General security

Top Cyber Security Challenges in Smart Cities

Ifeanyi Egede
March 1, 2018 by
Ifeanyi Egede

In the recent past, the idea of smart cities was only conceptualized in sci-fi movies and books of fiction. Today, however, that idea is rapidly transitioning from imaginative realms into realities. Just as smart cities spring up across the globe, they also have created a unique security-threat paradigm. As a result, this is plagued by cybercriminals determined to cause havoc at the slightest opportunity.

In response, industry insiders together with future city planners recognize the need to address these type of security issues. Unlike the conventional security issues of the past, the cybersecurity requirements of smart cities are new and constantly evolve around the latest trends in technology and innovations. Security experts would be well-served to review some of the already proposed solutions to identify the threat landscape that might plague tomorrow's smart cities.

Gadgets such as smart energy meters, smart micro health appliances, and smart security devices provide unprecedented advantages, thus further improving people's lives. With new interconnectivity of surveillance systems; automation in various cities; service provisions such as emergency responders, water, disaster management, sanitation and infrastructure, the scope of efficiencies in the Smart City is ever-expanding.

Integrated systems such as private and public intelligent transportation will be able to gather information about traffic updates, as well as GPS location and weather conditions. This uses shared data in real time. Because of this, the benefits must be weighed against the potential dangers that come with such massive interconnectivity.

Let's examine the entangled challenges relating to security and privacy in the Smart City, where causing harm can include obtaining information illegally or an interruption of services. As more and more digital citizens see their daily activities and whereabouts become tracked and logged, privacy vanishes.

Systems that offer privacy protections for an individual's data are often interconnected in a closed-loop circuitry to emergency response service providers. Crucial elements herein include interactions between humans, servers and virtual things that require protection. Thus, prudent implementation concepts are essential to counter security challenges that come hand in hand for a smart city.

Security Vulnerabilities in The Smart City Infrastructure

One of the major concerns regarding smart cities and the buildings therein is that the equipment and the sensors that relay data can be hacked into easily. The hacker can then cause signal failures and all kinds of wide scale, such as shutting down of subways or injecting contaminants into the mainstream water supply.

Producers of software and hardware often release such products without much forethought to the security features being implemented. Governments often check and test such products, mainly on functionality, but often the cybersecurity parameters are left out. Experts estimate that there are about 200,000 traffic control sensors vulnerable to manipulation in various cities worldwide including London, Washington D.C, and New York.

Unfortunately, most vendors Smart Cities are either unaware of cybersecurity or lack the personnel with the technical know-how on how to address these issues.

Complex and Massive Attack Area

The more that there are operational integrated computer systems in a Smart City and the more data that is shared and collated openly by those systems, the "smarter" the city becomes. Dr. Simon Moores, director of Zentelligence Research and a highly-regarded futurologist expert, described at a recent IFSEC conference that the integration of buildings in a Smart City that is already outfitted with electric doors, lighting, electric meters and HVAC sensors could be an intractable problem.

The Ramifications of a Cyber Attack

Ransomware attacks on enterprises occur at an alarming rate. This is one of the most prevalent cybersecurity vulnerabilities faced by businesses today. The challenges brought about by integration are not only highly-technical but also underscore the functional interdependencies that exist within a Smart City.

For instance, if the subways do not function and people fail to report to work, then chaos results. Hackers know about this "avalanche effect" and can use it to launch an attack on poorly secured installations that may seem non-critical. This would cause a massive chain reaction of destruction.

The term "critical" may not apply to all cities in equal measure. For instance, the economy of Las Vegas is quite reliant on casinos; yet casinos are not regarded as "critical" regarding being an actual infrastructure for the city. The level of complexity differs based on the size and age of the city.

Blurred Oversight and Planning

If and when there is indeed a Cyber-attack on a Smart City infrastructure, which should be held responsible? Experts at the IFSEC conference concurred with Dr. Moores when he said that many Smart Cities still have no clear vision statement regarding a cybersecurity leadership hierarchy.

Smart Cities need to establish operational centers that are specific not only for purposes of sharing information but also for the counter-checking of vulnerabilities across functions and to establish a contingency response.

Budgets and Political Shifts

The biggest challenge for the citizenry is to, in effect, "train" political leaders to take seriously the budget allocation for security matters that are relevant to a Smart City. However, budgets are subject to change in the public sector almost after every election cycle. If the elected official is voted out of office, that would mean starting over the whole process of re-educating and re-selling.

Often, leaders transform their attitudes towards security only after a security breach or Cyber-attack has actually occurred. The public sector often lacks the manpower with the relevant technical know-how on cybersecurity. This stands in sharp contrast to the private sector that is endowed with talented people due to better remuneration.

Security issues in Smart Cities are happening in real time. Some key aspects need to be taken into consideration; one of which is forming collective security partnerships between the police and vendors of relevant products.

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Second, enhancing laws that deal with cybercrime while at the same time keeping a check on hackers that prey on video-sharing sites and the various social media platforms are essential components of robust countermeasures for a Smart City.

Ifeanyi Egede
Ifeanyi Egede

Ifeanyi Egede is an experienced and versatile freelance writer and researcher on security related issues with tons of published works both online and in the print media. He has close to a decade of writing experience. When he is not writing, he spends time with his lovely wife and kids. Learn more about how Ifeanyi Egede could be of help to your business at