Are Smart Cities Safe?

Posted on 23 February 2020

The concept of smart cities has been around for some time – and they’re no longer the stuff of sci-fi novels. With new technology emerging every day, where we live and work is changing, but is it for the better?


According to UN projections, 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. As cities become not just the primary working space, but also the primary living space for most of us, governments worldwide are investing in new ways to improve our quality of life. The focus is on refining services, maximising efficiency, and increasing connectivity, and our world leaders are looking to technology to achieve this goal.

In an increasingly inter-connected world, the Internet of Things (IoT) is more important than ever, and the development of smart cities relies heavily on this principle for improved services and increased safety. One example of this is smart street lighting in Glasgow, which has been used to improve driving conditions and contribute to lower crime rates. Meanwhile, traffic apps that leverage open data sources have been used to improve transportation around the cities of Barcelona and London. There’s also the IoT solution of remotely connected CCTV with automated incident detection that could allow authorities to respond to threats much quicker.


Keeping Smart Cities Safe for Inhabitants

While there’s much talk of smart cities keeping their citizens safe, can that assurance be extended to the cities themselves? With a heavy reliance on data collection and analysis to provide the predictive analytics that make them so user friendly, there’s a very clear target for dubious parties.

It’s no secret that IoT devices can be hacked, and if your smart fridge or Amazon Echo device can be hijacked, why not smart street lights, traffic apps, or the CCTV camera near your home? And what about the entire city becoming a target? In 2018, a city in Florida had its servers infected with ransomware which crippled their email, payroll, and other important functions, causing the city to pay up $600,000 in ransom fees, rather than suffer any more disruption.

Cities are already overwhelmed with the high volumes of data that’s collected daily, and keeping that data protected is an ongoing challenge. Security needs to be one of the first priorities when upgrading a city, which is why a Zero Trust approach to smart city infrastructure is so crucial. Protecting sensitive information goes beyond ensuring the security of devices, and extends to the data level, allowing organisations to prevent, identify, and respond to cyber-attacks effectively.


Keeping Smart Cities Safe for the Environment

As we strive for an interconnected future, we can’t abandon our connection with the planet. Preserving our environment has been a hot topic of late, but can smart cities help or hinder that initiative?

In 2019, Microsoft commissioned a report from global accountancy firm PwC, looking into the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. PwC found that AI could be used to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 4%, while also creating millions of jobs, which is a win-win situation for both the economy and the environment. Microsoft has made a revolutionary pledge to greatly improve its environmental impact, and by focusing heavily on developing its AI offerings, it could change the world in many other different ways too.

IBM is another company that is utilising smart technology to improve our environment. The company’s Green Horizon Initiative uses machine learning and IoT to address climate change-related challenges and it’s expanding. IBM is partnering with the Chinese government to put its tech to good use: monitoring pollution levels in Beijing, a city that’s notorious for its dangerous smog levels, in order to regulate traffic flow and reduce dangerous pollution hot spots.

This proves that, if anything, new technology can be used to improve our environment, something that smart cities are poised to take full advantage of. Barcelona, Singapore, and Oslo are all utilising efficient LED smart lighting, energy use sensors, interconnected air quality monitors, and smart congestion tech to both improve quality of life for their residents, while also improving our environment – it’s time to follow suit.


Manchester – A New Smart City?

At Identity Experts, we’re very proud to have a presence in Manchester, an innovation hub whose smart city ambitions are very much on track. Manchester is already known as a bit of a tech hub, so it’s no surprise that the city is actively seeking the transformative technology it needs to keep up with the likes of London, Singapore, and Dubai. Three Manchester based businesses have been appointed as CityVerve suppliers, meaning that with the council’s support, they’re bringing the IoT to the streets of Manchester.

Those three organisations are:

  • Retail Sensing – a data collection company who will be deploying sensors along Oxford Road to collect footfall and traffic information using a CCTV people counting system.
  • Tracsis – a transport survey organisation who will be collecting data on human traffic by Victoria, Piccadilly, Deansgate, and Oxford Road train stations, to provide city planners with insights into crowd behaviour.
  • Apadmi – a mobile and comms company who will present Manchester City Council members with a specially developed app that allows them to report on environment problems across the city.

The result of these trials could shape Manchester’s infrastructure and development for years to come, improving connectivity and making our city a world leader in this space.


Developing a smart city is no easy feat, but this ambitious project is being undertaken the world over. Big data is already being harnessed to provide citizens with a higher quality of life that is safer, more efficient, more reactive, and more personalised.

While nefarious parties do lie in wait to hijack personal devices, workplace equipment, and whole cities themselves, they can be kept at bay if cities fortify themselves with a focus on security and the right technology.

Although there’s definitely more work to be done to ensure that our smart cities reach the interconnected utopian dream they’re striving for, we certainly think that the future’s already looking much smarter.


If you’d like to fortify your organisation and protect your data from nefarious parties – or you just want to talk about zero trust – please contact a member of our dedicated team.



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