Skip to main content

Back to Blog

Twin to Win: Security Pros and Cons of Digital Twins

Digital twins have become an increasingly popular technology in recent years, with applications in fields such as manufacturing, healthcare, and even smart cities. As the technology expands, however, potential security concerns need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

What are Digital Twins?

At its core, a digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical object or system. This replica is created using real-time data collected from sensors and other sources and is used to simulate the behavior and performance of the physical object in a virtual environment.

By using advanced technology and sensors, these digital twins can mimic the behavior and characteristics of their physical counterparts. The uses are particularly powerful when combined with augmented reality and virtual reality systems.

One of the benefits of digital twins is that they allow for more efficient and cost-effective testing and development of new products and systems. By simulating the performance of a physical object in a virtual environment, designers and engineers can identify potential issues and make adjustments before physical prototypes are built. This can save time and resources—so it’s likely that the industry will see additional investment in digital twins in the coming years.

Digital models are also frequently used to train personnel on advanced systems—another way of improving safety and reducing risk.

However, the use also presents a number of potential security concerns. 

As Mike Wilson writes for Readwrite, “Digital twins often include back-channel connections and communications with the real environment.” Digital twins are often connected to the real network (or even the real, physical machine) meaning they create another vector that threat actors are keen to target.

For example, if a digital twin is used to simulate the behavior of a system such as a power plant or a sports stadium, an attacker could potentially gain access to the digital twin and use it to carry out a cyber attack on the physical system.

Another security concern is the increased amount of people who have access to the technology. As with any area of security, the threat surface grows with more points of access and more users with access permissions. These problems can be introduced through personnel’s poor security habits, including anything from inadvertently falling for a phishing scam, or the all too common reuse of passwords. Since digital twins often rely on real-time data collected from sensors and other sources, any breach of these data sources could potentially compromise the security of the digital twin as well as the physical system it represents.

It’s Not All Bad…

It’s worth noting that, despite the looming security concerns, digital models can also have security benefits. Modeling a network with a digital twin can be an effective way to conduct more aggressive penetration testing than might be allowed on the actual production network—allowing red teams to properly test the digital environment without worrying about messing with business operations.

Digital twins can also be used to test the physical security of buildings. Being able to rapidly model the impact of an attack on a physical system can allow for longer-term protection and the identification of design flaws.

Taking Steps to Mitigate Risk

To address these concerns, it is important to implement strong security measures for all parts of the system, not just the digital twin itself. This may include measures such as network segmentation, access control, and network traffic monitoring. Involving security practitioners early in the development process is critical. A security team will help ensure that digital twins are designed with a “least privilege” approach so that they are as far removed as possible from the physical environment.

Overall, while digital twins offer a number of benefits in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, it is essential to be aware of the potential security concerns associated with their use. By involving security teams from the start, implementing strong security measures, and monitoring for any signs of unusual activity, the use of digital models can be a safer process in the future.