The future of cities and security


By chantelharris, 24 June, 2015

The difficult with cities has been both being able to have them run efficiently but also make them safe. That we can populate them with a working populace, yet manage it such that there is minimal harm or casualties within those interactions. Though this sounds abstract, it’s key to a number of areas most of us participate in everyday.

The obvious one is road safety. To help manage the many cars, roads and destinations - along with pedestrians and cyclists and so on - we invented various systems. This means traffic lights, signs, crossings and so on.

But more drastic steps can also arise from this same concern. Consider what American city, San Francisco, is doing:

“There are all sorts of things a city can do in the service of safer streets, from reducing speed limits to making room for bike lanes to handing out gift cards to law-abiding drivers. San Francisco just added another strategy to the list: restricting turns.

The idea is to reduce the number of conflict points between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on the busy corridor, and in doing so improve safety. In recent years, Market Street has been home to four of the city’s 20 worst intersections for pedestrian injuries, and the two worst crossings for bike collisions. At 5th and Market, for instance, there were 20 accidents involving cyclists and walkers between 2012 and 2013.”

Part of this might require such radical rethinking of precisely how we’re creating and monitoring our cities. With the advancement of technology, it means we can use powerful means to gather data that before we might never have had. As the Guardian reports:

“Glasgow has spent £24m installing technology such as smart street lights that brighten for pedestrians and cyclists, and traffic-tracking sensors in roads, while Bristol is collecting data on everything from health to pollution and interpreting it via a ‘city operating system’. While those cities may be streets ahead of others, most urban areas have some smart features.”

But this brings with it new concerns that will be considered for security jobs from Cape Town to New York. An internet security researcher, Cesar Cerrudo, warned that smart cities like these, seemingly of the future, could potentially be more vulnerable to hackers than the computers and smartphones we all use today. As the Guardian reports:

“Speaking at the RSA security conference in San Francisco in April, Cerrudo said many firms selling smart systems were failing to build in effective security, such as encryption – a significant problem when so many services transmitted their data wirelessly. “All the data goes over the air. If you don’t have a good encryption, anyone can capture the data over the air and compromise security,” he said.

For example, he revealed that the 200,000 traffic control sensors installed around the world, from Melbourne to London, were vulnerable to attack from hackers.”

Security is changing because we are changing and the world is, too. How we manage cities will bring with it new benefits, but also new dangers.