Smart Cities

Smart cities are outcome of integration of technologies with new or existing urban landscapes. There is going to be a paradigm shift of what we experience and what we come to expect from the cities around us. In times to come, smart cities will provide businesses with unprecedented economic opportunities. In effect, these transformations of today’s cities into smart cities will be a amalgamation of two major technologies – millions of sensors connected to devices dispersed across a city i.e IoT devices and network that connects all of these nodes together and enables real-time communication. By 2020, there will be more than 50 Billion Internet-connected devices that will transform the way we live and work.

Present day cities are becoming smarter by deploying new technologies such as:

  • Smart Traffic Control. Traffic lights and signals that are based on volume and current traffic conditions on Real-time traffic patterns.
  • Smart Parking Application. Citizens can use a parking application to find available parking slots and to review pricing, including pricing changes based on real time, availability, location, etc.
  • Smart Street Lights. centrally Managed streetlights can adapt to weather conditions,report problems, or be automated by time of the day.
  • Security: Traffic and surveillance cameras, gunshot detection sensors and other security devices provide real-time information on events and their locations within the city.
  • Smart Public Transportation. Real-time data informs citizens about schedules (bus, train, and subways), arrivals, and delays of buses, trains, and subways.
  • Smart Energy Management. Smart grids deliver energy based on user demand. Smart meters optimize user utility by coordinating energy supply schedules with the smart grid at specific times for the lowest cost. The smart grid can even turn off your home’s water heater during peak hours when electricity is more costly.
  • Smart Water Management. Smart pipes measure water quality, detect leaks, distribute water, and detect problems.
  • Smart Waste Management. Sensors in waste containers detect the volume of garbage, smell, and so on. Garbage collection can be better planned by skipping empty containers.

As the cities become smarter with implementation of newer technologies, consider as to what could happen if one or more technology-reliant services fails to work.

  • What would commuting look like with non-functioning traffic control systems, no streetlights, and no public transportation?
  • How would citizens respond to an inadequate supply of electricity or water, or to dark streets, and no cameras?
  • What if garbage collection is interrupted in the summertime and the smell of refuse stinks up the streets?

To anybody’s guess that it would be unpleasant and probably cause a lot of chaos in any city. When prolonged, interruptions to sanitation services, or other basic services, goes beyond unpleasant odours and inconvenience, it does not take long before these issues create major concerns.

Internet of Things (IoT) based Smart devices such as traffic and surveillance cameras, meters, street lights, traffic lights, smart pipes, and sensors are easy to implement and at the same time are even easier to hack due to lack of stringent security measures and insecure encryption mechanisms. This is a major point of concern as Smart cities are implementing newer technologies at a very fast pace without testing them for cyber threats and its ramifications.

Few of the very happening and dreaded Cyber threats i.e Ransomware will be presented with an unprecedented attack surface in smart cities because of the significant increase in the number of interconnected IoT devices.

In case, if a cyber-attack on smart cities causes an inadequate supply of electricity or water or tripping of complete electricity grid, dark streets, or/and no cameras and the hackers asking for Ransom to restore the services. Then how would citizens respond to it?

Smart IoT devices create huge potential for Ransomware attacks, making the future of smart cities more vulnerable than today’s computers and smartphones. People residing in such a city might face a panic attack when they are made slaves of their “cyber masters/criminals for Ransom.”

Cyber Threats to Smart Cities

Whether it’s a water dam in Rye Brook or power grids, financial institutions, water systems or online networks, all these infrastructures are going to be at risk and would be under assault like never before, and we need to do more about it. Recently, a police department in Massachusetts paid $750 to get its files back after being hit by the CryptoLocker ransomware. In February 2016, California‘s Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a ransom of about $17,000 in Bitcoins, one of at least six major health care systems victimized so far this year. In Mar 2016, the city of Plainfield, New Jersey, faced a demand for about $700 in Bitcoins to unfreeze their municipal servers. Technologies used by smart cities would pose a major cyber security threat and open the door for several possible cyber-attacks. Each new city technology or system creates a new opportunity for cyber attackers. Some of the key technologies and systems that together make up the smart city’s complex attack surface are:

  • Traffic Control Systems
  • Smart Street Lighting Systems
  • City Management Systems
  • Cloud and SaaS Solutions
  • Smart Power and Water Grid
  • Public Transportation
  • Surveillance Cameras
  • Location-based Services
  • Public Safety systems

Cyber Security Implementation Challenges

Cyber-threats are expanding in every way from attack frequency to scale, sophistication and impact severity. The rate of code vulnerabilities found in dated, internet-accessible software also shows no signs of abating. Crypto-ransomware that leverages clever engineering techniques is also on the rise. As more and more smart devices running critical infrastructure organizations would connect to the public Internet – SCADA applications and national cybersecurity strategies are becoming mandatory. Point of concern and challenges in ensuring cyber security while implementing smart cities are:-

  • Lack of Cyber Security Testing
  • Encryption Issues of IoT Devices and Network Components
  • Lack of Computer Emergency Response Teams
  • Patch management Issues
  • Insecure Legacy Systems
  • Lack of Cyber Attack Emergency Plans
  • Susceptibility to Denial of Service
  • Proliferation of “Smart” Devices or The Internet of Things

Securing Against Ransomware

Ensuring that smart cities are cyber secure against Ransomware will require the identification and prioritisation of critical infrastructure and assets, behaviour based security. Establishing a benchmark of normal operations of all the critical infrastructures/ assets and continuously ensuring that all parts of the city adhere to said benchmark. Businesses operating public or private infrastructures that want to enhance cyber-security against Ransomware can started by:

  • Adopt or create a Cybersecurity framework and adhere to it.
  • Explicit policies should cover everything from the selection of systems, procurement of systems, management of systems, and who accesses systems to the manner in which technology is disposed of securely once it has reached the end of its service life.
  • Create a simple checklist-type cyber security review. Check for proper encryption, authentication, and authorization and make sure the systems can be easily updated
  • Applying application whitelisting to prevent unauthorized applications from running
  • Enabling a USB lockdown on all SCADA environments to stop malware from physically entering the environment
  • Deploying basic security measures in between network segments, such as firewalls/IPS.
  • Proactively monitor networks for unusual traffic, access logs, or requests that could indicate an attack in progress.
  • Create specific city CERTs that can deal with cyber security incidents, vulnerability reporting and patching, coordination, information sharing, and so on.
  • Regularly run penetration tests on all city systems and networks.

Current attack surface for smart cities is unimaginably vast open to attack. This is a real and immediate danger. The more technology a city uses, the more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Therefore, the smartest cities have the highest risks. It is only a matter of time until attacks on city services and infrastructure happen. It may be ongoing or could happen at any moment in the future. Actions must be taken now to make cities more secure and protect against cyber-attacks.