‘Solid’, which enables users to manage their own data in ‘pods’. Those who opt to leave a social network will be able to take their data with them – and the IT group running the platform in question will have no further access to it.

The issue of cybersecurity – one of the major scourges faced by the online community – is as central here as it is for NGI Pointer. When the TCP/IP communications architecture was invented in the 1970s, security was not the overriding priority; the primary objective was to link computer networks around the globe. Put simply, this has left ordinary consumers exposed to identity theft, credit card fraud and the invasion of privacy (whether they realize it or not), while companies and authorities are now grappling with the ever-present threat of espionage, blackmail Trojans and even sabotage.

Industrial sectors in transition

To date, the NGI initiative has funded some 300 European projects to the tune of around EUR 200,000 apiece. It remains to be seen which NGI Pointer project ideas will ultimately win out. All of them, however, should have the potential to ring in a new internet era. And that will transform industry, too. “We can expect the next generation internet to have the potential to transform the entire industrial landscape – providing even better security and greater stability,” says Oropeza.

by Hubertus Breuer

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