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Why Cybersecurity is Critical for Smart Cities?

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source: Alex Wong / unsplash.com

A quiet evening has been transformed into a nightmare for the citizens of the American city of Dallas, leaving everyone in a state of no sleep and fear. On Friday night, at around 11 o’clock in the evening, the peace of the city was disturbed by the activation of the city’s hurricane warning system.

The only problem is the fact that there were no reports of any hurricane coming, so 156 emergency sirens, happening at a pace of 15 times, with a blast of 90 seconds each, until 1 am. in the morning, were all in vain. That, together with hundreds of 911 calls and a lot of sleepless residents, was the aftermath of a hack into the system’s security measures. The hack was so powerful that the city was forced to shut down the system so they could stop the alarms.

The concept of smart cities is based on technology and how it could make our lives better, in terms of quality of life and with more sustainable development. But it seems like we, being focused on the development are very keen on forgetting the security that is so necessary for a “smart” system to function in peace.

A harmless hack in Dallas is only a little warning of what could happen if cities don’t take their cybersecurity seriously, with it being a critical part of adding smartness to the urban environment.

For several years now, researchers have been finding lots of weak points in connected city hardware, such as traffic signals or smart meters. As cities continue to develop and connect all of their devices to the Internet of Things, hackers will more likely be keen on discovering flaws they can use for their own benefit or just to plunge a city into chaos.

The Dallas situation comes after other hacks of city systems, with some examples from last year being: when Kiev was left in darkness after phishing attacks or when the city of San Francisco has had its light rail network held hostage by ransomware. Romania was recently a victim of another hack when one popular phone app was hacked and everyone was sent into a frenzy over the news of an imminent earthquake.

Such problems are now inconvenient rather than dangerous. But we need to be careful to enhance cybersecurity to prevent hacks that could prove to be catastrophic in the future.

“What would keep a city leader up at night is not so much if his or her city had a data breach or power outage, but if the interconnected smart infrastructures such as payroll processing, banking… and revenue collection systems are also affected could damage the city life as we know it”, said Peter Tran, a senior director at RSA Security for IT Pro Portal. Cybersecurity considerations should be on par with every design and architecture requirement” he also advised.

There is no need to underline the importance and necessity of an impenetrable cybersecurity system that can protect smart city development. Meaningless hacks could very easily grow into serious ones that could threaten the life of a city and also the safety of its residents.