The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) states that smart cities projects represent key targets for hackers. City councils must consider nefarious groups’ potential interest in disrupting their functionalities. The NCSC recently published guidance for municipalities regarding means of securing “connected places”. This guidance will prove critical as these ecosystems emerge.

Building smart cities

In the development process, smart city planners need to find a means of securing sensitive data. “Smart cities and connected rural environments promise a host of benefits,” reports the BBC. Selling points include pollution monitoring, real-time information about parking, cameras that track congestion and automated processes that manage traffic flow.

Smart cities, endangering residents

Smart cities’ dependency on networked technology introduces a high degree of risk. The NCSC has issued communications around “destructive impacts,” in the event of cyber attacks. Systems that are unexpectedly switched off unexpectedly could “endanger” residents. Think cold climates with electrical outages in the dead of winter.

Monitoring, surveillance and privacy

Experts contend that the collection of large volumes of citizens’ data could infringe on rights to privacy.  Cross-correlation of data can provide a high degree of detail regarding a person or persons’ activities. For criminals, nation-states, or others with macabre intentions, this data may look attractive. These groups could weaponize the data and potentially inflict harm. Smart cities projects will need to have the highest levels of security due to the extensive attack surface.

Would smart city citizens have to sign privacy waivers? Could citizens potentially file civil suits? Smart city development is still in early stages. These curve-balls remain under consideration.

Smart cities advisors

Technical director to the NCSC, Dr. Ian Levy, states that one of Hollywood’s first films portraying a cyber attack showed infrastructure destruction. In the 1969 classic, The Italian Job, the protagonist rearranges magnetic storage tapes that control the traffic flow. This occurs within the Italian city of Turin. What happened? City-wide gridlock, which provides a smoke-screen for grand larceny. building smart cities, concept

“A similar ‘gridlock’ attack on a 21st century city would have catastrophic impacts on the people who live and work there,” says Levy. “…criminals wouldn’t likely need physical access to the traffic control system to do it,” he continued.

In the UK and elsewhere, connected ecosystems are just beginning to crop up. For all involved, the time to ensure the security of such environments is now.

Smart cities projects

Smart cities projects need advisors who can provide technical insights into data protection methodologies. This is especially true in instances where foreign nations are providing smart city equipment and infrastructure. Smart cities could provide means of spying on another nation’s citizenry. Alternatively, political tensions may spur nations to cause disruptions to services.

Says head of GCHQ, Jeremy Flemming, “If we don’t control the technology, if we don’t understand the security required to implement those effectively, then we’ll end up with an environment or technology ecosystem where the data is not only used to navigate, but it could be used to track us”.

The NCSC cautions, “Suppliers…may be subject to influence from…governments to access and exfiltrate data from UK-connected places, in support of those countries’ security and intelligence services”.

Smart cities are intended to improve services for citizens. Challenges abound. The new NCSC guidelines can improve planning and management among designers, owners and other stakeholders.

For more information about smart cities projects, visit the BBC.