How to improve cyber security in a smart city

The smart city was originally a sci-fi dream, but it soon becomes a reality. Municipal infrastructure, integrated with smart technologies, will transform the aesthetics, utility and sustainability of urban landscapes from now on.

To see a smart city in action, just look at Washington, DC, which has taken a top-down approach to smart city planning instead of trying to innovate in one neighborhood or one area to problems. Looking at cities as interconnected spaces that operate holistically is one of the features of smart urban planning.

The adoption of new modes of transport is a key priority for smart cities. For example, Atlanta recently passed legislation requiring some new builds to include charging stations for electric vehicles. Support for this underlying infrastructure will allow clean and efficient vehicles (and driverless cars) to support urban travel.

But for tomorrow's cities to be better than today's, city officials must make cybersecurity a priority. The potential of smart cities is matched only by the danger of intelligent threats.

Smart cities are based on basic technology, making them both more capable and more vulnerable because digital infrastructures can be attacked or diverted in many ways. According to CenturyLink's Threat Report for 2018, geographic areas with strong and growing infrastructures and computer networks remain the primary source of cybercrime activity. CenturyLink, the second largest US communications provider for global enterprises, is tracking these threats and estimates that 195,000 instances occur every day.

The size and complexity of smart cities makes them particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks. The wide range of interconnected systems makes weaknesses and oversights almost inevitable, a problem that relies solely on insecure IoT devices and potentially vulnerable cloud networks. But what really makes this problem are the too confident visionaries in technology that drive smart cities.

It's easy to be seduced by the promises and potential of high-tech cities, to the point of losing sight of the risks that technology creates. As long as this blind spot persists, cities will become much smarter and much less secure in direct proportion. It is incumbent upon municipal leaders to broaden their perspective on the smart city and focus on the peril as well as on the promise. Follow these strategies to prepare (and protect) any city for the future:

Start building a smart workforce

Managing a city is technical, but it's not really technological. Most cities rely on a municipal labor force composed largely of administrators and trade professionals. Historically, municipal governments did not need a lot of confidence in the computer brain. Given the priorities of the smart city, this will have to change.

A survey of government officials showed that 40% fear that a lack of technical staff is slowing down their smart city initiatives. High-tech professionals will have to do everything from managing databases to building smart roads to managing cybersecurity across the city. If cities hope to move forward both quickly and cautiously, they will need to start building a new workforce and strengthening their institutional focus on technology. There are many training programs that can help a city or company teach technology to its current staff, such as IEEE e-courses that focus on emerging technologies.

Start forming security partnerships

The task of securing smart cities will not fall on single cities. The work is huge and it makes a lot more sense to work in cooperation with various stakeholders. For example, cities have a program that aligns with state and federal governments, as well as private companies, both inside and outside of technology. Coordination of all these entities to address threats and stimulate smart city projects is the only way to succeed.

In an example of this type of public-private partnership, AT & T and GE Current are working with Georgia Electric to install 200 LED street lights. Streetlights provide lighting while monitoring traffic, parking, pedestrians and even watching the shots. The integration of ideas, whether they come from the public sector or the private sector, whether they are related to innovation or security, will be critical to the success of smart cities.

Work in the rules

Along with the rise of smart cities, we are beginning to see the rise of cybernetic regulation. In response to years of relentless data breaches and cyberattacks, regulators are beginning to introduce extensive rules for the use of technologies and data protection. The recent European rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are the best example. They are likely to be imitated at the national and federal levels in the United States.

Working under the PMP is a great way to keep cybersecurity and data protection on the net. It is also a risk that must be managed. As cities begin to collect more data and implement more technologies, they raise the prospect of non-compliance with PMRs, followed by penalties, fees, and lawsuits. This risk may not be as extreme as that of hackers, but it is something that urban leaders must defend as cities become smarter.

Technology has always been a double-edged sword, creating as many new problems as there are possibilities. It is up to municipal leaders to recognize both sides, then weaken one while refining the other.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Editor-in-Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor who oversees the content of Previously, he worked as a publisher at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at Brad at