Cybersecurity Risks Associated with Smart Cities

Jun 11, 2021
5 min read

We are currently living in an interconnected digital world influenced by technology. Technology is transforming our daily lives and affecting businesses tremendously worldwide. People will be the most benefitted from the technology with enhanced lifestyle and quality of public services. The governance and routine processes involved in government offices and companies also adopt new technologies for better productivity and efficient performance.

Modern technology brings intelligence into each domain by providing valuable information and scientifically data-derived decisions. Intelligent infrastructure, connectivity, smart agriculture, smart cities are some of the typical results from integrated technological solutions.

This article focuses on smart cities, the technologies behind smart city development, and their vulnerability to cybersecurity risks. The article closes with a short discussion on future smart cities.

What Is A Smart City?

A smart city is not just a widespread and hyped-up concept among people. Many metro cities around the world are using digital technologies to make their services better for citizens. There are interconnected services provided by local governance; Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and traffic control are the common examples of how technology makes daily transportation easy and smooth.

A smart city uses technology to improve the quality of service and life of its citizen. Smart cities solely depend on technologies to improve management, services, and operations. Precise decision-making is vital for smooth and seamless processes in all smart city associated sectors, such as private, public, and voluntary sectors. Officials use technological solutions to acknowledge present situations and future changes and optimize the city functions and provide solutions accordingly.

A smart city has every node connected by the technology, from transport systems, power distributions, street lights to homes. The data is collected from each node to improve its service and make citizens’ lives better and easier. For example, smart energy solutions reduce the energy consumption on streets, offices, and homes.

The United Nations estimates about 68% of the global population will be in urban areas by 2050. Urban populations are the cause of significant environmental, economic and societal challenges. These challenges can be reduced with intelligence technology resources without sacrificing the quality of city life.

A smart city is an interconnected network of devices such as sensors, smartphones, communication networks, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices share data with city officials, engineers, managers, and administrators over the internet. The meaningful information is extracted from the data, and various city operations and tasks are accomplished.

Smart City Development Technologies

Smart city infrastructure development has several technical and non-technical building blocks. As smart city services depend on the data, the digital infrastructure to collect, transmit, analyze, store, and share data is essential. IoT devices need a 24X7 internet connection for which robust 5G communication network infrastructure is a crucial parameter. The design, development, production, integration, and performance of each layer of this infrastructure must be fully functional with standards followed.

Each smart city requirement will be different, and so the infrastructure and technologies used in building the smart city. However, each smart city infrastructure needs to overcome its weaknesses through strengths and unique features. But, some fundamental technologies remain the same in the development of smart cities, such as information and communication technology (ICT), IoT, sensors, geospatial technology, AI, blockchain, data analytics, and ML.

Sophisticated sensors are used to collect data from various locations. This data is pre-processed and transmitted through wireless sensor networks to the central control room. The software algorithms based on data analytics, AI and ML process the data and provide helpful information, patterns and structures that help experts make the most accurate decisions. A real-life example of this is tracking and monitoring daily data, and traffic control signals which can be adjusted automatically based on peak traffic time.

Cities are already adapting different existing technologies and making citizen’s life less complicated, but smart cities will be entirely different in terms of functioning and controlling their assets. Though technologies remain at the center of smart city development, there is a dark side of cybersecurity threats and risks from technological dependencies.

Cybersecurity Risks Associated with Smart Cities

Smart city works on central control; and its various systems, services and departments that are controlled by central management. Automatic management is one of the attractive features of smart cities: the blessing of intelligence and precision of advanced technologies.

Internet-connected devices like cameras and sensors are installed everywhere in the city that collects enormous data. The data ranges from general monitoring to suspecting activities such as unauthenticated access to private or secure assets in the city. It is then transmitted to the central control over wireless networks and cloud-based data management systems. The analysis and decision-making are carried out by tracking data points with high intelligence and capacity.

Now, all that looks very simple, but there are several potholes to this concept. Though smart city features exist already, they are not yet fully functional and secured. Many technologies are involved in the interconnected network that is not entirely evolved, properly synchronized and integrated. The complexity of interlinked networks is very high. It leaves room for cybercrime such as identity theft, data & asset theft, device hijacking, distributed Denial-of-Service (DoS), Man-In-the-Middle attacks, physical disruption, and ransomware.

Smart cities are prone to cybersecurity risks that can disable the functioning of smart cities while putting their entire population in danger. The deeply interconnected systems that run smart cities are very complicated. Unfortunately, there are no standard guidelines and best practices available for all smart city stakeholders like governments, software providers, local businesses, security providers, energy providers, IoT device makers, communication network providers and so on. All stakeholders need to consider cybersecurity as a serious issue while allowing any new technology to be installed directly into smart city system infrastructure.

Smart city has physical, communication database and interface layers, and it is prone to cyberattacks at any layer. Each layer is integrated with more usage of technologies, which leads to more cybersecurity risks. Hackers get plenty of targets to attack from a network of thousands and millions of interconnected devices. Even unimportant unauthenticated access to the infrastructure can disrupt the entire smart city system. Therefore, care must be taken on the security and privacy of the data from ground level and safeguard it from falling into the wrong people’s hands.

It is not only technologies, but hackers are becoming intelligent and coming out with new techniques and kinds of attacks. That will need continuous monitoring, auditing and updating devices, authenticity and authority of actions carried out on the data.

Future Smart Cities

Smooth transportation, no traffic jam, smart garbage collection, clean streets, smart power grids, seamless connectivity, intelligent waste management, recycled resources, solar panels, and automatic devices are the perfect picture we can imagine for the future smart city. Everything in the city will be organized for citizens’ comfort, reducing power consumption and reducing pollution while improving public health and economic opportunities.

There is no doubt that smart city development will be a reality soon as many governments have already sanctioned intelligent city projects, and development has been started in several nations. Technologies will upgrade, and so the smart city infrastructure. Thus, smart city development will be a never-ending process. The only concern to adapting and integrating new technologies will be making sure top security, privacy and protection of the entire data.

Stakeholders should take early steps in securing smart cities at the start of the planning, during development and continue emphasizing security at each stage of the development and maintenance.