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Securing Smart Cities without Limiting Innovation

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By: Hugh Shepherd

May 4, 2020

The potential of smart cities is immense. The convergence of people and technology to efficiently deliver services to the public and solve the problems of urbanization is one of the ultimate aspirations for smart city deployments. But there are challenges to smart city deployments. The most likely solution is to enforce policy and security requirements to mitigate these risks. But what is the cost to innovation and growth when regulations are imposed? What can be done to promote security and address challenges, without limiting innovation?

Urbanization and the Smart City

Across the globe, more people are moving to urban areas. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half of the world’s population of 7.8 billion people live in cities. In a 2018 study by the United Nations, it was estimated that 55% of the world’s population lived in urban areas, with a projected increase to 68% by the year 2050. This clustering of people in urban areas presents both challenges and opportunities. One of the opportunities that have arisen from this mass urbanization is the growth of smart city concepts and technologies.

The concept of a “smart city” is broad; therefore, there are numerous definitions for the term. For example, the British Standards Institution (BSI) defines a smart city as a community with “effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.” While Technopedia takes a more straightforward, technical focus with its definition stating that, “a smart city is one in which sensor-driven data collection and powerful analytics are used to automate and orchestrate a wide range of services in the interests of better performance, lower costs and lessened environmental impact.”11 No matter how broad or more narrowly focused the definition may be, it is widely agreed that a smart city includes a combination of technology, data, and infrastructure used to deliver community services efficiently. Several noteworthy examples of smart cities deployments include:

  • Barcelona, Spain – Considered a global leader in the smart city space, Barcelona has established a modern technological infrastructure to support its many innovative solutions. Barcelona has a network of sensors that provides real-time data on a variety of things ranging from air quality, noise, trash can status, and open parking spaces. Also, Barcelona is one of the few cities attempting to reach SmartCity3.0 status, which attempts to integrate citizen participation with city leadership in developing smart solutions for Barcelona’s citizens.

  • Louisville, Kentucky (USA) – An award-winning city for its innovative smart city solutions, Louisville, KY developed an open-source, analytics platform in the cloud using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to analyze traffic patterns and collision reports, enabling the city to make data-driven decisions that positively impact residents and save taxpayer’s dollars. This system has allowed the city to conduct traffic studies to assess the impact of changes to the city’s road changes in a fraction of the time for free, instead of paying $50,000 for a multi-week study.

  • Denver, Colorado (USA) – In conjunction with corporate partners, the city of Denver, CO, is developing a “smart city within the city” to serve as a testing ground/incubator for proposed smart initiatives. This multi-use site (i.e., office, retail, residential, etc.) will include Wi-Fi-enabled smart lighting supported by video analytics, Electric Vehicle(EV) charging stations, and renewable energies. The overall goal of this initiative is to eventually create an energy self-sufficient community.

Smart City Concerns and their Impact on Innovation

In today’s hyper-connected world, the integration of technology with the services and infrastructure of a city is a logical solution to addressing the challenges of urban life. The emergence of smart cities can prove to be hugely beneficial to society. However, there are several unique concerns that are holding certain cities back from adopting smart city technologies and must be addressed before the utopian visions of smart cities can be realized. Several of the most significant concerns impacting smart cities include:

  • Cyber Security - Plain and simple, the more connected devices you have to a network, the more vulnerabilities are potentially introduced. Concerns over security could limit innovation because of excessive security requirements placed on smart solutions.

  • Privacy - Data is the lifeblood for the successful and efficient delivery of smart city services. However, what is the cost to individual privacy in exchange for these technically/data-enhanced smart services? What is the impact of the performance of a smart solution without enough data points?

  • Interoperability – The lack of interoperable solutions and infrastructure is a roadblock to communities fully maximizing smart city services. Having siloed solutions is inefficient and hinders the exchange of data. These traits are counter-intuitive to what smart city services should entail. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure smart solutions are not only communicating/exchanging data among the city’s departments but also with other jurisdictions, state, and regional authorities.

Due to these concerns (and others), many municipalities are reluctant to embrace smart city initiatives. For smart cities to grow and be successful, these and other matters must be addressed. However, this is extremely challenging because there must be a balance between oversight and security, with services and solutions that rely on data and connectivity to function correctly.

Cornerstones for Secure and Innovative Solutions

What can be done to promote security without impacting innovation? A possible solution is to use a reference model to depict the relationship of key elements of a smart city solution and how they influence one another. The sample reference model below depicts a “cornerstones” approach for promoting security and data without limiting innovation in smart city initiatives. The model of this concept is meant to provide illustrative purposes only.

There are several components to a smart city initiative that apply across multiple solutions. These components can be considered as the “cornerstones” of innovative smart city solutions. The figure below is a graphical representation of these core components driving innovation and delivery of smart city solutions.

The intent of this graphic is not to represent a structural hierarchy, but to provide a sample model of factors that contribute to the innovation process and how they interact / influence one another. This is a sample concept for reference only, one that can be adjusted to meet individual requirements as needed.


At the foundation are the information security and data protection regulations governing computer systems. This foundation also includes any applicable standards and frameworks that provide guidance on supporting disciplines such as risk management, service management, interoperability, etc. Utilizing standards and frameworks as the foundation of a smart city initiative is a wise decision. These foundational components provide the requirements, specifications, guidelines, and common language that can be used repeatedly to promote consistency in smart city solutions.

Propped-up by the foundational regulations, standards, and frameworks are the core elements of People, Services, Technology, and Infrastructure that generally make up a smart city solution. These core elements are the driving forces that can be considered as the “pillars” supporting the pursuit of innovation in smart city solutions. These elements influence in the following manner:

  • People – The needs of people, or the community, should always be a priority to any smart city solution.
  • Services – The quest for efficiency in services is the central theme of smart city solutions.
  • Technology – The application of the latest technology to transform communities.
  • Infrastructure – The necessary backbone enabling the delivery of smart city solutions.

Contributing to the innovation process, in addition to providing a protective “perimeter” around everything, is the ever-present need for ensuring cybersecurity, continuous monitoring, and process improvement are part of the solution.

Conclusion and How Cybrary can Assist

Being apprehensive about the impact of standards for smart cities is like thinking the advent of the OSI model was bad for the growth of computing. The adoption of standards and frameworks should not have a negative impact on smart city innovation, but instead ultimately promote its growth. There are several frameworks and standards that apply to smart cities that are being developed to standardize smart city deployments.

All cities are different, so various solutions and approaches are necessary to implement smart initiatives. Nevertheless, at the root of an intelligent solution are some basic principles such as cybersecurity awareness, networking, focus on fundamentals, incorporating best practices and standards, and utilizing modern principles (Agile, Lean, DevSecOps, etc.).

It takes a variety of components to make a truly effective solution. Thus, having knowledge and skills in multiple disciplines will contribute further to the innovation process. Cybrary is a go-to source to assist with providing training in these areas. There are courses that align with the suggested smart city core focus areas discussed in this article:

Cyber Security / Continuous Monitoring / Process Improvement:

People / Services:

Technology / Infrastructure:

Standards / Frameworks:

Start Securing Smart Cities with These Courses:


  1. 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, says UN:
  2. BSI Group – Smart Cities:
  3. A Consensus Framework for Smart City Architectures; IES-City Framework:
  4. Department of Homeland Security – Smart Cities:
  5. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO):
  6. Making cities smarter Guide for city leaders: Summary of PD 8100:
  7. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):
  8. SMART AND SECURE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES CHALLENGE (SC3) A Risk Management Approach to Smart City Cybersecurity and Privacy A Guidebook from the Cybersecurity and Privacy Advisory Committee (CPAC) Public Working Group July 2019:
  9. Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture:
  10. Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture (SCIRA):
  11. Techopedia - Smart City:
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