Recent attacks on (some) smart cities in the US

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

As I was listening this morning to one of my favorite tech shows, ‘Smashing Security‘, I realized I didn’t quite cover an important aspect of ‘smart cities’ in my recent post “Smart Cities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution“. While in my previous post I briefly touch on issues like privacy and the dehumanization of data, I did not explore at the issue of security.

With the large quantity of data generated in (by?) smart cities and all the computer systems put in place to make city life more efficient, also comes vulnerability. Smart cities incorporate technology to solve many urban conundrums such as parking spaces, traffic management, and even affordable housing, but making them secure is a big issue that will need to be solved fast.

On episode 142 of Smashing Security (I know I’m a little behind, but as a graduate student I do my best to keep up), the hosts of the podcast talk about the several ransomware attacks that smart cities around the US have recently been subject to. Twenty-two of these attacks happened in Texas in 2019 only! The attacks cause more than just data breaches; attackers are able to ‘hold a city hostage’ by freezing its cyber-infrastructure and impair people’s access to online services or even to retrieve important online documents like digital birth certificates, among other things.

When I heard this news, I didn’t know that Texas had 22 smart cities, least that they had been attacked. However, Smashing Security’s co-host Carole Theriault said something key about smart cities during the show: how smart is a smart city is a matter of degree. So how much cyber-infrastructure is in place and how much of it can be targeted because of its vulnerabilities is also a matter of degree. The podcast mentions a few more attacks than the ones in Texas and goes on in detail about what the attackers ask for in return and how these cities have dealt in different ways with these problems.

As I hope that this trend of attacks gets stopped soon, one thing I think is clear to me: while we are living in this time where cities are not fully ‘smart’, we need to start integrating cybersecurity best practices into our culture on all levels…

To listen for free to this episode of Smashing Security, you can follow this link, or you can find the show on iTunes, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.

Resources

  • For a deeper discussion on the infrastructure of smart cities, you can check out this post and the references within episode 142 of Smashing Security.