Smart cities are wide open to cyber-attacks, experts warn

Tel Aviv conference sounds alarm about risk of hacking, which increases the more interconnected a city’s digital resources become

Photo of Tamir Pardo, right, former director of Mossad, speaking to attendees at The Federation of Local Authorities second bi-annual conference at the Tel Aviv convention center on Feb 13. (Courtesy)
Photo of Tamir Pardo, right, former director of Mossad, speaking to attendees at The Federation of Local Authorities second bi-annual conference at the Tel Aviv convention center on Feb 13. (Courtesy)

The smarter and more digitized a city gets the more vulnerable to cyber-threats it becomes, warned former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, who spoke at the Federation of Local Authorities Muni-Expo last week.

“You can destroy a country and win a war without ever firing a single shot. In the next war, our enemies won’t need fighter jets and rockets. They can hit us hard with cyber-attacks and disable all of the systems here,” said Pardo, who spoke at the event as a part of the Congress of Local Authorities and the Jewish National Fund.

More than 8,000 people attended the two-day conference at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, which focused on two crucial subjects: smart cities under cyber-attack, and joint ventures between municipalities and startups.

Pardo said that we live in an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches because they are tough to trace, citing as an example the alleged involvement of Russia in manipulating the results of the 2016 US elections.

Photo of attendees at the Muni-Expo at the Tel Aviv Convention Center (Courtesy)

He urged governments to take on a greater role in managing these threats themselves rather than relying on the corporate sector.

“Hundreds of cities and local authorities are attacked every year in Israel,” said Haim Bibas, chairman of the Central Council for Local Authorities. To address these concerns, Bibas announced that the council has launched an initiative to establish a public cloud to beef up security and close the technological gap between municipalities.

Among the attendees were Knesset members, mayors, and more than 80 officials from cities across the world.

How to best use digital technology to enhance the quality of life for residents was another hot topic at the convention as municipality leaders expressed diverging points of views about introducing innovation into their communities.

“We support the public use of the internet in our municipality only for professional and governmental purposes and do not advocate the use of private internet in homes for purposes of entertainment,” declared Arik Adler, treasurer of the ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak municipality in an interview.

Adler said that his municipality offers “kosher” services that adhere to the traditions of Judaism, such as municipality internet services that shut down during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Some might see this approach towards digitization as limited, Adler acknowledged, but it is what his community wants, he said.

Innovation thrives under constraints

Sharone April, director of the Jerusalem Innovation Team (JLM i-team), a consulting group founded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, said that she believes that innovation “thrives under constraints and needs” and that ideas that work must be “creative, executable and most importantly relevant to the needs of the community.”

April, whose team works directly with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, pointed to a recent JLM i-team project that surveyed residents to identify what kinds of businesses are lacking in their communities as an example of a strategic initiative which encompasses all three aspects of innovation — creativity, execution, and relevance to community.

Among the 150 Israeli vendors in the expo hall were mostly startups from municipality-owned accelerators and urban ecosystems that provide tools and solutions for smart cities. The diverse range of products and services included fully digitized bus stops, energy efficient lighting systems, sewer cameras that detect cracks and leaks, electric delivery vehicles for public works, automated apps for tree tracking and robotic playground equipment.

Several companies showcased smart city systems that offer a single platform capable of tracking everything from consumption of power for lighting to parking spaces to water supply to the number of garbage cans to the availability of bikes, and more.

The exhibition was the largest gathering of its kind. It marked Israel’s 70th anniversary and the 80th anniversary of the Federation of Local Authorities.

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