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Why Are Smart Cities Such a Tempting Target for Hackers? by Anna Stergioula

Smart cities are growing in popularity with city planners. Unfortunately, they’re also growing in popularity with hackers. I’ve written about some of the issues that make smart cities vulnerable to hackers, now I’m going to explore why smart cities are such an attractive target for hackers.

So, Why Are Smart Cities a Target for Hackers?

There are a number of reasons why hackers might want to target smart cities.

city skyline seen through a fence

1. They Contain A LOT of Data

The data lake at the heart of smart cities makes them an attractive target for hackers. Due to the sheer size of the IoT deployments involved in smart cities, they collect a vast amount of data. That means that if data is what hackers are after, they’ve hit the jackpot with smart cities.

2. Attacking City Infrastructure Is a Good Way to Cause Chaos

Whether the hackers are intending to cause serious harm or are just foolish pranksters who haven’t considered the consequences of their actions, hacking a smart city can cause serious chaos.

In 2017, hackers set off all 156 of Dallas’s storm-warning sirens. On this occasion, it seemed to have been little more than a misguided prank but these types of hacks could cause real trouble in the future if the systems’ vulnerabilities are not addressed.

For some people, the prospect of causing mayhem is just too tempting to be missed. Smart cities need to better secure themselves to guard against these types of hacks.

3. Multiple Endpoints Mean Multiple Vulnerabilities

busy city street at night

Smart cities are made up of many different elements: traffic-sensors, smart transport, street lighting, pollution monitoring, and so on. This gives hackers lots of opportunities to make their way into the system. 

This opens the possibility that a hacker could enter a smart city system through something innocuous like the street lighting system and, once they’re inside, make their way towards more sensitive data or mission-critical infrastructure.

All elements of a smart city must be secured, not just the ones that have been identified as being the most sensitive or important.

4. Holding the City to Ransom

Cities often have access to considerable sums of money and the damage done by a large-scale hack can be enormous and costly to repair. It makes sense that cities would be willing to pay hackers to regain control of their systems.

graffiti of a woman wearing sunglasses

Last year, hackers demanded $2.5 million from towns and other entities in Texas after executing a ransomware attack. Boston and Atlanta have also been targeted in similar attacks. Neither city paid the ransom, instead choosing to pay far more to get their systems functioning again themselves. 

However, a small city in Florida opted to pay hackers $600,000 to recover access to their systems. If they pick the right targets, hacking smart cities can be extremely lucrative.

5. They’re Easy to Hack

Unfortunately, too many smart cities are not adequately secured. There are a variety of security issues that plague smart city deployments and make them vulnerable to malicious actors.

man walking between pillars

In early 2018, IBM X-Force Red and Threatcare discovered 17 zero-day vulnerabilities in smart city sensors and controls. These vulnerabilities, which are in systems used in cities around the world, could allow hackers to gain access to sensors and manipulate data.

Smart cities have the potential to bring many benefits to their citizens. However, they must fix their security problems as a priority. If they don’t then the consequence for the cities and their citizens could be dire.

Anna Stergioula

Technical Account Director and Head of Security

Living proof that women are a force in tech, Anna not only works tirelessly to support customers but also travels the world promoting the security of the IoT.

Posted: February 27, 2020