Cybercrime has replaced armed conflict as the preferred mode of attack against governments, cities, critical infrastructure, organizations, and even individuals. While some countries have bolstered their efforts against cybercrime, no one is totally immune as threats become more severe. In 2018, Iranian hackers shut down Atlanta’s city hall for five days, disrupting police services, court cases, parking tickets, water bills, and operations at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In 2018 and 2019, ransomware attacks in Baltimore affected emergency services. Cyber threat has become a common issue in cities across the world, especially in the United States. About 70% of all attacks target state and local governments that are ill-equipped to deal with such threats. A few years ago, digital incursions disrupted tram services in Dublin, jammed railway ticketing and air traffic control system in Stockholm, and shut down power plants in Hyderabad and Johannesburg.
Why Are Cities Targeted?
Cities across the world become easy targets for cybercriminals because they lag in the digital revolution. The technologies running critical infrastructure are outdated and vulnerable. Authorities lack skills and financial muscle to upgrade to better systems. Bright minds in technology rarely work for cities, airports, and utility companies but instead opt for Facebook, Google, Boeing, and other companies where they earn humongous salaries. As desperate as things are, technological acceleration could worsen the situation. Future smart cities will connect intelligent infrastructure to homes, offices, and utility companies, making life easier for millions of people but, at the same time, exposing them to sophisticated and more advanced cyber threats. Most hacks take place in “dumb cities” that are not fully digitalized - imagine the extent of havoc when hackers infiltrate smart transportation networks and intelligent traffic management systems. Autonomous vehicles are already on the road, and in the near future, similar technology will link streetlights, police cars, ambulances, and fire services. When such a system is compromised, it is likely to result in anarchy and loss of life.
Protecting Cities From Cyber Threats
While conventional crime-fighting will continue to attract the attention of law enforcers and leaders, cyber threats can no longer be ignored. Cities must adopt different strategies and develop contingencies and disaster plans for when such attacks happen. Just as Tokyo is prepared for tsunamis and San Francisco for earthquakes, cities need to develop cyber-resilience. Executives in state and city governments need to assume leadership roles in developing the digital safety of their constituents and not delegate the role to the federal government. The International City and County Management Association reports that up to 60% of executives in city governments cite lack of support from elected officials and top authorities on issues concerning cybersecurity. Safeguarding against cyber threats is not only about software and hardware, but incorporates a comprehensive whole-of-city approach. Just like any other workplace, having the right personnel makes the difference between failure and success. Cities must recruit skilled personnel, including engineers, coders, and experts in cybersecurity. While cybercrime continues to pose an imminent threat across the world, some cities have taken the lead role in preventing attacks from happening. Despite constant attacks, American cities dominate the top 10 cities in digital security.
Top Cities In Digital Security
Greater Tokyo Area is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with a population of approximately 39 million people. The city relies on technology to manage the population with a well-integrated hi-tech transport system. The dependency on technology exposes the city to an imminent cyber threat. Minor incursions are frequent, but the city is yet to suffer from a large-scale attack due to its developed and advanced cybersecurity. Despite thwarting numerous threats, businesses in the city have suffered significant losses as a result of hacking. In June 2019, Remixpoint, a cryptocurrency exchange company in Tokyo, lost $32 million in bitcoin due to hacking. In March 2019, Toyota reported that its dealers in Tokyo had been hacked and 3 million customer data stolen. In October 2019, Microsoft reported that Russian hackers had begun hacking businesses and events concerned with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, prompting the Japanese government to set up a cybersecurity team to deter incursions. Even with such reports, Tokyo is considered the safest city in cybersecurity.
The island city-state of Singapore is home to about 5.6 million people. Its GDP, foreign policies, per capita income, infrastructural development, financial and technological sectors, and food security have been cited among the most successful in the world. Singapore is a small country that relies on technology on all aspects of the economy and society. It attracts some of the best technological minds in the world. The country is yet to experience a major cyber threat, but it reports several minor incursions. The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) has managed to thwart attacks on the city’s infrastructure. In the recent past, hackers have changed tact and focus their attacks on data breaches. In 2019, hackers infiltrated SingHealth and extracted private data of over 1.5 million patients. In a separate incident, medical records of over 14,000 people with HIV were disclosed online.
Chicago is the most secure city in the United States against cyber threats. The city is yet to report a significant attack on its infrastructure, but minor attempts have been reported. As the most populous city in the Midwest, the third most populous in the United States, and a financial hub, Chicago is a potential target for hackers seeking to steal digital currency and infiltrate critical infrastructure. In 2019, the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission fined Chicago based Phillip Capital Inc for failing to secure its email services that allowed hackers to withdraw funds from customer accounts. Within the year, Sinai Healthcare reported that hackers had infiltrated its system and gained access to more than 12,000 confidential data on its patients.
Washington, DC, is the second most secure city in the United States after Chicago. As the capital of the United States, Washington is a potential target for hackers intending to damage infrastructure and portray the United States as vulnerable. Washington is also a hub for life and government, as well as a significant outpost for technological companies. As of 2018, Washington DC posted about 49 companies on the cybersecurity 500 index, including ThreatConnect, LookingGlass, and Siemens. Despite being a top target, the capital has fared well with few incidences of minor attacks.
San Francisco and the surrounding regions, including California and Silicon Valley, are a technological powerhouse with top cybersecurity companies, including Cisco, Intel, Symantec, McAfee, Google, Oracle, Menlo security, and VMware. The proximity of Silicon Valley has helped improve the cybersecurity awareness in San Francisco as well as protect firms within the area from cyber threats.