Smart cities are an absolute dream for infrastructure cyberattacks

  • January 16, 2019

One benefit of cities being “smart” is their ability to use communications technology to integrate key industries and infrastructure in a way that generates growth and benefits everyone. London, for example, contributes about a third of all taxes paid in the United Kingdom.

However, this makes smart cities attractive targets for large-scale malicious cyberattacks, as a single attack would have widespread implications. In March 2018, a cyberattack on poorly secured public computer systems in Atlanta – a city known for its investment in smart applications – shut down many of the city’s functions, some for months. Atlanta reckons the cost of recovery to be almost $10 million and the effects of the attack continue to be felt.

In 2019, as more smart cities become established, our urban environments will be even more vulnerable to attacks. The communications networks that underpin smart cities rely on relatively new technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) applications. These technologies – particularly sensor networks – are not cyber secure. Many cities, for instance, use smart sensors to reduce transport congestion and to manage smart-parking initiatives. However most wireless sensors used in the public domain are relatively cheap and do not have built in security architecture; they are not secure by design.

IoT systems, such as smart-grid technology, are also increasingly interconnected with each other and with the global internet, meaning that access to one can often mean access to many. And, according to Garner, the consultancy company, by 2020 the number of IoT devices in the world will outnumber the world population. Such a level of complex connectivity increases the risks of attack substantially.

Beyza Unal is a senior research fellow at Chatham House, a London-based thinktank