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Sustainable Smart Cities in the Sand

on Monday, 23 September 2019. Posted in Cyber

The challenges facing UAE and Saudi Arabian sustainable smart city development and  security.

The idea of sustainable smart cities can be a true driving force to social and economic growth and happiness. Giving a chance for improvement in services from transport to utilities and more, displaying better efficiency and optimisation through its use.

A question that needs to be asked is how can the sprawling infrastructure, complex networks and the data within be implemented and secured?

What is the current state of Smart City development in the UAE?

The current picture in the UAE and sustainable smart city development shows a significant initiative driven path which began with the planning of Masdar City in 2006 and adoption of elements of smart technology precursors like the adoption of RFID in toll roads in Dubai since 2007, smart travel payments through NFC in 2013 and the  Dubai Data Initiative in 2015.

This adoption of precursor solutions is a solid foundation to build the sustainable smart cities of tomorrow along with increasingly ambitious plans and initiatives like the Dubai Plan 2021, and Dubai Smart City Project which looks to unify Government services into a one stop shop service solution. Alongside this there is a drive to provide free Wi-Fi solutions, smart parking, smart power grids and live traffic monitoring all under the control of a central 5-D control room. Add to this efforts in development in Abu Dhabi and the embarkation upon the road outlined in the Economic Vision 2030, displays a wish to become the smartest city in the world.

What are the challenges?

The first challenge is the technological challenge to enable and support the forward drive.

These challenges come in the form of…

ICT infrastructure

The introduction of the necessary infrastructure to support the data and connectivity requirements can be a challenge to get in place, especially in difficult to work in environments.


Difficulty comes from the co-ordination of data sharing between government, civil and private entities in conformance with the Dubai Data Initiative.


A large element of all of these initiatives have people and their happiness in mind, but will people be generally accepting of an increase move towards technology in everyday life and the integration of ubiquitous technology?

A more difficult challenge is how to secure the very veins, arteries and lifeblood of smart cities… the critical network infrastructure, the data and in turn the users.

What are the risks and how could a smart city be attacked?

A truly sustainable smart city needs to be far and wide reaching to be fully effective and useful, as well as full adoption and acceptance by the general populous. This fact increases the surface area for attack and leverage by malicious parties.

From an attackers point of view there are a few avenues that can be exploited to destabilise the plans and potentially the nation.

Attacker exploiting public opinion towards the technology movement:

The rapid movement towards a heavily technological future can leave some people alienated and isolated. The increased use of cameras, sensors and apps that are part of a smart city and that track the user can cause general paranoia amongst the public.

This can be used as a vector for attack by manipulating the populous through propaganda pushed out through radio and other methods against the vision of sustainable smart cities causing destabilisation in many forms.

Attackers exploiting of the Dubai Data Initiative:

The initiative outlines a measure of data sharing amongst the various sectors within Dubai, however is it possible that some data isolation is being enacted to maintain dominance and position?

If an attacker could obtain this isolated data and advertise any practice of this type, this could create mistrust in the system.

Attackers exploiting of the interconnected nature of a smart city:

As mentioned earlier the influence and existence of technology in a smart city is extensive and in all aspects of daily life. This gives a huge surface area for attack by hackers, infiltrating IoT devices, end user devices, core network and services which can give other potential pivot points to attack other targets, an attacker could distribute their malicious code and intentions throughout the city.

A further concern is the rapid deployment and required interoperability of different software and hardware solutions found in a smart city can, in some cases, create flaws that attackers can utilise.

So what does all of this mean?

The movement towards sustainable smart cities of the future although very positive can be utilised by attackers if the underlying technology is not protected properly and thoroughly.

Hacker initiated and orchestrated attacks can have a major effect on the way of life, disrupting public services, infrastructure and much more.

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