Building Trust to Create Smart Cities

The Internet of Things (IoT) is having a growing impact on helping to make the lives of citizens easier and more efficient. Smart devices have become increasingly common in the average home, from connected speakers and entertainment devices to smart meters and heating systems.

In the same way, urban planners are now looking to make the running of towns and cities more streamlined and cost effective through a greater use of smart connectivity. Streetlights, refuse collection, transportation and incident reporting are just some of the ways the IoT is being used by municipality managers.

However, with an increase in connectivity comes an increased cybersecurity risk. As such, managers need to ensure that, alongside the roll-out of IoT across their areas, they are also implementing robust protection for data communications using tools like Virtual Private Networking (VPN) software.

Efficiency Benefits of Smart Cities

A combination of continually tightening budgets, workforce shortages, trying to meet environmental targets and improving the lives of citizens is forcing local governments around the world to make efficiency savings where they can.

One approach many are taking is to utilize the internet to help better manage the various assets and infrastructure under their control. For example, Cambridge is using the IoT to revolutionize its transportation infrastructure. Smart traffic sensors, along with cameras and air-quality sensors are being used to help planners reduce congestion in this University city. Commuters can now plan their journeys down to the second through the use of an app which tells them exactly where their bus is and when it is going to arrive at their stop. On cycle paths, smart signs tell cyclists how many other users are on that route.

This is all being done to make moving through the city easier for travelers, while at the same time helping to identify where efficiencies can be made. Other cities around the world are using apps to help improve services.

Boston, for example, provides those living and working within the city access to a range of apps through which they can get updates on road conditions and parking information, as well as reporting incidents such as potholes or graffiti.

The Privacy Backlash

All of these smart city systems work through the collection, storage, and analysis of vast amounts of data. In relation to smart transportation systems, this could be information about how, when, and where people move throughout a city, or if using an app, any sort of private information that the operator has asked for, including name, address, date of birth, and so on.

If networks are not properly secured there is a significant risk that this information could be stolen by threat actors to be sold online or to be used for fraudulent purposes. A data breach of any kind has serious repercussions for municipal bodies involved. Firstly, users will not be able to trust the network and will likely not use it, greatly diminishing its impact and usefulness.

Most breaches incur considerable costs in terms incident response activity and potential legal action. There is also the very real risk of financial penalties imposed by regulators to consider. All personal data in the EU, for example, comes under the jurisdiction of the GDPR. If an organization fails in its responsibilities to take care of the information in its possession, then it could face a fine of the greater of two percent of annual turnover or 10 million Euros.

Building Privacy Through Encryption

The concern is that in their rush to connect their cities, planners will focus on the tech and what they want it to do and leave security as an afterthought.

There is also the danger that as different organizations will be responsible for the design, manufacture and installation for various elements of the smart city – one for traffic lights, one for buses and so on – they will all have different security challenges to overcome.

Questions such as “How will shared access be managed?” and “Are my connections secure?” must be addressed. To mitigate these uncertainties, the best way to ensure the safety of data across such a huge network of connected devices is encryption technology.

Through the use of an enterprise-class cloud VPN, municipality managers can protect the vast amount of sensitive information traveling through their IT systems. Encryption tunnels in a VPN ensure personal information is unintelligible to anyone trying to intercept the information.

In summary, greater connectivity across cityscapes enables greater efficiencies for those managing resources and infrastructure as well as for those that rely upon them.

However, security needs to go hand in hand with the expansion of smart cities otherwise personal data and the viability of the project as a whole is put at risk.

With so many different assets connected to the system, encryption technology provided by an enterprise-class VPN is the optimal solution. In this way, planners can build trust that will help them create the cities of the future.