Smart Cities Are Not Smart Without Trust

Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is on its way toward transforming how its inhabitants live, work and play as business and government organizations launch initiatives in preparation for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the newly-connected world. So far, we have seen Singapore initiate SingPass Mobile, which enables people to log in to government services using fingerprint authentication instead of passwords.

Smart Nation is also facilitating a safer living environment for Singaporeans. A new Personal Alert Button is also in the trial phase for older citizens to call for help and other smart sensors to facilitate an improvement in their standard of living. As this initiative develops to make more of these advancements possible, S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, has expressed how critical the adoption of 5G technology and networks will be to Singapore's digital economy.

Beyond New Fancy Innovations, Safety Comes First

As the above examples show, the smart city environments being developed can improve our safety. Still, the necessary increases in connectivity and reliance on new technology such as 5G and edge computing could threaten it. 5G is critical to managing the sheer quantity of sensors and their data volumes. Aggregating hundreds or thousands of sensors at the hub, which in turn has to access multiple external sources like weather, events, planned roadwork, and accidents, makes 5G a critical component for the future of smart cities.

Before long, we will be leaning on digital health, autonomous cars, robots, and more. This is innovation that could bring significant benefits to our lives. Still, if there's one thing we've learned, it’s that anything digital can be hacked - including network edge data centers or other critical infrastructures - and anything connected to it then becomes vulnerable.

2019 has provided no respite from cybercrimes in Singapore as attacks seem to grow more and more sophisticated every year. We’ve seen the personal records and medical statuses of patients compromised, raising concerns about the security and safety of the nation’s citizen data.

Vertiv’s research shows that around one in five outages can be traced back to security failures such as the denial of service (DoS) attacks. As it stands, these are inconveniences at best, financially destructive at worst. They affect people because their data is compromised, or a digital service they rely on doesn't work. For businesses, they carry a sizeable cost, not just financially, but through customer, stakeholder, and reputational damage.

It's a challenging environment, and the risk gets worse, the more we rely on IoT-enabled devices in our daily lives and the more businesses and government invest in technology – but life must go on.

But it does beg the question: what happens if a robot surgeon gets hacked? Or an autonomous car? Or the smart traffic system connected to the autonomous vehicle? Don’t forget, so many things will be connected in our smart cities that cybercriminals will have new access points to infiltrate.

To avoid such life-threatening disasters, we need to get smart around securing the critical infrastructure in place supporting smart city applications. This will include modular data centers and other smaller 'network edge' infrastructure - that are vital to security, maximizing speed, and minimizing latency in these services – as well as traditional core data centers and cloud environments running services and transmitting data between devices.

If these systems are vulnerable, our smart cities – and potentially our lives – will be too.

Smart Cities Raise Privacy Concerns

While our personal safety must come first, businesses and government organizations developing smart city applications must also be conscious of keeping our data safe.

Whether through breaches or uninvited data sharing, there’s a growing sense that people have lost control over their data, and many are questioning why our human right to privacy doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

If data is used in the right way, society can reap the rewards – safety, retail, transport, energy, and more can be optimized, and smarter applications within these industries can reduce costs.

Changing our Attitude Toward Data

But constant breaches and misuse of our data are keeping trust levels low. The mentality of how we approach data is off – for example, we are forced to “opt out” to prevent our data from being used, rather than opting in to enable it.

Taking the European Union’s GDPR regulation as an example, it may be time for businesses and government organizations to reverse this and create a more open dialogue about what data they own, what they plan to use it for and why customers should let them. This, coupled with better security measures to protect our data, will go a long way to regaining people’s trust and changing our attitudes to our data being used.

There are other concerns about smart cities that a more open dialogue could help solve – what impact will an increasingly automated society have on jobs? Several significant job cuts announcements have already been made this year, people have legitimate concerns for their livelihood. The government, communities, and individuals need to understand how these concerns will be addressed.

Smart cities have the potential to deliver considerable benefits to all of us and enable us to leverage technology in a way we haven't seen before. On the surface, it's about machines connecting with machines; but businesses and government organizations need to remember the real purpose is to benefit people.

Those people need to feel safe and trust that their data is secure and being used for their benefit – otherwise, smart cities will fail or, at best, be a shadow of what we've dreamt them to be.

Tony Gaunt, senior director of colocation, cloud, and banking, financial services and insurance, Asia, Vertiv, wrote this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.