Securing smart cities

Smart cities and the Internet of Things will massively increase the potential for security issues

Tags: Cisco-LinksysTrend Micro Incorporated
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Securing smart cities Mark Sutton, Senior Group Editor. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 21, 2014

The end of last year saw Dubai successful in its bid to host the 2020 World Expo. Alongside all of the hype and fanfare, in this issue we ask some of the experts in the sector for their thoughts on what the Expo, and Dubai’s new aim to become a ‘smart city’, will mean for the IT sector in region, and how technology will play its role in these new developments.

Dubai is not the only city with smart ambitions in the region. Elsewhere in the region, Saudi Arabia’s Economic Cities are continuing to slowly emerge, with STC recently appointed to deploy a 40km fibre optic network for Medina Economic Knowledge City. Qatar has three planned developments.

Of course, IT will be at the heart of much of these developments. The vision of a city that is alive with data, with multiple sensors providing data on anything from air quality to traffic flows, all feeding into connected and integrated systems to analyse and plan for the future. A very large component of this will be the increase machine to machine communications (M2M). IDC highlighted the smart cities trend in its 2014 predictions, with an expected rise in M2M spending in the GCC countries to grow by 19% this year, to reach $224m.

One subject that doesn’t seem to get much mention in the realm of smart cities, is cyber security. With tens of thousands of terminals and connected sensors, securing these connected systems will be a major challenge. Cisco’s vision of an internet of everything does include security, but the sheer scale of the task means that many are skeptical that it can be done.

In conversation last month with, Raimund Genes, chief technology officer, Trend Micro, he warned that security looks like it is becoming an afterthought in the internet of everything. At present, he points out, there is no economic benefit to hack M2M systems or smart city components, but that does not mean it will not be an issue in future. Genes also pointed out that ransomware is rampant at present — in November a police department in Massachusetts paid $750 to get its files back after being hit by the CryptoLocker ransomware.

While it was exceptionally poor behaviour by the police department to expose itself to this cyber threat, it just goes to show that anyone can be a target, and once there’s an economic imperative, cyber criminals will try just about anything. The possible scenarios of cyber attacks on massively connected smart cities might seem like the stuff of fiction, but there are already examples of just how possible these attacks are.

Everyone knows Stuxnet and the damage that it did to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Since the advent of Stuxnet however, researchers have looked more closely SCADA and industrial control systems, and found plenty of holes that will take a long time to fix.

In October, a road tunnel was shut down for several days through sporadic attacks on the camera systems that monitored it, causing traffic chaos. More importantly, the attack was said to not be sophisticated enough to have been government-run. The ability to attack critical infrastructure has already passed from the hands of the government actors to the wider cybercrime fraternity, it would appear. If that is the case, the IT industry would do well to start making ‘secure’ as big a part of future city development as ‘smart’.

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