Tignis TV: Ahmik Hindman Interview

Author: Jon Herlocker


Welcome to Tignis TV. Hosted by Jon Herlocker—industry-leading technologist, former DARPA researcher, and Founder of Tignis—today’s episode features Ahmik Hindman, Networks and Security Solution Consultant at Rockwell Automation. Working for more than 24 years at the global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation, Hindman is a solution expert for IACS Networks and Security.

Much of the interview focuses on industrial automation and future technologies. Hindman begins by sharing key challenges customers face related to aging legacy control systems. With some facilities using 35-year-old controllers to run critical processes—along with disparate control systems and disparate networks—serious security and connectivity challenges can arise.

Asked how quickly he sees companies adopting newer technologies, Hindman notes that it varies based on industry. For some—like pulp and paper, and plywood mills—he sees less investment in upgrading of legacy systems. He discusses how legacy systems present special security concerns, which tend to be a driver in accelerated adoption of new systems. With newer control systems, COTS technology and standardized chip sets, modern control systems are not only more secure, but are more easily upgradable in the future.

For legacy systems, Hindman notes that when you use gateway technology to make equipment accessible via Ethernet networks, doing so can introduce security risks because the legacy equipment does not have built-in security features. You need mitigating controls for proper protection—else it can provide direct access to the industrial control system.

Continuing on the topic of security, Hindman emphasizes the importance of deploying defense and depth strategies—not just one solution. Defense and depth involve gateway protections, edge protections, and upgrading controllers. Multiple layers of defense are needed because it’s not a matter of if but when facilities might get hit. With so many risks, there’s really no such thing as a trusted network.

Asked whether he sees an increase in attacks on industrial control systems, Hindman notes that the most common attacks are in the form of ransom-ware, via phishing emails into IT networks and equipment. The purpose of attacks isn’t about damaging the control system per se, but rather locking up IT data. If the industrial control network isn’t properly segmented, then there’s a pivot point from the IT network to legacy control systems.

Hindman shares his views of digital twin systems and where are they bringing value in the industrial space. Linking the virtual models to actual controllers (software loop or hardware loop) allows for commissioning, testing and validation of the control system—all in a virtual environment.

Hindman also discusses the move from descriptive to prescriptive models. Rockwell has technology to see what’s really going on in the data, helping predict not only when failures will happen, but specifically what’s going to happen.

Asked about new technologies on the horizon that have him most excited, Hindman shares his interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), in combination with augmented reality (AR). With the expansion of AR, it’s now possible to walk up to a static item like a tank or pump, have the application recognize the target, overlay it with live process data from the control system, and display maintenance instructions. This can all be done using a smart phone or AR goggles. This is especially useful for displaying automated work instructions and helping transfer information/capabilities from an aging workforce to younger workers.