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Smart Cities Security Concerns and Safety Issues: 5G, MEC and Security Risks

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Smart cities could transform urban living for the better. However, in order to mitigate the risks of cyber threats that can be exacerbated by inadequately secured and mobile edge computing (MEC) technologies, government officials should be aware of smart cities security concerns associated with their supporting infrastructure.

What is a smart city?

A smart city is an urban area that uses technologies and networking to help improve local services and infrastructure management. For example, a smart city can harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), MEC and faster networking, such as 4G LTE and 5G, to reduce operational costs and provide better, faster services and information-sharing.

Typically, a smart city collects data using a web of IoT-connected sensors to gather insights about how residents use the environment and access services. This data helps inform decision-makers so resources can be more appropriately allocated.

As urbanization accelerates, smart cities will likely take on even more relevance. In fact, according to a report by Technavio, the market for smart cities is predicted to grow by about $2.1 trillion by 2024—and with it, smart cities' security concerns.

How do 5G and MEC accelerate the transformation of smart cities?

5G, with its potential for faster speeds, lower latency and increased bandwidth, and MEC, can help bring data processing closer to the end user, which will in turn accelerate the development of smart cities.

For example, with the potential for lower latency and to connect more devices per square meter, 5G and MEC could help support the proliferation and scalability of sensors and data collection in an urban environment thereby helping to reduce operating costs. Additionally, the potential for lower latency and the advent of private networking—to prioritize and segment certain traffic flows over others—might allow for completely new use cases, such as connected cars and self-driving vehicles.

However, while both technologies can help critical, performance-impacting applications respond more quickly and efficiently, officials should be aware of novel safety and security concerns posed by smart cities.

Smart cities security concerns

Increasingly connected smart cities can be a target for hackers, and the proliferation of connected sensors and mobile devices that 5G and MEC can support, particularly for more critical applications such as self-driving vehicles, could inevitably create more opportunities for bad actors to strike. Officials will need to be prepared.

The threat is becoming increasingly evident. Most recently, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the UK warned that sensors and internet-connected devices may improve urban services but could also be used by hackers and foreign states to disrupt or spy. They warned that critical public services will need to be protected from disruption and that public trust is at risk, given the large volumes of sensitive data smart cities may collect about residents.

There are already prominent examples of cyber attacks on public infrastructure. For example, Atlanta experienced a sustained malware attack in 2018 that lasted weeks. In addition to wiping out valuable criminal evidence, it also reportedly cost the city $2.6 million. Baltimore also saw its emergency services fall victim to a ransomware attack.

In a recent survey of over 800 senior professionals responsible for the procurement, management and security of mobile devices—23% of whom work in the public sector—nearly half said their organization had experienced a mobile-related compromise and that the effects were major. Furthermore, 63% said the repercussions were lasting.

How to ensure smart city safety and security

To mitigate risks caused by potential security concerns, cyber attack prevention should be considered at every stage of planning and implementation. Governments and asset owners would be wise to invest in cyber security protections right from the design stage through to end-user processes. Government bodies and organizations should consider consulting and working with experts throughout to ensure they are covering all bases and investing in the best possible mitigation strategies and technologies.

Officials should also be cognizant of the key threat vectors: malware, ransomware, lost and stolen devices, phishing emails, and rogue Wi-Fi. This also includes ensuring civil servants and third-party service providers are well-trained and aware of the threats. Staff members must be taught how to spot phishing emails and bad links and how to act quickly to reduce the impact of an attack. Other tools in officials' arsenals should include restricting sensitive access where necessary, using encryption, and seeking a cyber security provider that can help support, inform and offer the right tools.

Security is fundamental to the success—or failure—of smart city infrastructure. Fortunately, well-implemented security solutions can help address smart cities' security concerns to help reduce risk, and provide robust smart city safety and security

Explore how Verizon's IoT solutions can help address smart cities' security concerns and build a secure smart city environment.