DUBAI // Smart cities such as Dubai will have to continuously upgrade their technology to evade hackers, according to the first US secretary of homeland security.
Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, told a cyber security conference that the internet will be linked to the success of smart cities.
“We live in an extraordinary age and one of great and accelerated change,” he said. “In two decades, the internet has transformed humanity. It now drives the way we communicate, educate, how we receive information and we are hyper-connected. It has revolutionised the manner in which we educate our children, conduct our business and manage government affairs.”
In 2012, it was estimated there would be 12 billion internet connected devices by 2020. In 2013, that figure was increased to 75 billion, a number Mr Ridge described as “staggering”.
As a global hub, the UAE is a prime target for cyber attacks.
“Any enterprise that is as successful, vibrant and connected like Dubai [is a target],” Mr Ridge said. “It’s a centre for financial transactions and trade historically. That’s what makes the Government’s decision to make it a smart city timely and relevant and increases the pressure on [it] to do it right because it becomes an iconic player in the region and the world. The higher the profile, the more sophisticated the attacks.”
He said leaders had to accept the “risk reward” arrangement which involves understanding the perils that come with transforming a city into a smart city.
“Dealing with issues of cyber security calls for constant improvement because it’s such a dynamic environment,” said Mr Ridge. “Assessments have to be regular because the threat and the sophistication of the attack changes all the time so as advanced as the cyber-security protocols may be in the UAE, the real challenge is not to accept it today because you could be secure today and insecure tomorrow.”
Telecoms firm du is a target of between 70 to 100 cyber-attacks each day. None have succeeded as of yet.
“The number of cyber security incidents in 2009 was a bit over five million,” said Osman Sultan, du’s chief executive. “In 2015, it counted over 60 million. This is a growth of more than 1,000 per cent in six years. We are in the midst of an incredible transformation, one that became so rapidly disruptive and global, more than any transformation in the history of mankind and that is changing everything we do in our lives.
“The digital and online transformation is the determining factor of the age we live in.”
He said cyber security should not be an afterthought for an organisation’s IT department.
“It should be at the heart of the thought itself,” he said. “There are rewards in this hyper-connected world we live in. Risks are there because of this connectivity and we have to hope that one day, the risks will not become greater than the rewards. But that is an act of faith that all of us are making that we can harness the incredible rewards that come from a smarter and more connected world.”
Experts said employees were considered the weakest link in the cyber security chain.
“One of the biggest risks in cyber security is the employee and we keep seeing this,” said Ibrahim Al Mallouhi, du’s vice president of security operations. “We are doing awareness programmes now for our internal staff about cyber security threats and models because it evolves so fast.”
Mr Ridge said resilience in governments was key. “We must be ready to quickly identify, contain and resolve a breach to limit disruption and recover quickly. A cyber-attack can bring everything to a screeching halt. Cities that are resilient will change what it means to be truly a smart city and those that adapt to change not only survive, but flourish.”