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Smart Cities', IoT's Key Challenges: Security, Lack of Standards

London Technology Week: At IFSEC, futurologist Simon Moores asks who's responsible when a smart city crashes.

“Who’s responsible when a smart city crashes?”

Futurologist Dr. Simon Moores asked this question during his keynote session at IFSEC London today, but had no answer.

"Smart cities" like Songdo, Korea, are full of Internet-of-things devices -- smart electric meters, street lights that adjust to the number of people on streets, RFID chips to monitor traffic flow or even to track how many recyclable items are being properly disposed of. Every smart building may be full of IoT devices running elevators, lighting, security, and HVAC systems.

"Integrating an entire city full of these networks presents an almost intractable problem," Moore said.

The Internet of Things still faces "two really, really big challenges," he said:  security and a lack of standards. 

It creates another avenue for attacks, and the attack surface is huge, Moores said. He pointed out that the problem of "forever day" vulnerabilities -- holes in legacy systems that manufacturers no longer patch -- also become a greater threat.

However, the bigger trouble may come from the big data generated by all these smart devices. "The value isn’t in the IoT at all," said Moores. "[And] … the real value is in the ability to apply the data from the sensors at the endpoints."

As the amount and value of this data increases, its value as an attack target could increase -- both attacks that steal private information or manipulate it and damage its integrity. As Moores explains, the persistent collection of data about people's movements also raises privacy concerns -- something that some cities citizens' are beginning to push back against.

"I don't yet see a similar effort in London," said Moores, "which is becoming a world-class surveillance city."

Until now, Moores said, smart city development has focused on technology, not people; cost-savings, not security; and top-down, not bottom-up approaches. A “long, messy, and incremental process” is ahead, he said, and the winners and losers will depend upon how well they can adapt.

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