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Making Smart Cities Effective, Cleaner and Safer Using blockchain technology, it is possible to not only make smart cities more operationally efficient, but also cleaner and safer

By Floyd DCosta

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Smart cities are the next and inevitable step in urbanization. As more people migrate to large cities in search of employment and a better standard of living, cities are getting increasingly congested and difficult to manage. Large-scale urbanization at a rapid scale has left most of the large cities of the world ill-equipped to provide quality amenities, housing, infrastructure and services to the ever-expanding population.

Digital transformation offers a way out—letting smart cities grow and expand with the help of technology towards generating better social, financial and environmental aspects of urban living. Using technology, it is possible to not only make smart cities more operationally efficient but also cleaner and safer.

This article discusses the opportunities on offer in smart cities, the security challenges that impede this IoT-powered technology's mainstream adoption, and how emerging technologies like blockchain offer a viable and robust way to secure smart cities from next-gen cyber threats.

Here some pertinent use cases for IoT-enabled smart cities and the security challenges associated with such technology.

Smart Cities: The Opportunities

According to PwC and others, there are several key use cases for IoT devices and networks in smart cities, including:

Public utilities: Automated lighting control capabilities allow for remote control and operation of lighting in public spaces, which can be adapted based on weather and occupancy conditions. Intelligent waste management systems can track waste levels in bins and recommend the optimum routes for collection that ensures maximum utilization of fuel by waste collection trucks. In addition, telematics and sensors installed on municipal fleet can allow real-time tracking of vehicles and remote management of efficient routes based on requirements

Public infrastructure: Connected devices can monitor operational capabilities of utilities' infrastructure components, including water supply pipes, HVAC systems, etc. and alert support staff whenever any issue is detected for faster and accurate repairs. Emergency response can also be automated using IoT technology to improve response time and allocate resources efficiently. Connected devices can help maintain a healthy environment for residents by using sensors to measure levels of pollutants and recommend remedial measures in real-time before the issue escalates.

Automotive: IoT technology can improve GPS accuracy, and enable real-time fleet management and driver assistance. Connected devices can also monitor automotive health and provide diagnostic information to keep vehicles safe in real-time. Sensors can be used to provide real-time alerts on available parking slots, potential parking violations and automate payment for parking. In addition, public transport vehicles can be fitted with route management, passenger management, real-time information updating, and other safety systems for a more comfortable experience.

The Security Conundrum

Marrying urban planning with emerging technologies definitely promises enhanced living conditions, but the possibility of a cyber attack compromising the use of large-scale infrastructure, such as in smart cities, makes both government agencies and service providers hesitant to make smart cities a reality just yet.

Fast emerging technologies like IoT, while enabling improved efficiencies in smart cities, are also opening up infrastructure and utilities to new avenues of cyber attacks. The increased complexities of smart cities' systems and interdependent and globally connected infrastructure have increased the potential for cybersecurity risks on a larger scale. Implementing smart city projects successfully and securely brings forth a new set of opportunities as well as challenges in leveraging technology to support urban growth and development.

The DDoS attack on US-based DNS provider Dyn in late 2016 using the Mirai botnet demonstrated how real the cyber-risks of IoT devices are. The cyber attack, which brought down leading sites like Twitter, the Guardian, Reddit, Netflix, CNN, and more, was caused by infecting 100,000 connected devices, ranging from digital cameras to DVR players.

Another significant cybersecurity concern in a smart city is the connectivity to critical infrastructure within a network, thereby providing cybercriminals a bigger and more attractive target to take down. With multiple avenues of vulnerabilities that can be targeted or brought down, an attack on smart city infrastructure could result in crippling such systems and bringing life to a complete standstill.

A real instance of such an attack took place in December 2015 when a cyber attack caused a power outage across all of Western Ukraine. The government blamed Russian cybercriminals for hacking into Ukraine's power grid, and offered the world a rare example of hackers compromising a nation's critical infrastructure. Malware was used in these power grid attacks, which caused more than 200,000 consumers to lose power.

Smart city systems will consist of numerous connected devices, possibly designed and manufactured by several different vendors with little, if any standardization in terms of hardware and software in use. Gartner estimates that by 2020, the number of connected devices could touch 20.4 billion, up from 8.4 billion in 2017.

These IoT-enabled smart cities and connected networks open up a whole new set of security challenges—challenges that simply cannot be addressed by conventional cybersecurity solutions. They will need a fresh new approach and innovative next generation solutions to ensure that the smart cities of tomorrow are also safe and secure.

To know the potential solutions for enhanced smart-city cybersecurity using blockchain technology, read here.

Floyd DCosta

Co-founder, Block Armour


Floyd DCosta is Co-founder of Block Armour, a Mumbai- and Singapore-based startup focused on harnessing the potential of blockchain technology to counter growing cybersecurity challenges in a bold new way. Its flagship IoTArmour solution is designed explicitly to provide military-grade security for connected devices and critical infrastructure in the Internet of Things (IoT). 


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