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Cybersecurity can make or break smart cities- here’s why

It could be argued that without robust cybersecurity infrastructure in place, smart cities would do more harm than good and would be absolutely flawed.

Governments across the world are all coming to understand that the world needs to better prepare itself for natural disasters and other emergencies. The scale at which COVID-19 affected the world, was so grand and so unprecedented. It is safe to say that we have learned a great deal from this pandemic.

As public and private entities begin to navigate this pandemic-stricken world and what it would mean for our businesses and societies, there seems to be more support than ever before for emerging tech deployment in cities. Technology very quickly became a key player in the world’s fight against the coronavirus and it might just be the key to help citizens, leaders, governments and businesses respond to future emergencies better.

Widely deployed technology within interconnected cities could be the solution. Smart cities can help prevent diseases, trace individuals that may have been in contact with the virus, better plan the utilization and safety of critical resources, and the list goes on.

ABI Research found that several cities were beginning to truly see the benefits of using smart city technologies in managing the effects of the pandemic. Remote temperature screening via the use of AI, remote controlled drones for critical deliveries for urgent equipment and supplies, data sharing via smartphone data, crowdsourcing for location tracking via real-time dashboards and facial recognition technology to track infected individuals are all current examples of how technology helped contain the outbreak.

However, aside from the positives that smart city technologies pose, the cybersecurity dimension needs to be addressed.

“The more connected devices there are, and the more data collected there is, the greater the opportunity for cyber-attackers. Smart cities must be secure by design to prevent cybercriminals being able to access sensitive data, disrupt critical IT systems in traffic management, internet access and more,” wrote chief security officer for MEA region at Palo Alto Networks, Haider Pasha.

He also believes that smart city planning could actually slow future epidemics from spreading.

Most spending in smart city development goes to: data-driven public safety, resilient energy infrastructure and smart transport. Due to the interconnected nature of these systems, there are so many unintended consequences that could arise. All sensors, devices and systems are interconnected, meaning that if they are not properly secured, huge risks could be involved which raises privacy concerns as well.

If cyberattackers were to infiltrate a given city’s systems, exfiltrate some sensitive data and disrupt critical systems such as that of public health or law enforcement, it could have detrimental repercussions for the city, its residents and the government.

If there is anything that this pandemic taught us, it was that cybersecurity resilience is more crucial than ever before. Cybersecurity must be reconsidered as the world edges towards a reformed way of life.

Convergence, interoperability and integration are the three key factors which influence cyber risk in cities. According to Deloitte, the convergence of IT and OT infrastructures blurs the line between physical and cyber worlds and that the coexistence and frequent interactions between new and old systems and platforms also increase this risk. The same goes for integration and comingling of services across domains via IoT and other technologies.