Are Smart Cities Actually the Smartest Idea?

October 4, 2017

The rise of Internet of Things devices has created many new consequences for Americans, both professionally and personally.

Fulfillment companies are developing ways to use unmanned aerial vehicles for shipping and homeowners enjoy the ability to regulate household functions like the thermostat, kitchen, security system and more from a long distance away, to name just two broad examples. However, the excitement regarding the realized and potential capabilities of all these connections might distract some from the essential security methods needed to protect these large networks.

Numerous cities in the U.S. and around the world want to become part of the IoT on a massive scale - by integrating dozens of vital municipal functions into cloud-based networks and operating systems. These can include everything from utility systems and infrastructure functions to tax collections and the accessibility of emergency services.

While the possibilities of smart cities are remarkable enough in the short term basis, and possibly boundless on a long-term basis, the inherent security risks can't be downplayed. If compromised, smart-city digital networks could give a fearsome level of power to criminals with far more nefarious ends than theft or fraud.

Basics of “Smart Cities”

Many major metropolitan areas already rely on intertwined infrastructure systems to keep their essential services going, making the concept of connecting them through the IoT and creating smart cities a logical progression. The increase in efficiency borne of such networking cannot be denied: Departments of public works could learn of power outages more quickly and interact with private-sector power companies to address issues right away; administrators could achieve greater oversight of police, fire and medical services, traffic and lighting; and a great deal more. It could open the door for high-level predictive data analytics artificial machine learning, robotics and other forms of automation. The possibilities are endless, but so are the risks.

The range of risks involved

It’s estimated that it would take approximately 2.3 billion devices to power smart cities, with a clear expectation that such a number would grow steadily with time. After all, it represents a 42 percent increase from the previous year's total.

The more connections that exist between devices, the more opportunities cybercriminals have to latch onto and exploit them using malware. For example, in April 2016, malicious online actors infiltrated the emergency notifications network in Dallas and activated 156 alarms, much to the dismay of the city's 911 operators and first responders. It’s is one of the largest-scale attacks on the IoT systems powering smart cities, but hundreds more have occurred - 2015 saw about 300 such hacks, a marked increase from the 200 seen just three years earlier.

Additionally, while it didn't specifically affect a specific city, the massive October 2016 denial of service attack on Dyn's servers, which provides support for numerous global online services like Amazon, Verizon, Twitter and Netflix. The code's alleged intent was large-scale takeover of Mac devices, but actually crippled much of the digital world, temporarily. In terms of scale, the systems hit by the Dyn DDoS attack are equivalent to those of a major city - but imagine them actually taking over a city's digital infrastructure.

The threat of identity theft and digital thievery is enough of a cause for concern when affecting individuals, making the possibility of this affecting major cities horrifying.

Get the protection you need

Take the first steps towards security today and learn more about protecting your personal information on a daily basis. With 24/7 credit monitoring, Identity Guard can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud, allowing you to take action.

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