Smart Cities: The Promises and the Risks

By Sophie Caudiu, CPA, CGA, Principal, Enterprise Group and Laurent Carlier, ASC, CRMA, CISA, CISSP, CRP

This article was originally published in Action Canada-France

Smart cities promise substantial benefits to citizens, including improved energy efficiency, smart traffic management, transparency and greater civic participation. However, they also create significant risks that cannot be under-estimated.

Connected Objects Can be Vulnerable to Attack

Security incidents are the first to plague smart cities. Substantially increasing the flow of information and the links between the various information systems results in a marked increase in cyber threats. These threats target the joint use of mobile apps and connected objects, particularly sensors that gather a wealth of information.

It is common knowledge that connected objects often have major security breaches. Car hacking involving Chrysler, GM and Tesla vehicles attracted a considerable amount of attention in 2015 and is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of risks related to the Internet of things. Imagine what would happen if someone managed to hack all the traffic lights of an entire city!

Are These Partnerships Reliable? 

The business model that smart cities put in place is based on having more partnerships with new technology companies, which develop new apps. Each municipality aims not only to improve the quality of life of its citizens, but also to become a technology incubator by encouraging local entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, these businesses are not always fully mature. And yet, they may hold critical data on citizens and businesses. How can it be ensured that this data is managed in a secure manner? Strict and diligent control processes must be put into place to safeguard the information provided to partners. In the final analysis, each city must assume its responsibility for governance and security matters.

The Risks of Failure

The risk that tends to be neglected most often is also the most obvious, i.e. the possibility that apps will not work or will not work properly. Failure to deliver services or system malfunctions can result in major economic losses for citizens and businesses alike.

Montréal experienced this in the winter of 2014-2015 with its Info Neige app. Its goal was to inform citizens, in real time, of where snow removal crews were working and to warn them of these operations when they must drive around the city. Human error resulted in major problems, since the information available did not reflect what was happening on the ground. A number of citizens who relied on the app received parking tickets.

In France, it is the Paris Taxi app that was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons last February. This app, which was launched in 2014, was supposed to replace the taxi stand telephones in the French capital and to make it easier for drivers to pick up passengers. The app does not work well at all, especially due to problems with its global positioning system. The problems are so large that the city of Paris had to rush to re-install fifteen or so telephones and expects to install even more until the app is functioning properly.

Development in Spite of the Risks

Cities are undeniably becoming increasingly wired and connected, with new services but also new constraints and clearly identified risks. It is the responsibility of municipalities and governments to manage these new risks properly, with the help of recognized experts right from the design stage, in order to anticipate and resolve issues efficiently and effectively.

Learn more: The Internet of Things: A Revolution That Comes with Risks

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