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Calibrating cybersecurity for Smart Cities

Cybersecurity has gained a lot of attention in the last couple of years, no thanks to the increasing number of high profile cyberattacks across the globe. As more and more nations embark on smart city projects such as India’s Smart Cities Mission, reliance on data and connectivity will continue to rise dramatically across geographies and industries, giving cyber criminals even more avenues to carry out malicious activities.

Today, cyber criminals are as sophisticated as ever and both governments and organizations are finding it hard to keep up. Cyberattacks are increasing in scale, just think of the Equifax breach which affected millions of Americans and more recently, the attacks on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. These attacks are possible because cyber criminals are becoming more strategic at targeting vital data across the healthcare, finance, and public sector verticals, raising the costs and stakes involved. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the cost of cybercrime to the global economy is currently estimated at $445 billion a year [1].

In this turbulent landscape, technology companies not only need to make cybersecurity a priority in the development of their solutions, but they also need to re-instill confidence in the market so that the progress of economies and smart cities or nations are not curtailed by the fear of cyberattacks. To do this, a multi-pronged strategy and concerted effort across governments and organizations is required.

Outsmart the enemy

The dearth of cybersecurity professionals will continue to plague the industry as the cybersecurity sector’s global workforce shortage is projected to reach 1.8 million by 2022 [2], while the amount of data collected, analyzed, and stored will continue to increase exponentially. This means that there are simply not enough humans to process the data for cybersecurity detection and prevention.

The good news is, cybersecurity vendors are accelerating their research and ramping up solutions to meet today’s challenges. One major trend we are seeing is the implementation of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect and respond to cyberattacks. One example is Apache Spot, an open source cybersecurity project that uses ML as a filter for separating bad traffic from benign and to characterize the unique behavior of network traffic, giving organizations the ability to analyze large data sets quickly, leading to better and faster threat detection. 

The revival of AI and ML is a rosy development for Chief Security Officers (CSOs) as it can help address several of their common pain points. If we can offload tasks to ML and AI, while harnessing the scarce human expertise for decision-making, our cybersecurity infrastructure can become more robust and cost-efficient.

The bottom line is, all solution providers, be it Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, biotech, or data analytics, must make innovation in cybersecurity a priority in the development of their solutions to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals and meet customer expectations.

All together now

There is also an urgent need for public and private stakeholders to carry out diplomatic dialogues and share threat intelligence as cybercrime is not something that can be dealt with in silo. Unlike physical crimes, it is not bound by geography or jurisdiction and cyber criminals will have no qualms with exploiting the weakest link to launch regional or even global attacks.

Recognizing that cybercrime cannot be tackled unilaterally, information-sharing platforms have sprung up around the world, such as the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP) in the United Kingdom and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in the United States. Closer to home, the recent Cyber Security Summit 2018 held in Mumbai served as a platform for the public and private sectors to discuss the scale and nature of cyber threat and how stakeholders can work together to develop effective counter measures. These are all positive developments that require the critical support of all stakeholders to prevail and governments should take the lead in promoting a landscape of collaboration and transparency to catalyze action and change.

Today, the odds are not in our favor and we need to move away from the reactive approach to cybersecurity that we are long accustomed to. Instead, we should adopt a proactive approach encompassing robust cybersecurity infrastructures built on the latest technology, coupled with the collective efforts of all stakeholders in contributing to an open and cohesive environment that this region’s smart city building efforts can rely on as a backdrop for progress. 

[1] World Economic Forum, Cybercrime, 2017

[2] Center for Cyber Safety and Education, Meet the Millennials, 2017

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