Digital Twins Introduction

Digital Twin

Some background. I recently reviewed an Industrial Control System (ICS). If you purchase gas, have electricity in your home, drink a Pepsi or Coke, drive a car, etc., your experience has been enhanced by an ICS. Definition of an ICS:

An industrial control system (ICS) is an electronic control system and associated instrumentation used for industrial process control. Control systems can range in size from a few modular panel-mounted controllers to large interconnected and interactive distributed control systems (DCSs) with many thousands of field connections. Control systems receive data from remote sensors measuring process variables (PVs), compare the collected data with desired setpoints (SPs), and derive command functions that are used to control a process through the final control elements (FCEs), such as control valves.

Larger systems are usually implemented by supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, or DCSs, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), though SCADA and PLC systems are scalable down to small systems with few control loops.[1] Such systems are extensively used in industries such as chemical processing, pulp and paper manufacture, power generation, oil and gas processing, and telecommunications.”

Bottom line is that ICS is everywhere and touches just about anything manufactured or processed in the world.

There is the CIA triad. Industrial Control systems started at a time that availability was the primary goal. Confidentiality and Integrity were , for the most part, not addressed. It was thought that if you put an ICS inside a DMZ, all was well. That was well before phishing and insider threats became so successful around the globe. Stuxnet, Iran, and the compromise of a secret nuclear facility, demonstrated that systems based upon SCADA, Microsoft Windows, and PLCs, inside air gaped facilities, were vulnerable.

Back on track. One goal that I had was to show how leveraging Azure IOT services and Defender, could help in remediating attacks on systems that passed control information in open text formats. While I was thinking about that problem, I remembered papers and books that I had read on Digital Twins. One thing leading to another.

Definition of a Digital Twin from IBM:

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data, and uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making”

The idea is basic. There is a physical object. The physical object can be a valve, a collection of parts that make up an automobile, or even a human being.

Then there is a virtual object that maps to the physical object. The physical object is monitored and sends information to the virtual object. The virtual object analyzes the information sent from the physical object. With an automobile, the virtual object can predict when the brakes need to be replaced. With the human, the virtual object, social media, can predict what you might like to buy based upon how you are feeling. Think about that. There is a model, who you are, what you like, dislike, and your mental state at a specific point in time, in your free social media account.

Digital Twins, the idea, is about improving products and process flow. May sound simple – obvious- but this is huge. It is a major paradigm shift in what it means to buy something.

There was a time that you walked into a store, selected a product, purchased the product, and the product was your property. If you had a problem, you reached out to support, and with some effort and luck, your problem was resolved.

Now, when you walk in to a store, you pay for a product. Folks that leverage Digital Twins get the buyer of the product to allow the manufacturer to collect usage and status data. The manufacturer uses the data to make a better product. But at the same time, the manufacturer is learning from the data, making more money from the data and in some cases controlling use of the product. See this article on John Deere — same thing for Caterpillar Tractor.

I will follow up on the integration of Digital Twins, Azure IOT, and Cyber security over the next few weeks. So many things changing so fast. So very interesting to see how something as basic a buying a product can have such a dramatic impact on your life.

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