Smart cities need even smarter security

28 Jan 2016

As part of Data Protection Day, a new report into smart cities and their cybersecurity risks has been published by the Government, with warnings abounding for future society.

Penned by Maynooth University’s Prof Rob Kitchin, the report recommends a targeted approach for privacy and security issues, with policy and regulation at the forefront of what’s required.

“To date, the approach to privacy and security in the context of smart cities has been haphazard and uncoordinated,” said Kitchin.

“In many cases, the issues are paid lip service. I advocate a much more systematic approach that aims to gain the benefits smart city technologies offer, whilst minimising the potential risks.”

The report is the first publication by the new Government Data Forum, a panel of industry experts, with Minister Dara Murphy saying a smart city with new technologies requires society “to think about the privacy and security questions they raise”.

Amid the GSOC revelations, any state-supported look at smart technology – and inherent privacy concerns – sort of misses the point. So Murphy’s views can only really be looked at through this prism. It’s almost like ‘cyberattacks’ are bad and ‘surveillance’ isn’t – a very black and white world, which needlessly separates the two words.

CCTV cameras dominate major cities, smartphones track users, sensors dotted around streets can track phones and Wi-Fi and telephone connections are hardly bastions of a secure world.

However, the fact that the Forum is made up of multiple sources bodes well, perhaps, for the future.

Smart cities is a phrase used for the pursuit of greater use of sensors and smart technology in heavily-populated areas, with a view to making services more efficient and less costly.

There’s never a true smart city as, with every technological advancement, the pursuit continues.

The Forum advises Government on the opportunities and challenges for society and the economy arising from continued growth in the generation and use of personal data.

Kitchin said that smart city vulnerabilities are “exacerbated” by various problems such as weak encryption, legacy software, human error and advanced hacking techniques.

“There are a number of weak points,” wrote Kitchin recently. “Including SCADA systems, the sensors and microcontrollers of the internet of things, and communication networks and telecommunication switches.”

For those to be fixed, it would take quite the coordinated project. But, again, if it ignores extensive surveillance, then who cares?

Smart city image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic