Out for blood – can AI and 5G help overcome the risks of smart cities?


Everything is connected, manageable at a flick of a switch. Is that a good or a bad thing? It all depends on who is out for blood.

Globally, cities are connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices to infrastructure to achieve greater levels of automation and efficiency. For example: being able to track traffic and automatically optimizing traffic lights can reduce congestion which benefits commuters, creates safer roads and has the added benefit of reducing emissions.

In sprawling cities, this type of smart infrastructure set-up is only possible with robust network capabilities. Already 4G networks are reaching their limits as more bandwidth and much greater speed is required to operate so many interconnected devices effectively.

Managing such vast volumes of data requires large language models of AI. This is a primary reason why cities are increasingly looking to roll out more 5G networks and integrate AI to help manage smart infrastructure.

More connections, more convenience, but also greater risk

As much as connected, smart cities create efficiencies, they also carry risk that can impact large populations. A breach in infrastructure management systems could shut down power grids in cities, cause chaos on rail systems and even put lives at risk in hospitals.

A recent real-world example of this is a cyberattack on a British pathology company. This ransomware attack severely impacted their ability to test and process blood donations. Instead of being able to process their usual 10,000 samples a day, they could only test 400.

The impact? Much bigger than you’d think. Hospitals had to cancel critical surgeries and cancer outpatients couldn’t get essential blood transfusions. Worse still was that thousands of litres of donated blood had to be discarded because the testing process had been compromised. A critical blood shortage directly put patient lives at risk.

It’s believed that Russian cybercriminals were behind the attack and with political tensions rising, there are concerns that similar attacks could target other types of smart infrastructure networks in other countries. AI and 5G are helping smart cities become more connected and efficient, but can it also make them more secure?

Is there an AI/5G security advantage?

While there are concerns that AI is enabling threat actors by helping write code and identify vulnerabilities, the advantage it provides cybersecurity in smart cities is speed.

5G provides the capacity for AI systems to operate more effectively without being throttled. Reducing the time from when a breach first occurs to when it’s detected has a significant impact on the damage done and number of people impacted.

Using AI to automatically scan systems, test for known vulnerabilities and to flag unusual activity helps cybersecurity teams respond faster to threats. AI’s ability to scan more data quickly broadens visibility into networks. Combined with the expertise of cybersecurity professionals it can deliver a stronger security posture.

So, should we sit back and turn everything over to AI? Not quite. The strength of security is a combination of tech and talent. Where there’s complacency, vulnerabilities start to surface. If we’re going to be building out more smart infrastructure, let’s be wise to the risks and not only the advantages. Otherwise it could be a veritable cybersecurity bloodbath.

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