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How to Improve Cybersecurity in a Smart City


The concept of the smart city was once a fantasy from science fiction, but it is rapidly becoming a reality. By integrating municipal infrastructure with smart technology, urban landscapes are being transformed to be more aesthetically pleasing, functional, and sustainable.

One example of a smart city in action is Washington, D.C., which has adopted a top-down approach to smart city planning rather than focusing on innovation in only specific neighborhoods or areas. Viewing cities as interconnected spaces operating holistically is a fundamental principle of smart city planning.

A priority for smart cities is the adoption of new modes of transportation. For instance, Atlanta has recently passed legislation requiring certain new construction to include charging stations for electric vehicles. Supporting this infrastructure will facilitate the use of clean, efficient vehicles and the integration of driverless cars into urban transportation.

However, for the cities of the future to surpass the capabilities of today’s cities, civic leaders need to prioritize cybersecurity. The potential of smart cities is accompanied by the threat of cybersecurity breaches.

Smart cities are built on a foundation of technology, making them both more capable and more susceptible to attacks. According to CenturyLink’s 2018 Threat Report, regions with strong or fast-growing IT networks and infrastructure are the primary sources of cybercriminal activity, with an estimated 195,000 instances occurring daily.

Due to the vast and complex interconnected systems in smart cities, they are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks. The reliance on unsecured IoT devices and potentially vulnerable cloud networks exacerbates this problem. The overconfidence of tech visionaries in advancing smart cities is also a contributing factor.

To address this issue, city leaders need to broaden their perspective on smart cities and focus on the risks as well as the benefits. The following strategies can help prepare and protect cities for the future:

Begin Building a Smart Workforce

Running a city requires technical expertise, which historically has not been the primary focus of municipal workforces. A survey of government officials revealed that 40% are concerned about the lack of technical talent hindering their smart city initiatives. To progress both expediently and cautiously, cities need to develop a workforce skilled in technology and expand their institutional focus on technology. Various training programs, such as IEEE online courses, can assist cities in educating their existing workforce about emerging technologies.

Start Forming Security Partnerships

The responsibility of securing smart cities cannot rest solely with cities. Collaborating with various stakeholders, including state and federal governments, private enterprises, and tech companies, is essential for addressing threats and advancing smart city projects. Public-private partnerships, such as the collaboration between AT&T, GE Current, and Georgia Electric to install smart LED streetlights, are illustrative of the kind of cooperation required for the success of smart cities.

Work Within the Rules

As smart cities continue to evolve, comprehensive cyber regulations are also emerging. Following regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe can help keep cybersecurity and data protection at the forefront. However, cities must be mindful of the risk of noncompliance with regulations, which could lead to penalties, fees, and lawsuits as cities become smarter.

Technology has always presented both new possibilities and new challenges. It is the responsibility of city leaders to acknowledge both aspects and work toward mitigating the challenges while embracing the possibilities.


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