Smartopolis is a smart city where multiple aspects of the city’s infrastructure are managed through technology. Each morning, residents can wake up and check to see whether bikes are available through the city’s bike-sharing program and immediately rent one for the morning commute. Or, if they prefer to drive their car they’ll find themselves pleasantly surprised as traffic lights synchronize to the flow of traffic, eliminating the need to start and stop unnecessarily. Streetlights automatically dim or brighten based on time of day or weather. Residents are able to check for the availability of parking spots to find open spots.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of how Smartopolis is using technology to manage its infrastructure and provide optimum experiences for its residents and visitors.
Smartopolis is, of course, fictional. Other smart cities, though, are real and increasingly adept at leveraging technology to improve experiences, save money, and minimize environmental impacts.
London leading the way
London is an example of an actual smart city — a city that leverages advanced technologies, sensors, and cameras to improve the quality of its services and infrastructure with the goal of creating a more efficient, sustainable, and livable environment for residents. Smart cities use technology to improve transportation, energy use, public safety, healthcare, and waste management, for instance. London launched its smart city initiative in 2015, providing free public Wi-Fi, smart streetlights, and a real-time traffic management system.
In fact, London has been identified by digi.com as “the smartest city in the world.” In 2017 it began offering 5G connectivity and in 2021 high-speed mobile connectivity to homes and businesses for faster internet connections. It has more EV charging stations than any other city in Europe or the U.S., a driverless rapid transit system — Heathrow Pods — connecting the city to the airport, and a smart meter program available to anyone who requests one.
In the United States, New York City shows up as number four on digi.com’s list because of its intelligent traffic management system, a meter reading system designed to reduce water consumption and hundreds of smart sensors to manage services like LED indoor farming, air quality and traffic flow.
One of the drivers of the smart city concept has been the Internet of Things, or IoT. IoT represents devices that are used to collect data that is then used to inform decision-making and improve services. For instance, IoT can be used to tell if waste receptacles around the city need to be emptied, to monitor traffic flow of both vehicles and people to determine if new roads or traffic signals are needed, etc.
Despite the obvious and emerging benefits of smart cities, though, there are some risks, including security concerns.
Smart city security concerns
Because smart cities rely on data and information, cybersecurity is a vulnerability. Smart cities need to ensure strong network security to prevent unauthorized access to the data collected. This is important from a privacy standpoint, but also from a practical standpoint. Access to these systems, for instance, could result in an unauthorized individual or entity accessing and controlling smart city components — for instance, changing how traffic light signals operate, when doors of city facilities are opened or locked, and more.
Smart cities need to both ensure that these types of risks are minimized and have a plan and process in place to respond quickly in the event of such a breach. They do this through:
- Network security measures including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption.
- Application security measures such as access control and authentication.
- Physical security measures such as access controls and surveillance.
- Data security measures such as encryption and secure data storage.
Smart cities illustrate the importance of secure access to public services. Smart cities can be vulnerable to cyberattacks, which could lead to significant damage and the disruption of essential services. Secure access prevents cybercriminals from accessing sensitive data or disrupting critical infrastructure, measures that are critically important to the public.