Martyn Williams shares his insight into how the world of sensors, data and smart infrastructure is changing traffic management and transport in the modern city

When the frustrated wife of Karl Benz fled her home in August 1888, she wasn’t trying to escape her husband. In fact, she sought to publicise the invention he was too shy to reveal, the world’s first automobile. Benz’s automobile made history and created a globally recognised brand. However, it also caused chaos on the roads, creating a traffic management problem that wasn’t tackled until the introduction of the four-way traffic lights, 40 years later.

The state of the smart city The term ‘smart city’ is used to define an urban space that leverages technology to benefit its inhabitants. Some cities have already embraced the concept; Barcelona, Tokyo, San Francisco and London all boast technologically enhanced utilities, buildings and infrastructure.

The world’s growing urban population is undoubtedly the main cause of congestion in our towns and cities. The increased need for public transport in the form of buses, light rail and rail seems to be the necessary evil required for the inhabitants of highly populated areas to achieve greater mobility.

San Francisco, for example, is widely recognised as one of America’s technology hotspots and boasts one of California’s largest commuter populations. Mobile technology has played a major role in San Francisco’s smart city transformation.

Using traffic data, the city introduced a series of apps to inform pedestrians and cyclists of the fastest routes to their desired destination. Furthermore, by using real-time information from the city’s vast public transport network, apps for visually impaired citizens have been developed to enable safer navigation through the city.

Other countries, such as India are still laying the tracks of their smart infrastructure. India’s government is currently undertaking the ‘Smart Cities Mission’, an urban renewal programme that plans to develop 100 smart cities across the country. Launched in 2014, the project aims to improve the state of India’s cities by building smart infrastructure around existing railway stations. Upon recognising the importance of public transport for a city’s economic growth, India made rail station modernisation the first step of the countrywide initiative.

Smart city vulnerability
Developing a smart transport network is the first step in the creation of a smart city, but it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest criticisms of the smart city concept refers to the high security risks that accompany extensive connectivity. Global leader in cyber security, IOActive discussed the controversial topic at DEF CON 2014.

Cesar Cerrudo, Chief Technical Officer of IOActive presented his research on the vulnerabilities in existing traffic control systems. Opening with the statement “Most cities around the world are unprotected to cyber-attacks,” Cerrudo substantiated his claim by demonstrating how he was easily able to build a prototype access point, enabling him to communicate with various sensors and devices stationed on major US highways. This demonstration revealed that some wireless devices were transmitting traffic information in clear text and did not require any authentications in order to gain access, leaving them incredibly vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data extraction.

In recent years, we have seen a barrage of media coverage condemning the cyber security aptitudes of Internet of Things (IoT) technology as inadequate. In fact, in 2015, malware, phishing or hacking incidents were the top reasons for data security breaches, replacing human error as the top cause. While cyber security attacks in the private sector can be very costly and troublesome, in the public sector, they can be disastrous, which is why cyber security should – without a doubt – be at the very heart of the smart city.

Securing smart rail
Rail operators in developed countries will already be familiar with the concept of designing for safety. Most will have safety management assessments in place and will consider security a priority. However, it is unlikely that those same safety measures will provide adequate protection during a cyber-attack on a fully connected, smart network. That said, the management of cyber security can be dealt with in a similar manner.

Firstly, the organisation needs to assess the vulnerabilities of legacy systems and identify weak points as well as critical applications and equipment in the system. Security measures should be proportionate to the threat. Taking measures to protect the system is imperative, but it is equally as important that the measures are reasonable, when compared to actual threats.

The risks of a cyber-attack change over time. Consequently, organisations should regularly review the vulnerabilities of each system on a scheduled basis. To future-proof the system, the organisation should immediately address any threats and weaknesses observed during these reviews. In doing so, companies will find it easier to understand the future needs, requirements and security challenges of the system.

To help protect Britain’s rail industry, the Department for Transport has published a guide intended to inform the industry on the threats of cyber security. Primarily, the guidance applies to rolling stock and infrastructure owners, operators and manufacturers. However, it is also relevant to suppliers, subcontractors and maintenance contractors throughout the entire rail network. The guide outlines which risks need assessing and offers advice on protecting the infrastructure through process control systems.

Security through SCADA
Almost all smart infrastructures and processes are managed remotely, using central control rooms and communication networks. One of the major considerations when designing and building an industrial network is which process control and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) technology to use. Defined simply, SCADA software is a system used to communicate and visualise data in industrial networks and to remotely monitor and control industrial applications. However, some SCADA platforms go far beyond these basic functions.

Intelligent SCADA software, like COPA-DATA’s zenon, prides itself on its ability to provide maximum data security, while collecting, analysing and storing valuable and confidential information. Strong network encryption, user management and unique security mechanisms are just a few of zenon’s security features – without neglecting the requisite of transparency for the user.

For large infrastructures, like a smart rail network, increased visibility is critical. By gaining a comprehensive view of the entire system, authorised rail operators have access to real-time data – a necessary requirement for making fast, informed decisions. This improved visibility helps operators to identify signs of intrusion, make informed decisions and – in the event of a cyber-attack – take appropriate action quickly.

The smart city concept is creating exciting opportunities and innovations in almost every industry – with the advancement of utilities, buildings and transport at the heart of it. The world’s transport systems have come a long way since the invention of the automobile in 1888, but it is only in recent years that we have seen changes to how we control traffic in cities. As the world’s smart infrastructure and transport networks continue to advance, it is important that security becomes and remains a priority.

Martyn Williams is Managing Director of COPA-DATA UK, the technological leader for ergonomic and highly dynamic process solutions. The company, founded in 1987, develops the software zenon for HMI/SCADA, Dynamic Production Reporting and integrated PLC systems at its headquarters in Austria. zenon is sold through its own offices in Europe, North America and Asia, as well as partners and distributors throughout the world. Customers benefit from local contact persons and local support thanks to a decentralised corporate structure.