Around the world, many societies are embracing innovative technologies more than ever before to provide enhanced ecosystems for cities and better efficiency for residents. This includes a mixture of residential, industrial, commercial, retail and public-sector bodies alongside greenways, parks and the public realm. Ultimately, the aim is to transform the delivery of public services through a citizen-centric approach, which will result in greater efficiencies and more responsive services that drive inclusive growth.
The Power of Sophisticated Technologies
Smart city technologies, when implemented correctly, allow growing populations to be serviced more efficiently. While a truly smart city is designed from the ground up, many are now integrating technologies that operate over the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve public services. Some argue that the future growth of the planet’s population can only be sustained through scalable smart city technology. Traffic management, for instance, can be done using smart traffic lights, road implanted sensors and communications with future smart cars.
The sensor-enabled IoT devices deployed in smart cities can also help monitor the environmental impact of cities, as they can collect details about sewers, air quality, rubbish and energy consumption. Additionally, connected technologies can be used to increase awareness and visibility into individual energy and resource use. For example, IoT-enabled thermostats can make the decision to turn the heating on based on fluctuating energy costs. Smart IoT water management sensors, in combination with data analytics programs, can provide consumers with increased visibility into the amount of water they use. Devices such as smart meters that increase visibility into usage have been proven to both save money and conserve natural resources.
“The sensor-enabled IoT devices deployed in smart cities can also help monitor the environmental impact of cities, as they can collect details about sewers, air quality, rubbish and energy consumption”
However, it is essential to remember that smart eco-cities are essentially cities that fundamentally attempt to integrate technology to achieve efficiencies in many domains. Another example of this can be seen with smart lighting, which only turns on in conjunction with nearby traffic or pedestrians, rubbish bins that alert when they need to be emptied, water sprinklers that autonomously test the soil conditions and turn on watering as required and smart meters which remove the need for humans to check.
The Risks at Hand
There can be issues if a city relies on a central technological hub to control its core infrastructure. Already, many cities have been paying large amounts when subjected to ransomware attacks. Hackers will continue to attack IoT devices by either taking control of the device, stealing information or disrupting the service it is offering.
Therefore, IoT security is different in that the devices are primarily embedded computer systems and quite limited at that. They are often single-purpose devices performing specific functions within a broader, more complex system. Examples include light bulbs, TVs, pacemakers, plant watering control systems and kettles. Providing only limited functions enables them to be lean and cheap, meaning the security mechanisms must be equally specialized and aimed at protecting against more targeted attacks that are often unique to that device’s functionality. Privacy issues can arise due to their IoT data collection mechanisms, leading to user profiling and identification in unforeseen use case scenarios. Therefore, there needs to be greater care when deploying data collection devices regarding their lifecycle, data collection mechanisms and overall security protocols.
The possible dangers of having cities so connected is that those working and installing the future smart technology must be adequately trained in all aspects of cybersecurity. Additionally, they should make informed security decisions for the devices they install. This idea is already coming into fruition, with the UK Government recently proposing mandatory cybersecurity training to prevent smart devices from being exploited by criminals.
Smart cities will happen, and the potential for assistive technologies is too tempting to ignore. In fact, pilots in many aspects of smart cities are being rolled out worldwide. Not one city can claim to be smart, but pockets of many cities’ infrastructure are becoming smart. No city can claim this title yet because there is too much legacy infrastructure and too many providers. The first legitimate smart cities can only be those designed this way from the ground up.
Professor Kevin Curran Senior IEEE Member and Professor of Cybersecurity, Ulster University.