Building a Secure Smart City Requires a Public-Private Team


Cities across the U.S. fight daily to protect physical infrastructure systems and keep citizens safe from terrorist threats, natural disasters, and other emergency events. However, there are also digital threats as cities adopt more internet-connected safety systems, utilities, and other infrastructure. 

Smart cities—envisioned as a kind of utopian connected universe where stop lights change based on real-time street traffic and setting trash pickups on an as-needed basis—must remain cognizant of rising cyberthreat risks. Government agencies and private-sector partners are working to provide much needed assistance to help limit those risks. 

The Department of Homeland Security will join the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Global City Teams Challenge in 2018. The GCTC, which NIST launched in 2014, aims to bring together private- and public-sector stakeholders to help secure internet of things (IoT) devices and community cybersecurity infrastructure. 

The program’s partnership with the DHS will hopefully “help teams make the world not only more livable and workable, but safer from the cyber threat that affects us all,” Chris Greer, director of NIST’s Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program, said recently

Other federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the International Trade Administration, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have already partnered with NIST, which is part of the Department of Commerce, on the program. 

The GCTC in 2018 will highlight “designed-in cybersecurity for ‘smart city’ systems that are more secure, reliable, resilient and protective of privacy,” NIST said in a statement. The new phase of the program, called “Smart and Secure Cities and Communities Challenge” (SC3), will attempt to secure these “complex device networks.”

Companies participating in SC3 include telecommunications sector giants AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Motorola Solutions Inc. The companies will work with smart cities on a voluntary basis, but the program will “encourage teams to treat cybersecurity as a first-order consideration in designing and implementing smart city applications,” according to NIST. 

Greer said that the “GCTC has been extremely successful in creating partnerships between cities and companies,” but there needs to be more trust and enhanced cybersecurity “in the projects themselves.”

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