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The Cyber Risks for Smart Cities of the Future


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The most successful cities in the world are in the throes of combining technology and access to information through the Internet of Things (IoT) to create enhanced efficiency and liveability for their citizens. Singapore is already using driverless taxis, while Tokyo has almost zero traffic issues thanks to its intelligent transportation system.

Other applications that are already being successfully utilised in smart cities include CCTV cameras and surveillance, street lighting and utilities such as power and water.

Singapore is already using driverless taxis, while Tokyo has almost zero traffic issues thanks to its intelligent transportation system. 

Hewlett Packard Enterprise report “The Internet of Things: Today and tomorrow” finds that 72 per cent of enterprise organisations have introduced IoT devices and sensors into the workplace — from sensor lighting to air-conditioning and mobile personal devices, with more than three-quarters of the surveyed companies reporting increased profitability as a result.

Coupled with the rise in IoT is the growth in “Intelligent Edge” applications which enable automated software (AI) to make decisions within seconds where required. It can be successfully used in situations where latency or delays in responsiveness are simply not an option, such as driverless vehicles.

Mick Grossfeldt, General Manager of Technology Consulting at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, explains: “With Intelligent Edge, it is even more important to get security right as mistake shave the potential to impact life and death situations. In about 15 years, I think we will find Intelligent Edge and IoT applications almost mainstream in our society.

“It is crucial that businesses and governments get their cyber-security in order, with robust management solutions to underpin the strategy. Hackers seem to always be one step ahead, and those managing smart cities and councils can’t afford to fall behind.

“There is no point having a wonderful solution if it is left vulnerable. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that cybersecurity is on the agenda. If it is not secure, people simply won’t use it,” he says.

“There is no point having a wonderful solution if it is left vulnerable." 

The risks are indeed large if not managed correctly. Especially, when you consider that 57 per cent of smart cities already rely on IoT for building security and almost a third for smart street lighting.

IoT devices have already been attacked by Brickerbot, a system that searches out and bricks insecure IoT devices and renders them useless. The first version attacked about a thousand devices and alternate versions attacked thousands more. It disabled the devices by formatting the internal memory. In April 2017, Hajime Botnet was detected, which hacked into at least 10,000 vulnerable 'Internet of Things' devices, such as home routers and Internet-connected cameras, using a botnet malware in order to supposedly secure them.

Without staying ahead of the game in terms of cyber security, smart cities run a real risk of becoming inoperable. Already, we have seen some worrying attacks: In 2015 — Kiev’s power grid was attacked, leaving 225,000 people affected. Considering advanced metering infrastructure and smart micro-grids are on the rise, adding thousands of IoT devices to the grid, in the future, failures could be catastrophic.

Singapore has already experienced online leaks of surveillance footage, with more than 7,000 webcam feeds leaked online. That included apartment interiors, parking spaces, and offices. Protecting the security of personal and private information should be paramount for businesses and governments.

In 2016, a water utility company was hacked, and the chemical composition of its drinking water was altered. Although the location of the utility has never been revealed, it still poses a concern, especially when one considers Singapore is currently developing a smart water assessment network with real-time water quality monitoring. It does not take a huge leap to imagine how this sort of attack could impact thousands of people if cybersecurity was not a priority. 

It does not take a huge leap to imagine how this sort of attack could impact thousands of people if cybersecurity was not a priority.  

In Australia, many cities and councils are looking to implement smart city strategies with the Australian Government publishing its Smart Cities Plan2 in 2016 and creating incentives through City Deals. These aim to bring together ‘the three levels of government, the community and private enterprise to create place-based partnerships and align the planning,investment and governance necessary to accelerate growth and job creation, stimulate urban renewal and drive economic reforms.’

South East Queensland is underway in investigating the possibility of the creation of Smart Cities, says Grossfeldt: “Brisbane City Council has already held meetings to identify ways it can utilise IoT and is looking at being one of the first smart cities in Australia, and Gold Coast City Council was investigating options up to 12 months ago.”

The Federal Government has also flagged the first three City Deals in Townsville, Launceston, and Western Sydney as being well underway.

With knowledge of what has already happened in the past in other smart cities overseas, businesses, councils, and governments need to factor cybersecurity as high management priority for our cities of the future.

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