A Sustainable Future

The Internet of Things will play a key role in protecting municipalities

Just a few months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its special report on the impact of climate change. The report contains grim warnings for politicians worldwide and recommends rapid and significant changes to how we use land, energy, industry and cities. Regarding the latter, countless smart city initiatives are underway. Underpinned by smart technology, these may ultimately help to dramatically improve the prospects of a sustainable future.

However, from a security perspective, many challenges remain. How can smart cities be protected from potential cyberattacks? The best way to protect the tens of thousands of endpoints that make up a smart city’s complex web of remote cloud and network connections is to implement a multi-layered security approach that utilizes virtual private networks (VPNs). Let’s dive in deeper.

Smart City Innovations

According to an analysis from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the earth is heading for more than 3 degrees Celsius global warming by 2100 if current trends continue. Scientists warn that unless urgent steps are taken to prevent temperatures rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will eventually be catastrophic consequences that impact our food sources, water supplies, health and security. The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart city innovations will play a huge role in stopping this chain of event before it’s too late.

According to the IPCC, the answer lies in making our land, energy, industry and cities work more efficiently. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, half of all smart city objectives will be centered on climate change and sustainability. Thereafter, growth rates will exceed 19 percent a year. According to Frost & Sullivan, the smart cities market worldwide will be worth more than $2 trillion by 2025. Artificial intelligence (AI) and smart technology will be at the heart of it.

Smart projects are presently under way in more than 450 of the world’s largest cities. Collectively, they offer some rays of hope for the future. Complex networks of remote sensors and IoT devices are collecting and analysing data on everything from energy consumption to waste management. Smartpowered Bigbelly trash bins, for example, have started to appear in towns and cities everywhere. These large, self-compacting bins can take up to five-times the waste of traditional trash cans. The need for waste collections is reduced by up to 80 percent with corresponding savings in costs and carbon dioxide emissions.

Smart city sustainability benefits don’t stop at waste management. In Toronto, Google’s Sidewalk Labs has installed IoT sensors across a 12-acre site for real-time monitoring of traffic patterns, energy usage, noise and air pollution. Meanwhile, smart city bodies in San Diego have succeeded in introducing sustainability measures such as intelligent street lighting and solar-powered charging stations. Elsewhere, Copenhagen is widely adjudged to be the model for sustainability that all other smart cities should aspire to.

Adopting a Standard Security Model

The issue with every smart city project to date is that they only affect their immediate locality. In order to stand any chance of impacting future sustainability, the next phase must scale current projects up to regional, national and, ultimately, transcontinental levels.

For this to happen, governments, businesses and citizens will first need to overcome present misgivings, particularly when it comes to digital security and data privacy. A sustainable future is only possible if data is shared widely between multiple service providers. This will require people to change their mindset from one currently centred on keeping their data a closely guarded secret to one that trusts authorities to share everyone’s information openly in total safety. Municipalities, governments and industry must therefore work together to adopt a standard model that places security front and center of every smart project they undertake.

The challenge now for city planners is to implement proactive, multi-tiered security across entire ecosystems—from conventional network infrastructures and cloud-based services to remote IoT devices and mobile endpoints. Proactive security starts with deploying thousands of intelligent sensors to continuously monitor for threats and respond automatically the moment anything is detected. The next step is to draw up a robust incident response plan that officials can follow to mitigate and remove threats as quickly as possible.

Encrypted Communications

Above all, it is essential to encrypt all data communications between sensors and devices in smart city systems. VPN services provide this function, shielding citizens’ private data from prying eyes and making the task of identifying weaknesses much harder for attackers. Professional, enterprise-grade VPNs also allow smart city operators to manage encrypted communications between standard, cloud and mobile network infrastructures and can scale up to encompass many thousands of endpoints.

In summary, the growing scientific evidence for climate change is putting pressure on city planners to find ways of conserving natural resources and slowing down its effects. Traffic systems, street lighting and waste management processes are starting to benefit from the introduction of smart technologies. The next stage will be to expand these efforts into joined up, nationwide systems. The hope is that governments, businesses and citizens will give such schemes their wholehearted support. Embedding VPNs into every project will certainly go a long way towards reassuring smart city privacy concerns and maybe even contribute to securing a sustainable future in the process.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Security Today.

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