Smart City Series Part 1: Do They Need to Become Smarter?

by Sarah Kubrick on Sep 27, 2016 11:30:26 AM


Due to the development of new technology, the once far-fetched idea of having “smart cities” is now a reality. These cities allow for greater interconnectedness among a number of industries; creating a sustainable, productive, and efficient environment. While many people have fallen in love with this new technology, far too few have considered the risks they may be taking when adopting it. This “leap-before-you-look” approach has led to subpar security levels and an increased level of vulnerability. So what exactly makes a city "smart"? First, a smart city is defined as an urban development vision to integrate a city's assets, including transportation, power, water, law enforcement, and other city services. The goal of a smart city is to leverage technology to improve the efficiency of services and collect data that is analyzed to find ways to make the city more interconnected. The purpose is to reduce costs and resource consumption and improve the management of urban flow and response times to emergencies. To understand the benefits, think of an air traffic controller: everyone must collaborate and maintain strong communication in order to create a system that flows efficiently and safely. You are given your arrival and departure times based on predictions stemming from observed patterns. 

Unfortunately, with this level of communication and interconnectivity comes a degree of vulnerability to cyberattacks that most smart cities are not preparing for to the proper extent that they should be, choosing instead to invest in tracking weather patterns or monitoring water systems. In short, this is similar to putting the cart before the horse.

One of the main areas of concern surrounding the level of security are the actual products being used. A lack of testing for bugs and functionality combined with low levels of protection can lead to hackers infiltrating the system or bugs affecting large areas of the city. Some of these areas include traffic patterns, electricity, street lights, and actual security systems. Traffic monitoring sensors can lead to fewer traffic jams, but having brand names printed on the sensor can lead a hacker directly to the type of network being used, thus, making it relatively easy to infiltrate the network and cause chaos in many forms. Bugs in the software can also wreak havoc, such as a major software glitch that occurred in the Bay Area during November 2013. Train service was shut down by a glitch in the track switching software, affecting 19 trains with 500-1,000 passengers on board. 

And this merely scratches the surface. Improving overall security through gunshot detection, toxic gas sensors, and greater ease of access to services are all important elements of a true smart city. Smart cities are built to create a more “cognitive” environment—one that is aware of its surroundings, able to predict patterns, and adapt to changes in those patterns.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series for a discussion on more examples of how to make a city "smarter".


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This post was written by Sarah Kubrick

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