Computer Crime Research Center


Cyber security breaches threaten, 2006 forecasts

Date: December 24, 2005
By: Bob Felton

... NIPC, include slowing or complicating the response to a physical attack. For instance, a cyber attack that disabled the water supply or the electrical system, in conjunction with a physical attack, could deny emergency services the necessary resources to manage the consequences of the physical attack—such as controlling fires, coordinating actions, and generating light.

Better systems, tools emerge

If the horizon appears crowded with vaguely-defined perils, there is also a lot to look forward to. First and foremost, instruments and the electronic ganglia that connect them are improving steadily, increasing productivity and reducing costs.

After years of hype, lights-out manufacturing is quietly becoming a reality, allowing plants to reliably increase productivity without increasing personnel, or maintain productivity levels while reducing personnel levels.

Similarly, true floor-to-boardroom communications amongst a wide range of legacy systems is taking hold. Whirlpool just completed a worldwide harmonization of disparate systems that gives users customized reports in HTML format they can access using a Web browser.

Better tools are in the pipeline, too.

The National Institute of Standards' Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL) is conducting a series of research projects that aim to ease the production of nanoproducts while improving their quality, extending their usage into areas that not so long ago were the stuff of science fiction.

In the movie Fantastic Voyage , a team of scientists is shrunk to microscopic size in order to travel through a critically ill man's bloodstream to carry out a delicate repair to his brain. That isn't going to happen, but nanotechnology and medicine are teaming up to deliver therapies almost as fantastical. According to the 2005 edition of MEL's annual report, "nanoparticle drug delivery systems (NDS) are a generic technology that is currently under intense development by the health-care community for a broad range of applications. The NDS payload may consist of not only gene-carrying DNA but, for instance, regulatory proteins that turn on or off specific cellular processes."

Mindful of the growing importance of nanotechnology throughout industry, MEL has initiated a number of programs that aim to support manufacturing. The Small Force Metrology Laboratory provides accurate force standards to researchers and manufacturers that employ micro and nanomechanical tests for product development, fabrication, and quality control. Forces from millinewtons down to nanonewtons, commonly measured in industry and academe using devices such as instrumented indentation machines and atomic force microscopes, can now be realized with traceable relative uncertainties less than 0.01% at loads near a micronewton.

Machining of small parts is about to get better, too; currently, the laboratory is investigating the feasibility of utilizing micro-level wire electrical discharge machining technology for use in creating precision components, complex geometric mechanical parts, and assemblies.

Strength in MEMs

Micro-electromechanical (MEMs) systems are also getting better. In October, Rice University researchers reported they had created "a single molecule nanocar containing a chassis, axles, and four wheels ... the first to roll on four wheels in a direction perpendicular to its axles." Its creation evidences the steady improvement of the ability to create special purpose molecules, which means manufacturers, can expect to see more application-specific materials and delicate instruments.

Even as the tools used by manufacturers improve, consumers are increasingly demanding one-of-a-kind products tailored to their specific needs. Accordingly, build-to-order, which was scarcely more than a pipedream five years ago, is today becoming the norm. Dell pioneered build-to-order, and Sony announced in August it will offer custom-built computers in Japan, including its popular VAIO model.

Integra, a maker of high-end home theater systems, said in January it, too is now taking custom orders. Kayak manufacturer Action Fish has joined the act, taking it a step further. During kayak building, customers receive updates on the construction of their wood-built kayak via a private Web site, including photographs. Customers can also receive direct e-mail and phone contact with the builder.

This doesn't mean the end of the production line, but it means greater use of standardized, interchangeable components, and some tweaking of the production line. If done properly, build-to order means greater profits; factory direct sales eliminate retailers.

Indeed, build-to-order is so pervasive it has spawned its own support industry—software developers who specialize in creating packages that support online specification of the myriad details of a purchase, collect payment, and send the details to bookkeeping and the plant floor.

If the only constant is change, as the old adage has it, then 2006 will be business as usual—only more so as exceptional opportunities and unfamiliar dangers jostle for attention. The automation industry is enjoying the best business environment in years as the mature economies upgrade and new facilities come online in the developing world. Opportunity beckons as new technologies become available and competition compels their adoption.

From rising fuel prices and declining interest in science and engineering careers in the developed countries to the emergence of computer crime as an industry in its own right, successful firms will be looking not only forward, but over their shoulder.
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