UAE report highlights IoT as the weak link of smart city security

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Smart cities have the potential to unlock considerable business potential for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to a new report, but it also warns of the considerable cybersecurity threat brought by the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices.

In the study, Smart Cities: the Power, the Risks, the Response, Digital14, a UAE-based advisor in digital transformation and cyber resilience, also suggests cyberattacks are expected to rise, as the government and organisations adopt the benefits of smart city technologies. The report raises concerns about the considerably expanded attack surface for “cyber adversaries of all kinds”, presented by the IoT.

It proposes six takeaways for organisations to defend themselves against new and evolving threats, including validating IoT devices before deployment, continuously monitoring all devices on the IoT network, and isolating IoT devices away from crucial and sensitive networks.

“Smart cities will undoubtedly unlock enormous efficiency and productivity gains for the UAE and other nations,” said Joshua Knight, executive vice president, cyber defence, at Digital14. “However, the highly networked environment that UAE companies operate within offers opportunities to release prolific malware that can have catastrophic ramifications or stimulate lucrative criminal enterprises. “By their very nature, smart cities simply broaden the attack surface available to malicious actors.”

There are an estimated 22 billion networked devices worldwide and each of these devices serves as an entry point for malicious actors, with everyday gadgets such as IP cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) likely to be at the greatest risk. The report highlights that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is increasingly prone to IoT attacks, with more than 18 percent of public-facing hosts in the UAE alone potentially vulnerable to such attacks.

“IoT devices are the weak link in the smart city chain,” continues Knight. “It is imperative that organisations and individual end users recognise this potential vulnerability and take prudent steps to secure their networks and protect themselves from cyberattacks.”
Other highlights in the report include:
the UAE is hit by an average of 304 attacks per day, the highest in the GCC
more than 42,500 IP cameras are potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks in the GCC
nearly 8,000 digital video recorders (DVRs) in the region are openly exposed to an outside network.