With an influx of approximately 1.3 million people into cities each week and the increasing demands of the tech-savvy population, the rise of smart cities was inevitable. The concept of a smart city is based on digital transformations intended to make the resident’s life better and ensure smooth functioning by integrating existing infrastructure with technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). While the concept of connected cars, homes, networks, and the ease it brings is certainly alluring, the biggest question to be answered is if it comes at the cost of our security? 

The blurring of physical and digital boundaries and the interconnectivity of devices & systems, has increased the threat of cyber attacks. A city that largely employs IoT technology with lapses in security, like lack of encryption and patching over the wire, will surely attract the attention of hackers who are probably rubbing their hands in glee. In 2017, hackers triggered 156 severe weather sirens in Dallas resulting in a flood of 911 calls. Cybersecurity, as a whole, has largely been overlooked when setting up smart cities and the consequences can be disastrous. A smart move would be to incorporate cybersecurity in the planning stage to prevent havoc at later stages.

Smart cities have tremendous business potential. In Doha, smart city developments have accelerated to accommodate tourists for the 2022 World Cup. The stakes to ensure a smooth World Cup journey is high and cybersecurity plays a crucial role.

Let’s look at some key points concerning the threats posed to cybersecurity and the ways to work around them

Establish a Cybersecurity Policy

Establishing a cybersecurity policy should be the starting point in the attempts to develop a fool-proof security plan. Creating a framework around data usage and privacy will ensure a clear understanding of the do’s and don’ts and raise awareness among the employees and residents. Ignorance is the root of all suffering. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of awareness concerning the threats posed on cyberspace. People/ organizations fail to recognize how easy it is for their information to not be private anymore and become victims of cyberattacks.

Risk assessment should be incorporated at every stage of the planning and execution process. The security needs to be tested to weed out the flaws. In fact, risk analysis should be done on a regular basis to stay ahead of the evolving and increasing cyberattacks.

Set Up Effective Fall Back Measures

With sensitive information on the line, it is important to have fallback measures in the event of an attack. The havoc that could be wrecked with access to financial, health, and other sensitive data is insurmountable. Multiple layers of authorization and security will damper the offensive attacks. It is advisable to maintain manual override systems to retake control in cases of infiltration. Strict punishments and prison time for cyber crimes will make the criminals rethink before engaging in such crimes. At present, the repercussions are not well-defined and provide room for ambiguity.

Secure the Data At the Source

A smart city is a complex structure of interconnected systems and the amount of data processed at any given time is staggering. Data should be protected at each stage of the exchange process. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the magnitude of the data being collected before a system goes live. Protecting individual identity should be the focal objective. Synchronizing and approaching a holistic approach to managing the complex ecosystem of smart cities is the way forward. 

The vulnerability of smart cities is further exploited by the connectivity of systems which makes it easy for hackers to gain access to connected systems upon targeting the least resilient point. One weak link can bring down the entire system.

Acquiring talented professionals to work around the evolving nature of cyberattacks is required to be undertaken by the governing body. Lack of skilled professionals is another challenge hindering the security efforts in smart cities.

There needs to be concentrated efforts on the part of the vendors, government, and device manufacturers to secure the technology and ensure the safety of the users. The collaboration is vital and it’s important to realize that the cost of damage control once the security is compromised is far greater than setting up a secure system. ‘Prevention is better than cure’.

 

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