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NIST Global City Teams Challenge to Focus on IoT Security in Smart Cities

Global City Teams Challenge participants will focus on smart city solutions to common urban issues, with a strong eye toward developing comprehensive security systems to safeguard those projects.

Smart city solutions that address some of the biggest tasks taken on by cities will be one of the drivers of the conversation at the upcoming Smart and Secure Cities and Communities Challenge (SC3) kickoff conference in Washington, D.C., next month.

The conference, organized as part of the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC), hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will bring together about 300 attendees from around the world to exchange ideas largely around Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), which refers to the use of Internet of Things in “mission-critical” applications, said Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Program at NIST. Some of those “mission critical” applications will be in areas like transportation, public safety and utilities.

NIST uses the term "CPS" interchangeably with "IoT." “We kind of joke and say ‘cyber-physical systems’ is IoT on steroids,” Rhee said.

CPS does not refer to cybersecurity. However, ensuring the security of mission-critical systems will be a frequent topic of panel discussions during the Feb. 6-8 conference, with an eye toward ensuring interconnected smart city systems are safe from hacking and tampering.

“Cybersecurity and privacy have become the focus of NIST this year. Which is why NIST partnered with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to specifically address the security issue,” said Rhee.

The National Governors Association (NGA) has made cybersecurity a top priority as technology continues to play a large role in more and more state and local governments.

“We think there’s a real opportunity as states think about how they’re going to deploy this technology to ensure that security and privacy concerns are brought in at the front end, so that you can avoid some of those common cybersecurity problems that we always talk about,” said Timothy Blute, director of the National Governors Association Future Office, and a speaker at the conference.

“As we network just about everything in our world, those cyberthreats aren’t going anywhere,” he added. “So rather than just think, how quickly can be bring something online that makes the community ‘smarter,’ let's think of how can we put security on the front end of that to ensure that what happens is they don’t go down a path of networking a device, making something that smarter and then realizing a few years down the road, ‘Oh, now we need to find a security provider that can be added on to that.’”

The Global City Teams Challenge forms teams made up of representatives from the public, private and academic sectors to address smart city solutions. For example, a team from Singapore is exploring how to deploy a public Wi-Fi system in that country. While a team based in Kansas City, Mo., has been developing an IoT platform to create a smart city network across the city’s downtown streetcar project.

The projects are intended to be scalable and offer the sorts of solutions other cities can then take on, “without reinventing the wheel,” Rhee explained.

“As municipal leaders, we all deal with the same issues,” Bob Bennett, Kansas City chief innovation officer and one of the conference speakers at the conference, said. “We just have different priorities or slight modifications based on geography or environmental issues.

“GCTC is the platform where we can highlight the similarities we have and exploit them so that we can drive down the cost of smart city infrastructure while standardizing, to the extent possible, the way we assess city operations,” he added.

Since launching five years ago, GCTC has been focused on finding solutions that can be replicated across numerous cities and encouraging a community of collaboration.

“The ultimate goal is to identify and replicate the successful ‘best practices’ for smart cities,” said Rhee.

“The biggest problem in smart cities is fragmentation, meaning every city does their things — the implementation of smart city [initiatives] — in their own way; while many of those issues are actually shared issues,” he added. 


Smart Cities
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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