With ‘smart cities’ just around the corner, we need to understand the security risk first

The internet is something which most of us have grown to rely on and would struggle to imagine a world where it didn’t exist. With more than three billion daily users worldwide, we continue to see the exciting possibilities that the internet can bring and just how fast-growing and influential it really is.

Over the past couple of years we have also seen more and more physical entities and objects becoming connected to the internet, from ordinary consumer products to transport vehicles – this has been named ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT).

It has been predicted that the IoT has the potential to create $19 trillion in value in the next decade. Although this is an exciting prospect, it is also one that we should prepare for, as it has been predicted that by 2020, more than 50 billion objects are expected to be connected to the internet.

There are even steps being made towards connected-cities, whereby our cities would use digital technologies to enhance performance and engage with us through innovative channels. Although an exciting prospect with many opportunities to improve our lives, I would also urge some caution.

> See also: Making the Internet of Things a business reality

Smart devices have already brought a whole new array of cyber-attacks over the last few years, and are largely responsible for the vast amount of data travelling across networks causing vulnerabilities. With this in mind, and if we begin looking at the endless amount of connected objects which would be prevalent in a connected city, we can only predict that these vulnerabilities will increase.

If we want to prepare for the inevitable, it is more important than ever for businesses to be aware of the risks that are coming our way and not to shy away from them. A common misconception for businesses is thinking that connected cities are decades away but there are already examples in place, with more planned in the near future.

For example, Nice in France has implemented smart lighting which monitors lamp intensity and traffic sensors to reduce car theft, assaults and home burglary. Also, Barcelona has deployed smart bus stops where you can use touchscreen monitors to see real-time bus schedules, maps and locations. More recently, a French company has even made steps to implement smart pedals that warn when a bike is stolen to help our cyclists stay safe.

As they look forward to the exciting benefits that connected cities bring, it’s important for businesses and government to keep in mind the potential for increased risks to business and infrastructure. Think of the potential for widespread impact that compromising a connected cities infrastructure security could bring.

Let’s picture a few examples; traffic, energy and water. In a modern day city such as London or New York, compromising traffic control, including traffic lights and train management could lead to widespread disruption. At its simplest, if this prevents employees from reaching their place of work, then there will be loss of productivity. At its worst, there could be significant chance of harm to the population.

Similarly, any impact on energy, water supplies or even manufacturing or automated business processes could very quickly cause major problems in any large scale city. It is no surprise therefore that utility companies are now facing much greater regulation and more stringent security requirements. In fact, we saw only recently how a connected manufacturing plant in Germany had production halted through having its systems compromised.

With this in mind, it’s important for businesses to wake up to the fact that they need to act quickly to protect their customers from the wave new cyber-attacks that could be on the way. Once objects start connecting with the corporate network, it can open businesses up to all sorts of potential issues from a security standpoint. This could also affect network access for other employees trying to make use of network resources to get on with their jobs.

> See also: Smart cities – can the data centre cope?

Not only this, but it could result in downtime or disruption to customer services, or even a loss of customer data. With the huge influx of connected objects that we are expecting to come with connected cities, businesses need to make sure they’re not only putting strong firewalls in place to protect the networks, but they must centre security on the applications housing the data which needs protecting the most.

Ultimately, connected cities are something which we can expect to develop quickly and something that we should all be excited for. However, understanding the security implications that come with them is very important, for businesses and consumers alike. By trying to understand where data is coming from and what objects are being used to send data, businesses will be able to deliver the best possible experience for everyone involved.

Sourced from Paul Dignan, field systems engineer, F5 Networks

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...