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UAE report highlights IoT as the weak link of smart city security

Smart cities can unlock considerable business potential for the United Arab Emirates but a new report warns governments and organisations of the IoT’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

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The IoT expands the potential attack surface for cyber criminals
The IoT expands the potential attack surface for cyber criminals

Smart cities have the potential to unlock considerable business potential for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to a new report, but it also warns of the considerable cybersecurity threat brought by the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices.

 

In the study, Smart Cities: the Power, the Risks, the Response, Digital14, a UAE-based advisor in digital transformation and cyber resilience, also suggests cyberattacks are expected to rise, as the government and organisations adopt the benefits of smart city technologies.

 

Expanded attack surface

 

The report raises concerns about the considerably expanded attack surface for “cyber adversaries of all kinds”, presented by the IoT.

 

It proposes six takeaways for organisations to defend themselves against new and evolving threats, including validating IoT devices before deployment, continuously monitoring all devices on the IoT network, and isolating IoT devices away from crucial and sensitive networks.

 

“Smart cities will undoubtedly unlock enormous efficiency and productivity gains for the UAE and other nations,” said Joshua Knight, executive vice president cyber defence at Digital14. “However, the highly networked environment that UAE companies operate within offers opportunities to release prolific malware that can have catastrophic ramifications or stimulate lucrative criminal enterprises.

 

“By their very nature, smart cities simply broaden the attack surface available to malicious actors.”

 

There are an estimated 22 billion networked devices worldwide and each of these devices serves as an entry point for malicious actors, with everyday gadgets such as IP cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) likely to be at the greatest risk.

 

The report highlights that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is increasingly prone to IoT attacks, with more than 18 per cent of public-facing hosts in the UAE alone potentially vulnerable to such attacks, according to the report.

 

“IoT devices are the weak link in the smart city chain,” continues Knight. “It is imperative that organisations and individual end users recognise this potential vulnerability and take prudent steps to secure their networks and protect themselves from cyberattacks.”

 

Other highlights in the report include:

  • the UAE is hit by an average of 304 attacks per day, the highest in the GCC
  • more than 42,500 IP cameras are potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks in the GCC
  • nearly 8,000 digital video recorders (DVRs) in the region are openly exposed to an outside network.

A particular focus of the report is Expo Dubai 2020, which will now be held from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022, and which will demonstrate the potential of smart city technology for future smart cities around the world.

“IoT devices are the weak link in the smart city chain. It is imperative that organisations and individual end users recognise this potential vulnerability and take prudent steps to secure their networks”

As one of the most interconnected and technologically advanced World Expos ever held, Expo 2020 will replicate similar logistical and cybersecurity challenges to those of a smart city, but within a compressed timeframe.

 

As Expo 2020’s Official Cyber Security Provider, Digital14 will oversee the cybersecurity of the event’s digital platform and safeguard the digital experience of its visitors and participants.

 

“As with any global mega event, cybersecurity is critical to deliver a safe, secure and successful Expo 2020 – the first ever World Expo staged in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia,” said Eman Al Awadhi, vice president, cybersecurity and resilience, innovation and future technologies, Expo 2020 Dubai.

 

“Digital14 is committed to ensuring Expo 2020 is protected through a combination of innovative cybersecurity solutions, ground-breaking initiatives and ongoing services that secure new technologies and support cross-partner flexibility and functionality with a robust Security Operations Centre.

 

“With millions of visitors expected throughout Expo six-month run, Digital14 will also seek to balance local and international best practice and regulations in data privacy and to enable compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – ensuring the safety and privacy of Expo visitors’ data.”

 

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