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Smart cities are a security nightmare

There could be an estimated 2.3 billion connected devices in smart cities this year — a 42% increase since 2016. But the ubiquity of these devices is becoming a hacker's paradise, and smart cities could quickly become a security nightmare.

What they are: Smart cities "rely on interconnected devices to streamline and improve city services based on rich, real-time data," according to Harvard Business Review. That could be everything from sensors that reduce the energy used in street lights to devices that regulate the distribution of water.

The goal is to improve a city's livability and to utilize smart technologies to streamline its infrastructure.

The problem: These devices rely on real-time, accurate information, so if a hacker gets hold of their network, the entire city's programming could be thrown off. This has already happened: Hackers set off 158 emergency sirens throughout Dallas on April 8.

Smart cities:

  • In South Korea, one city installed smart sensors to regulate water and energy, slashing building operating costs by 30 percent.
  • Barcelona uses smart water meter technology, which saved the city $58 million annually.

One systemic flaw: "Cities currently using a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, are particularly susceptible to frequent hacks due to poor security protocols. Though SCADA systems control large-scale processes and unify decentralized facilities, they lack cryptographic security and authentication factors. If a hacker targets a city's SCADA system, they could threaten public health and safety, and shut down multiple city services from a single entry point."

What's next: There will be an estimated 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Smart cities will need to secure their critical, digital infrastructure from hackers seeking to wreak havoc on the area.