Industrial Network Cybersecurity

Simplifying Secure Access: Enabling Rockwell Automation Remote PLC Access Without a VPN

Enabling Zero Trust Architecture to streamline Rockwell Automation remote PLC access without requiring a VPN improves security while still allowing your crucial users to remotely access systems for critical client support. In this piece, we’ll explore the security implications of legacy VPNs and delve into how Rockwell Studio 5000™ suite can be used remotely, sans VPN, to securely and easily program industrial devices like PLCs.

In today’s evolving manufacturing landscape, straightforward and secure access to Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) is pivotal for optimizing production processes.

Ensuring seamless remote PLC access is becoming more of a necessity for many organizations. However, achieving top-tier security best practices without sacrificing efficiency can be challenging, mainly due to the inherently broad access challenges associated with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other outdated security approaches. 

The VPN Challenge

VPNs have been the traditional choice for secure remote access for over 25 years. And they have proven to be effective in securing data transmission between remote users and the central network. However, they have some notable drawbacks, especially in Industrial Control Systems’ programming:

  1. Security Vulnerabilities: OT systems must live on an air-gapped network. However, industrial air-gapping often prevents or limits just-in-time access to OT and industrial control systems, leading to long repair cycles, customer complaints, increased costs, and workarounds. Keeping these systems off the public internet remains essential to prevent risks, but leveraging an antiquated VPN for vendor and remote access can actually compromise your air gap, by bridging disparate networks together, ultimately leaving these vital systems vulnerable to cyber threats.
  2. Complex Setup: Setting up a VPN can be complex and time-consuming when defining security rules at the network layer, requiring IT expertise that many manufacturing engineers may not possess.
  3. Performance Issues: VPNs can introduce latency and reduce network performance, potentially impacting real-time control and PLC monitoring.
  4. User Experience: VPNs can be cumbersome for end-users, requiring them to install and configure additional software on their devices.

VPNs are also limited in the security they offer. While the perimeter protection model they offer is based on establishing a secure boundary around a trusted network, the concept is no longer ideally suited to the distributed nature of today’s Industrial Control Systems. This approach also lacks the requisite flexibility, visibility, scalability, and user-friendly experience that modern manufacturers need.

In particular, the challenge posed by using the Rockwell Automation suite of software such as FactoryTalk™ Linx Browser (FTLinx), or RSLinx™ Classic to access PLCs within an Industrial Control System facility should be facilitated by a solution that makes EthernetIP connectivity to remote PLCs transparent to the user and the underlying software tools, which maintaining performance and security.

Embracing VPN-less Remote PLC Access

The ideal way to achieve VPN-less PLC access is through a Zero-Trust security model. 

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a cyber security framework that is built on the ‘never trust, always verify’ principle. It presumes threats both outside and inside the network, negating any inherent trust. All users and devices, even those within the network, undergo continuous authentication and authorization.

Implementing Zero Trust in OT requires a thorough understanding of all assets and resources. With this knowledge, companies can apply granular security controls, prioritize continuous authentication (especially for vendors and other partners), and enforce protection at multiple network points. 

In contrast to a VPN approach, a VPN-less approach built on a foundation of Zero Trust provides considerable advantages:

Heightened Security

Enabling Rockwell Automation remote PLC access through Zero Trust fortifies the entire OT network and its PLCs against cyber threats. By leveraging modern features like role-based access control, end-to-end encryption, micro-segmentation, and two-factor authentication, you can safeguard these systems from unauthorized access. With this in mind, it becomes possible to use clients such as RSLinx™ and RSWho and seamlessly combine them with two-factor authentication.

Simplified Remote Access

Zero Trust, when implemented well, greatly simplifies remote access without compromising security. For example, Agilicus achieves this by enforcing user authentication (both internal and external) with the existing identity provider such as Azure/Office 365 or Google Suite login. And it only grants users access to the resources they need to do their work with the least amount of continuously validated privileges. When enabled, an organization can choose who gets to access PLCs with Rockwell Studio5000™, and what operations they can undertake.

Enhanced Productivity

In manufacturing, downtime equals lost revenue and time. A VPN-less, Zero Trust-based environment boosts productivity and efficiency. It elevates the user experience and maintains strong network performance to streamline operations while ensuring unparalleled transparent security in the process. The end user can not access multiple PLCs across multiple sites without the need to re-establish VPN connectivity to individual locations. PLCs can even be deployed with overlapping internal IP address spaces on a site-by-site basis and still be accessible.


Shifting from a VPN infrastructure to a VPN-less setup is economical. VPNs often demand investments in hardware, software, and maintenance. Transitioning away saves capital and operational costs.

See Zero Trust in Action: On-Demand Rockwell Automation Remote PLC Access Platform Showcase

Enabling VPN-less Rockwell Automation remote PLC access within a Zero Trust model offers comprehensive benefits that extend beyond remote access alone. At Agilicus, we maximize easy access to your PLCs for employees and vendors alike while strengthening security in the process. 

Witness its prowess in our on-demand platform showcase and explore how the Agilicus Zero Trust solution can redefine your manufacturing operations.