Smart cities are becoming increasingly popular. Cities across the world are starting to use technology that will connect their services and residents in ways that many of us would think came out of a science fiction novel. They are using sensors to collect data – about public utilities, traffic, garbage collection, road conditions, traffic signals, public transportation and so much more. They’re using that data to deliver services to more people and in a more efficient way. But with the addition of this technology, comes its own set of problems – including hackers.
It’s not difficult to understand that the more connected a city is, the more vulnerable it is to cyberattacks. In fact, in recent years, hackers have effectively held cities hostage through ransomware. When this happens it can cripple critical systems for months at a time. The damage can cost millions to repair as two major U.S. cities have come to learn. Both Baltimore and Atlanta have discovered just how difficult it is to get back on their feet.
This is just the beginning. More cities are starting to add connectivity to their streetlights, power grids, water systems, and transit lines. By doing this, they are adding more targets that have the potential to get hacked. It’s not just the system that is in jeopardy with smart cities, its resident data as well. More and more officials are starting to worry that the results of the data they have in their possession could attract nefarious individuals who want to do harm. This could be physical or by way of cyber warfare campaigns.
The great thing about this is that we now know what the problem is – or could be. That gives cities an advantage to stop these attacks before they happen. Let’s take a look at some of the most vulnerable places in a smart city:
Sensors, Data, and Privacy
Sensors are at the center of a smart city. They are placed on traffic lights, garbage cans, street lights and buildings in order to collect data. Some of this data might be air pollution levels or the number of cars that pass by in the course of a day. These sensors transmit data to a collection station, which can then use that information to be able to start solving some problems. A hacker can intercept this flow of data with the possibility of transmitting erroneous data. Thus making the whole idea of a smart city moot. Once a city installs these Internet of Things (IoT) sensors over a larger area, the opportunities for hackers to inflict damage grow.
Energy and Water Supply Systems
Smart technology allows for more efficient distribution of power and water in urban areas. Especially in regions that have a high daytime population. Once you pair this with monitoring technologies, smart grids can divert power to areas of high demand, or lessen the supply in areas that don’t need it while others do. Let’s be honest. Our current way of using energy is archaic and too simplistic to support modern cities. By adding smart technology, power companies have more data about who is using energy, how much, and when.
The concern here is that malicious software could disable entire power plants. In fact, the NotPetya malware was spread through a power system in Ukraine in 2017. In that instance, more than 225,000 people were without power.
While we are all being extra vigilant right now when it comes to cybersecurity and our own privacy, we also have to not let that hysteria impede innovation. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any cyber attacks. But without the threat of hackers, there wouldn’t be a need for security. You might think that it’s a chicken and egg type situation, but the truth is, this is how industries grow and improve. By understanding where we are vulnerable, we have the capability to protect ourselves. If cities are “smart” they will weigh the risks before implementing new technologies.
The future is here, whether we like it or not.