A Sustainable Future
The Internet of Things will play a key role in protecting municipalities
- By Julian Weinberger
- Jun 01, 2019
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
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
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
Adopting a Standard
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
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
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.
Julian Weinberger is director of systems engineering for NCP Engineering.