With the growing popularity of IoT and digitization, smart cities have become a reality. Harnessing the power of data, design thinking, and digital technologies, smart cities are the sure future of urban lifestyle. However, as with other digital transformations, smart cities bring with them a barrage of cyber risks.
In this blog post, we talk about smart cities, the cyber risks that they face, and how we can secure them.
What are Smart Cities?
Smart cities consist of a complex digital ecosystem of people, devices, processes, private entities, public entities, infrastructure, and municipal services that interact with each other constantly. In general, a smart city consists of three layers:
- Edge: The sensors, IoT devices, actuators, and smartphones that collect data.
- Core: The platform that processes and analyzes the information gathered by the edge.
- Communication channel: The bidirectional data-exchange mechanism between the edge and the core that ensures seamless integration of services and information.
Potential Cyber Risks Faced by Smart Cities
Due to the massive amounts of information being shared, integration between thousands of IoT devices, and dynamic processes, smart cities are at constant risk of cyberattacks. The complexities of the smart city ecosystem give way to new cyber threats that target each layer of these modern settlements differently.
For example, data governance can be a complicated matter with smart cities since they need to determine if the data is external or internal, if it is personalized or transactional, if it was collected from IoT devices or other channels, and how the data is being stored, duplicated, deleted, and archived.
Not just this, but because smart cities are still an emerging concept, there is a clear lack of common policies and standards. Each smart city interacts with different products and vendors, which makes integration and interoperability a huge challenge and can greatly aggravate cyber risks.
These challenges make the cyber risks faced by smart cities unique. Since not only do we completely understand the cyber risks but have not identified the various vulnerabilities that the concept of smart cities bring with them either.
Factors That Influence These Cyber Risks
What makes the cyber risks faced by smart cities so unique? Three factors that influence these potential unseen cyber risks in smart cities:
- Convergence between the physical world and cyber world: The environment put forward by smart cities blur the lines between the physical and cyber worlds since people, processes, and places are all integrated through IT systems. However, this convergence also provides attackers with a larger threat surface. Since all devices at the edges (both IoT devices and user devices) are potential threat vectors, attackers have hundreds and thousands of entry points to compromise the security of a smart city.
- Interoperability between new and legacy systems: Smart cities often involve the integration of digital technologies with legacy systems that can lead to inconsistent security policies and procedures. There are no generally accepted standards that govern IoT-enabled devices and this means that interoperability with both legacy systems and technologies provided by different vendors can result in hidden security vulnerabilities.
- Integration of city services and infrastructure: The ecosystem of smart cities provides opportunities to deliver efficient city services by integrating infrastructure and services (such as power, water, sewerage, etc.). This integration can lead to increased cyber risk because a vulnerability in one system/service area can quickly fall into other areas, leading to widespread failure.
How to Approach Cybersecurity for Smart Cities?
When it comes to cybersecurity, the goals for a smart city should be to maintain confidentiality, availability, resiliency, availability, and safety. The focus should be on securing not just traditional IT infrastructure (to secure information) but Operational Technology (OT) infrastructure (to ensure resilience and safety of processes and systems) as well. The holistic approach of combining security objectives for both IT and OT is what smart cities need to maintain a secure operational environment.
To balance the promise of smart cities and integrated digitized services against potential cyber threats, we recommend smart cities to put cybersecurity as a priority. These cities need to manage the risks effectively by engaging all involved entities and stakeholders.
The holistic approach to cybersecurity for smart cities should involve:
- Developing a digital trust platform that enables trusted connections through appropriate authorization and authentication systems and manages the relationships and identities that exist within the ecosystem.
- Encouraging privacy-by-design by using strict encryption processes, restricting the collection of personal information, and anonymizing data during transmission.
- Utilizing cyber threat intelligence that makes use of machine learning and behavioral analytics to better understand the threat landscape and help make informed decisions about planning and threat responses.
- Prioritizing cyber resilience and response that enables cities to be better prepared for potential cyberattacks through simulations and cyber-war gaming. This step involves developing a strong cyber resilience plan with advanced cyber forensics capabilities.
- Syncing cyber strategy with smart city objectives which ensures that the city can meet its objectives of interoperability, interconnectedness, and convergence, all while mitigating and addressing the associated cybersecurity challenges. As part of this process, cities should conduct a thorough assessment of their data, cyber assets, and systems to identify and patch vulnerabilities.
- Formalizing data governance by creating a governance model that defines the roles and responsibilities for each component in the ecosystem and lays down the common privacy policies and security policies that should be shared across all systems involved.
- Building strategic partnerships with vendors and stakeholders to address the challenge of the cyber skills gap and to ensure that there is consistency between the systems and devices provided by different vendors.
Smart cities are a great example of how digitization and IoT can improve lifestyles and make processes more efficient. However, they come with their own set of problems, particularly related to cybersecurity. It is essential for the leadership of smart city initiatives to prioritize cybersecurity and realize that they need to develop a cyber strategy that evolves with cyberthreats. By aligning cybersecurity strategies with the objectives of smart cities, stakeholders can ensure that cyber risks are minimized while supporting the benefits and growth offered by smart cities.