Network and cyber security making our Smart Cities safe

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While the term ‘Smart City’ is a commonly used one, the idea which the term refers to is one that lacks a universally accepted definition. A smart city is understood to be a municipality that leverages new technologies and networks to create a core infrastructure that helps coordinate and optimize systems.  The concept of smart cities overall promises a higher standard of life. The deployment of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Robotics, and Big Data can help to create a city that constantly collects and runs on data and data-driven systems. It uses this data to constantly strive to resolve the problems that cities face today – congestion, lack of access to services, crime, and sustainable development, amongst others.

However, any data-driven network has to contemplate its vulnerability to external cyber-attacks, and the hacking of a smart city would be catastrophic. Where smart cities could use network cameras or IoT devices to identify crime and track criminals, collect traffic, data and images, hackers could take advantages on vulnerability and trigger massive cyber-attacks. Robots could be useful for working in sanitation, but hackers could create utter chaos with an army of automatons rising up from the sewers. At the most basic and fundamental level, a smart city will be collecting massive amounts of data about millions of human lives – data that could detail their movements, preferences, activities, and personal information. It would constitute a massive breach of privacy if it fell into the wrong hands.

The increasing amounts of information that a smartphone can collect about your life can induce paranoia, but there are solutions – switching the phone off, disconnecting it from the internet, installing the right software and taking the right precautions, for instance. When the basic infrastructure of the city around you is collecting your information, what can you do? What recourse is available at an individual level? Of course, this information is useful for authorities at a macro-level to design and construct efficient systems around you. That still means that every moment that you are in the city, there is some sensor or some system in your vicinity which at that very moment is collecting important information about you.

To ensure that the meaningful benefits that smart cities can bring to urban living are not lost to the fear of cyber attackers will require a robust and comprehensive cyber security system. A combination of hardware and software systems will ensure security of the main data repository, which individual systems – IoT sensors, CCTV cameras, and so forth – will have to be designed in a manner to prevent misuse and hacking. Users are also encouraged to set up strong password in personal IoT device and safeguard the button line together with device provider. EY called cyber security a ‘necessary pillar’ of smart cities in a recent report, and suggested end-to-end encryption, strong access controls, and an isolation of trusted resources from public resources.

Smart cities are a huge opportunity for Indians to access a brighter future with better transportation, waste management, energy management, and a comprehensively improved standard of living. However, smart city models should boost development while not compromising on data privacy and security. These cities will be built by a diverse ecosystem of providers, and care should be exercised to select the most secure cutting-edge technology products that shall be at the heart of India’s smart city program.

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