As the UK government pumps millions of pounds into making its cities and towns ‘smarter’, it’s also spending vast sums of money on defending itself against cyber hackers.
£1.9bn has been announced as part of the country’s national cyber security strategy. An emphasis has been placed on trust in the internet and the infrastructure on which it relies. UK Chancellor Philip Hammond says both are “fundamental to our future”. His comments strike a chord, especially in the wake of the recent DDoS attack which immobilized large chunks of the internet.
With cyber security being a top concern in a world where people and places are becoming ‘smarter’, Mashable takes a look at how a smart city in the UK could be outsmarted by hackers. First, let us set the scene for you …
Imagine you’re walking down the street at night. Lights from LED lamp posts increase as you pass by, then fade down. Suddenly, you hear a loud noise at the end of the road. Lights flare up to reveal two people arguing. One has a knife. In less than a minute, the police arrive and under a blinding light the two are arrested.
Who alerted law enforcement? Why did the light change in intensity? Are we living in a Minority Report type of dystopia?
Nope. This could actually happen in real life. The change in lighting in the above scenario could be made a reality by equipping an LED lamp post with multiple noise sensors and video cameras which are linked to an operations centre.
And that’s just the beginning:
IP-connected lampposts can also, for example, help you find that free parking space or alert the authorities to an illegally-parked vehicle. For those concerned about the environment, street lighting can give you an exact reading of CO2 levels.
Intelligent lamp posts can even detect gunshots thanks to real-time acoustic gunfire detection sensors. And they can alert the emergency services.
Still think this is the stuff of sci-fi movies? Then spend some time in Glasgow. Yes, Glasgow, Scotland, where 180 intelligent lampposts have been installed as part of the city’s £24m Smart City project.
“Smart lighting, which replaces energy inefficiency with savings between 60-80 percent depending on circumstances, had very positive feedback among shoppers and shopkeepers,” Gary Walker, programme director of Future City Glasgow, told Mashable.
The Internet of Things and the DDoS attacks
However, behind the buzzwords there are serious concerns about the ability of these “smart cities” to adequately protect themselves.
Those fears became a reality last week, when more than 10 million devices hooked up to the internet of things were hacked in an attack that slowed a huge swath of the internet.
The assault was known as distributed denial of service (DDoS), which occurs when a hacker sends so much data at a website that the server can’t handle the flow, preventing normal users from accessing the site.
Connected lamp posts, just like any other object with an IP address, also run a danger of being targeted and taken over by hackers.
“Intelligent lampposts are an obvious target for whoever wants to target a city on a mass scale. That’s where you would start if you wanted to shut down a whole city,” Eva Blum-Dumontet, research officer at Privacy International, told Mashable. “The DDoS attack shows we haven’t seen any clear progress towards more and better security.”