Balancing the promise of smart cities against the potential of cyber risks

Smart cities—comprising an interconnected ecosystem of municipal services, public and private entities, people, processes, devices and city infrastructure—enable a massive amount of data exchange. Integrating between disparate IoT devices and dynamically changing processes within this ecosystem creates new cyber threats compounded by complexities in technology infrastructure.

As the world becomes more connected, cyber threats are growing in number and complexity. Cyberattacks and vulnerabilities have consequences that could extend beyond just data loss, financial impact and reputational damage risks—severe though they are—to include disruption of crucial city services and infrastructure across a broad range of domains such as health care, transportation, law enforcement, power and utilities and residential services.

There are three factors that influence the potential cyber risks in the smart city ecosystem:

1. Convergence of the cyber and physical worlds

Smart cities blur the lines between the physical and cyber worlds. In this environment, people, processes and places are integrated via both information technology systems used for data-centric computing and operational technology systems used to monitor events, processes and devices, and adjust city operations. Such convergence allows cities to control and govern technology systems through remote cyber operations.

2. Interoperability between legacy and new systems

Organizations that pursue digital transformation need to integrate new digital technologies with legacy systems, which can create significant challenges and risks. These challenges include inconsistent security policies and procedures and disparate technology platforms, resulting in hidden security vulnerabilities throughout the smart city ecosystem.

3. Integration of disparate city services and enabling infrastructure

Traditionally, cities have offered a wide range of services that were largely independent of each other (power, water, sewer, transportation, public works, law enforcement, firefighting and social services, for example). Each of these services were typically provided by an agency using its own systems, processes and assets. Now, these services are slowly being integrated and linked through an interconnected web of digital technologies.

Balancing the promise of smart cities against the potential of cyber risks—and managing the associated risks effectively—will be critical to realizing smart cities’ potential. Cities should begin by engaging all stakeholders and entities in the broader ecosystem. Syncing smart city and cyber strategy, formalizing cyber and data governance and building strategic partnerships to grow cyber capabilities are all fundamental components of an integrated approach to managing cyber risk. Read the full article to learn more about the next steps cities should consider when building a cyber strategy.

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