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How can augmented reality be secured?

Global Trends
7 Mins.

The technology and infrastructure around augmented reality (AR) is maturing at a rapid pace, and for good reason. AR enables interaction between the real world and virtual objects in real time – a capability that has become indispensable in a post-pandemic world

The coronavirus pandemic has caused virtual working and learning environments to reign supreme. AR is proliferating across every major sector – including, but not limited to, automotive, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, construction, and marketing – with a growing number of use cases in both consumer and B2B environments. The usage of AR in B2B contexts is becoming increasingly crucial, as conveyed by the rising number of applications across numerous fields.  According to the latest IDC report, spending on AR/VR technology across the world is expected to experience a CAGR of 54% between 2020 and 2024, reaching $72.8 billion in 2024.1

Importantly, the technology opens up new avenues for learning and improving processes. Mixed-reality glasses, such as Microsoft HoloLens, can now be used in preoperative surgical planning to decrease surgical time,2 or even to make brain surgeries safer.3 AR is also becoming an invaluable sales and marketing tool. It allows companies to conduct virtual 3-D property viewings,4 allows retail to add a digital component to physical locations and products, and makes it possible for central banks to inform citizens of new banknotes in a more comprehensive and interactive manner.  

 AR technology is affordable and highly efficient, meaning it also has a low carbon footprint. Most AR features can be used on existing smartphones, without the need for glasses or lenses, making the barrier to entry very low. Far from simply acting as a fun tool for consumers, it has numerous business applications that can trigger significant gains in efficiency or accuracy. In the manufacturing industry, it can lower a company’s costs and increase productivity by reducing machine downtime and cutting the need for physical travel.

Streamlining processes with augmented reality

Lonza Specialty Ingredients (LSI), a global partner to the specialty ingredients market, opted to employ AR technology in 2018 to aid its switch from paper-based to digital processes. They chose to work with leading Swiss software company Augment IT, a subsidiary of Netcetera, which partnered with G+D last year. Using Augment IT’s expertise allowed them to adopt more efficient and sophisticated testing and analysis of machines, making teams more flexible and better organized. It also allowed training to be more easily scaled, gave staff more time for important tasks, and reduced bureaucracy.

Daniel Zollinger, Senior Team Lead of Manufacturing at LSI, says, “On the one hand, using AR technology reduces the effort required for inspection, because, rather than going through all check items as usual, managers can focus specifically on items that were reported as defects. On the other hand, it creates possibilities for detailed data evaluations.”

“Acceptance of digital systems has fundamentally increased within the context of the pandemic, as it has helped to overcome people’s natural resistance towards new systems“
Daniel Zollinger
Senior Team Lead, Manufacturing, LSI

Therefore, AR is an important technological innovation. It helps to significantly support machine availability and optimize processes. “The decision to work with Augment IT was already made before the pandemic,” explains Zollinger. “However, it is certainly the case that acceptance of digital systems has fundamentally increased within the context of the pandemic, as it has helped to overcome people’s natural resistance towards new systems.”

AR in remote maintenance and visual support

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of and demand for augmented technology as it has changed our mindset about remote work, and with it the need for physical attendance of experts. AR, together with cloud technology, has become a crucial component of visual support and training. G+D Visual Support for maintenance of machines, for example, utilizes a smartphone AR app to troubleshoot and solve issues, perform acceptance processes, and enable virtual site visits from afar. Implemented easily on most smartphones, such applications reduce travel, save costs, minimize machine downtime, and decrease emissions.

Training using virtual reality is also near implementation. By transforming CAD data into 3-D models of machines that can be presented in a virtual room, both in-person and remote training sessions can be greatly enriched.

Solving the ever-present problem: cybersecurity

A man controlls cybersecurity of Augmented Reality

As with all booming technology trends that are rapidly adopted by society, cybersecurity concerns must always be taken into consideration. AR presents two major cybersecurity problems. The first, commonly referred to as the man-in-the-middle attack, is the ability for data to be stolen in the communication channels – someone could, for example, retrieve information about how a machine functions or is constructed or access the CAD data within it, thereby learning how to solve a particular problem. This was crucial for LSI in their manufacturing plants. The second major issue would be the ability to change a process. Hackers could manipulate control values or delete control tasks, which would result in incorrect handling from then on.

In order to secure AR, we must consider both the hardware and the software. On-device security protects the actual device – whether it be AR glasses, a smartphone, or a tablet – and must therefore be installed on the hardware itself. Here, access protection is key. Build38, a company that provides mobile security frameworks for enterprises, offers a security anchor called Trusted Application Kit, or T.A.K, to secure apps in high-security contexts, such as mobile banking.

Christian Schläger, CEO and Co-Founder of Build38, says, “At a minimum, the requirements from other regulated sectors, such as healthcare or finance, apply to industrial IoT and critical infrastructures when it comes to data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. When using external devices, the provider has to create a secure island for its solution to protect its software against modification or piracy and to be able to constantly prove that all processes have been executed correctly and carefully.”

Build38 is working together with industrial giant Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen on a mobile app that allows service providers to install software for infrastructure via a smartphone. Dr. Manuel Sojer, Executive Director of Corporate Development at Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen, says, “By using existing IT infrastructure … we digitize interaction and increase effectiveness and efficiency for all parties involved.” He also asserts that guaranteeing the authenticity of software and securely encrypting communication in critical infrastructure must be prioritized.

The second component of securing AR entails “before-device” security, which creates a secure environment outside the hardware. This must allow an internet-independent use of AR by securing and protecting all necessary data and communication. secunet, a leading German cybersecurity company, provides comprehensive security for critical infastructures. Its solution secunet edge protects new digital functionalities and connectivity for a wide range of applications in Industry 4.0 and the industrial internet of things.

“Bringing the technology around AR together requires partners, as everything around innovation and security can’t be achieved alone“
Jens Kulikowski
Business Developer, secunet

According to Jens Kulikowski, Business Developer at secunet, cybersecurity for AR – like many security issues – shouldn’t be treated in isolation. “Technologies like IoT, edge computing, AR, cloud, and digital identities must work harmoniously together in order to be effective, sustainable, and secure. Connecting these elements enhances security and creates added value. Bringing the technology around AR together requires partners, as everything around innovation and security can’t be achieved alone.”

The future of augmented reality

AR has an ever-increasing number of impressive use cases, which will continue to expand in the coming years. From AR meeting platforms using HoloLens to the virtual supermarket of the future, AR has been firmly established as a key technology of our time. But as the technology matures and grows, so too must the security infrastructure behind it.

Similarly exciting security features, such as eye tracking and biometric authentication, will be used in conjunction with AR technology to enable users to choose their own security. However, data privacy and security must be balanced. In the future, even more will be done to strengthen the security of augmented reality as it develops.

With highly sophisticated solutions to secure both AR software and hardware, combined with people’s increased open-mindedness towards and confidence with new digital tools, there has never been a better time to pursue AR applications in the B2B environment. Engage more closely with customers, save time, and increase efficiency, all while upholding the highest levels of security, by exploring exciting new applications of AR technology.

  1. “Worldwide spending on augmented and virtual reality,” IDC, 2020

  2. “The use of Microsoft HoloLens in medicine and medical education,” 3DforScience

  3. “AR in neurosurgery,” Augment IT, 2018

  4. “Major estate agency to offer virtual reality viewings,” Property Industry Eye, 2018

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