By Anshuman Singh, Director, Product Management of Application Security, Barracuda Networks
Cities drive the economic growth of every nation. With only 31% of India's population currently urbanized and constituting 63% of India's GDP (up from 45% in 1990), urban sections of the society have clearly been the key engine of growth acceleration in the past decade. And with the initiatives of the current Indian government such as Digital India, these sections are now becoming highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate and communications. The urban regions in India are hence being expected to contribute 70-75% of its GDP by 2020, Barclays said in a report.
These advanced and urbanized regions, being envisioned as ‘smart cities’, are principally where information technology is the key infrastructure and the foundation for providing essential services to citizens. So it would be fair to say that smart cities primarily depend upon practice of information and communication technologies (ICT) to provide public services. This requires comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure. Wherever valid, Internet of Things (IoT) enabled sensors, cloud computing, virtualisation and machine to machine (M2M) integration keep the cities’ ‘smart’ applications running.
These highly advanced regions, called, ‘smart cities’ are where information technology is the key infrastructure and the foundation for providing essential services to citizens. Smart cities principally depend upon practice of information and communication technologies (ICT) to provide public services. This requires comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure. Wherever valid, Internet of Things (IoT) enabled sensors, cloud computing, virtualisation and machine to machine (M2M) integration keep the cities’ ‘smart’ applications running.
Waking up to the Security Risks
The ubiquitous use of ICT, IoT, M2M, cloud computing, etc. has limitations as well as potential risks due to unawareness or ignorance related to IT security. Firstly, to be ‘smart’, many of the services the city offers, such as electricity or water may need web interface accessible via platforms like mobile to ensure accessibility. Secondly, all the services and monitors need to have constant connectivity for these applications to work efficiently as failure of connectivity will halt these activities. And finally, these applications will have large amounts of personal data that has to be safeguarded and protected to ensure that the data is not being compromised in any manner. Hence, Data protection and Information security will have to be of uttermost importance to keep Smart Cities secured.
This has to be a shared responsibility of the Government, service providers and the citizens. While the Government and service providers need to ensure that it puts in place the necessary infrastructure and processes for keeping the smart services available and secure, it is up to the citizens to be aware of the risks and to take necessary precautions.
Immunizing Physical Assets and Associated Data
Considering that the exercise of watching over citizens is going to be simplified to a great deal by making all the information available online easily, the government also needs to consider the safety hazards it brings along. Increasing instances of cyber-crime are evidence to the serious threat hovering over the privacy of all individuals. Robust information security and data protection measures are needed to be installed in order to prevent any compromises on citizen sensitive information.
Physical security of buildings and cities entitled with the storage of such information are subject to serious threats thus protecting the physical premises is also necessary.
Coping up with the Enormous Data
Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration while gearing up for smart cities is the enormous amount of data. Smart cities lay on the foundation of information that requires physical and virtual data storage. Hence it becomes very important to allocate data storage and also ensure data protection so that information is not compromised. Physical units of the data need to be kept under secure premises. Additionally, with the large amounts of data, there is need to use the right information management tools so the data could be backed up and archived periodically in order to prevent any data loss, and to allow one to search through the system seamlessly for any information. For example, take for instance, the sector of healthcare- in smart cities, every citizen’s health records will be uploaded onto the servers. This will generate large amounts of data that would need to be stored and managed securely.
Overcoming Security Breaches
Smart cities come with an idea of easy access to information for better governance and increased transparency. However, the same information can also be misused by notorious groups or even other nation states for strategic purposes. Hence, the government should step in here to ensure a robust data protection so that any sort of illegal tracking of data can be prevented. Also, proper frameworks and routes need to be defined and awareness needs to be created on what comes under the category of a cyber-crime, where one is crossing the line of transparency and moving into somebody’s personal territory. For example, there will be services for the citizens available online which will have personal information about each citizen. This website has to be secured via a strong Firewall and the government has to ensure that this information is protected safely via strong security solutions.
Creating awareness on the Sensitivity of Data Sharing
There is also a need to sensitize the common public to seriously consider terms of information usage before using or installing any product/service. For example, photocopying and sharing documents that contain identity validity or banking details over e-services like messengers and emails is something one should refrain from. Also, one should take the terms & conditions seriously while installing or buying any application, as while accepting these, one is giving these apps the authorization to access their personal information.
The need of the hour world class public service infrastructure backed by a strong and robust IT architecture that includes both security and storage solutions. But the Smart Cities Mission is will be incomplete without people who actively contribute in governance and reforms, and are also aware of do’s and don’ts for themselves.