We Would Never Build A Skyscraper That Is Not Adequately Supported By A Strong Foundation

The development of “smart cities” is in full gear across the world and in cities across the U.S. municipalities have adopted the belief that by adding intelligence and automation, their growing urban challenges can be more easily solved. But all approaches will take a commitment to smart planning and an investment in the citizens, steps we don’t yet appear ready to make.

Smart cities are urban areas that utilize extensive automation, data collection and managed services to speed the delivery of services from Government to citizens as well as enhance the capability of systems to more efficiently use resources. The smart cities movement is fueled by a global trend of people moving to urban areas thus creating mega-urban regions. Proponents of smart cities proclaim that we must increase our capacity to manage people and processes that assure a harmonious existence for all. However, I believe the projected $34 Billion-dollar “smart” market might have something to do with the push.

The cybersecurity challenges of the past few years will become magnified to yield unimaginable consequences if we do not adequately integrate a youth population capable of responding to system failure. Exploits like denial of service to 911 systems will need to be better managed by in-house experts. A culture of cybersecurity will be a requirement, not just a goal.

Without a doubt, an inept, incompetent, or cheap approach to building a smart city could hasten the loss of a municipal heartbeat. Look at the damage the terribly-constructed levies caused in New Orleans or the effect on the livelihood of Puerto Ricans when a power utility company let their poles rot instead of properly maintaining them. In both situations, it was the resiliency and skill of the people affected that facilitated solutions.

Smart cities will demand the sharing of a lot of personal data and will change our current perspectives on privacy. For instances, sensors and cameras installed on streets and buildings will always know your location. When thinking about life in a smart city, it is essential to understand that a cyber disruption won’t just expose a person to identity theft, it could leave them without essential functions like clean water.

One issue is that engineers and city planners are focused on the delivery of the functionality without the proper strategies and safety nets. Hackers are adept at turning unknowing computer assets into a robot network concentrating millions of messages at a target to take out functionality. Our current approach is a second set of professionals who will look at system hardening after the build instead of before. They realize security costs and will affect the calculation supporting a “go” or “no-go” decision.

We might agree that these smart city enhancements are good for society. However, ill-conceived strategies, driven by political control and financial gain, will assure a digital house of cards. This is especially true without the strong human element poised to correct oversights and emerging threats. In this new world, an overlay of smart urban areas will connect industrial control systems such as those used for transportation, government services, and security. Without the proper restrictions and privacy commitments, current personal vulnerabilities will become future municipal vulnerabilities. To be proactively positioned, we need enlightened and talented young adults that can combine technical know-how with out-of-the-box thinking.

Consider that security researchers just found a new targeted weapon CrashOverride and Industroyer whose sole design is to be a cyber-weapon targeting control systems. Let us not forget how effective Stuxnet was in debilitating Iran’s nuclear program. That attack targeted supervisory control and data acquisition system (SCADA) architecture. It will be our enabled young people that quickly build useful solutions to these potentially catastrophic attacks. As an older generation, we will depend on them to maintain our way of life.

Our security challenges will be technological in nature, but the real damage will occur due to a failure to train people who can manage the technology. The ability to connect trends that signal vulnerabilities and systematically take advantage of cyber threat information sharing, both technological and human-based, is a requirement. Ignoring the need for trained individuals who are focused on designing secure smart systems is a losing proposition. Building-in resiliency at the planning stage of projects does not just mean better-secured equipment.

I often discuss the human factors related to “smart technology” implementation with security expert, Dr. Calvin Nobles. We agree that planners dismiss the threats speeding along in tandem with our technological progress. Planners avoid real conversations about human factors. For instance, how a responsible person sitting in a critical position would react to a crisis. Training is a cost and therefore removed from conversations vital to securely advancing capability.

We must begin to see people as critical factors in facilitating desired technology advancements. Aligning the training supporting each phase of new capability with human response capacity will provide a strong foundation. Currently, our youth are not being directed to careers consistent with stabilization of our future society. Basic coding is great, but we must also help youth develop a future vision and to create a strategy that is inherently accountable for training the next generation. We would never build a skyscraper that is not adequately supported by a strong foundation. Let’s work now to provide our youth a stable platform to manage, build and protect our future nation.

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