Cybersecurity: a smart city imperative

Cybersecurity: a smart city imperative

As investments in technology increase, cities also expose themselves to greater risks

As investments in technology increase, cities also expose themselves to greater risks

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted to cities around the world the importance of smart city programmes by using technology, data and innovative solutions to address their social, environmental, and economic challenges.


Indeed, 65 per cent of city leaders surveyed in 2020 as part of ESI ThoughtLab’s Smart City Solutions for a Risker World reported that the top lessons learned from the pandemic was that smart city programmes are crucial for their future.


Exposure to risk


Innovation is a double-edged sword though. As city leaders increase their investments in digital technologies, they also expose their cities to greater cybersecurity risks if they do not put appropriate safeguards in place up front.


The pandemic was a stress test for urban cybersecurity systems. Attacks on state and local governments went up dramatically as cybercriminals sought to take advantage of the crisis.


Many cities fell victim to ransomware and other attack vectors. For example, Knoxville in Tennessee was hit in June of 2020 with an attack that crippled its IT systems. The disruption escalated when hackers began publishing data online in a move to extract a ransom payment. Hackers also took advantage of pandemic-related disarray by shamelessly targeting some hospitals.


The ESI ThoughtLab study shows that cities need to do more to keep their urban centers and citizens secure. Most cities, 60 per cent, reported they are not well prepared for cyberattacks. Although small cities felt more confident about their cybersecurity systems than others, the smallest urban areas are in a more precarious situation, with only 29 per cent believing they were well prepared. This is borne out by the incidence of attacks during the pandemic on smaller cities in the US, such as Florence, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.


One sign of a smart city leader – one that is most advanced in using technology and innovative solutions – is its level of cybersecurity Ninety-five per cent of cities classified as leaders in the study said they were well prepared for cyberattacks, against just 8 per cent of beginner cities.

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