Insecure smart city tech raises public security and privacy fears

A study looking into the use of smart technology by British councils, and the public’s opinion of it, has highlighted the security and privacy fears the public has about the new technology.

Freedom of Information requests were submitted to councils around the UK by Broadband Genie asking for details of deployed and planned smart city programs, the allocated budget for these programs, who owned the data gathered and whether data was shared with third parties.

While a significant number of authorities did not respond or declined due to the cost of gathering the information, details of many smart city projects were obtained. For instance, energy saving street lamps are in use in Leicester, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Chester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Reading and York. And council operated public Wi-Fi is found in Belfast, Derby, Inverness, York, Leicester and Worcester, with Inverness council saying it had a budget of £500,000 for the deployment.

Councillor Frank McAveety, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “Glasgow is at the forefront of the innovative use of data in the UK, and this was recognised when the city won the £24m award from the UK Government for the Future Cities Demonstrator project. We use data to make the lives of our residents, businesses and visitors easier and simpler and recognise its importance now and in the years to come.”

Other smart city technologies found around the UK include traffic management, bicycle tracking, environmental sensors, air quality monitors, smart waste bins, people counters, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), water depth sensors, anti-drowning systems and smart parking meters. Some councils also class broadband improvement projects as part of their smart city work.


Public perception

The survey asked the public what they think about the schemes mentioned above. The results revealed that 67% say smart city tech is not a good investment for public funds. A similar number are also understandably sceptical about their personal information being retained.

If councils are to move forward with these projects, strong protection of private data is essential to reassure Brits that any data captured is properly handled.

The security of smart technology is crucial too. Not only could it be exploited to steal information, it could even be corrupted to damage and disrupt infrastructure.

The survey also suggests more effort needs to be put into making the public aware of smart city technology. Just 10% of respondents said they knew about smart city projects around the UK.

Cesar Cerrudo, Chief Technology Officer at IOActive commented: “I’m very concerned due to the current adoption of many insecure smart cities technologies. Most technologies are being implemented without any security testing, putting smart city services at risk of cyber attacks. Threats of cyber attack are very real; there are plenty of possibilities for cyber attacks on cities around the world. It’s just a matter of time that attackers decide to do it.”

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