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Smart cities are vulnerable but intelligent cities are safe and secure

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Bertus Marais, GM of business development at XON
Bertus Marais, head of XON’s public safety and security division.

Advanced technologies must be used intelligently to make cities safer, said Walter Lee, responsible for the business strategy and operations of the Innovation Management Office (IMO) in the Global Safety Division of NEC Corporation.

NEC, through its subsidiary NEC Africa in concert with business partner XON, had Lee deliver his views of the latest industry trends to security professionals in Johannesburg.

“Cyber security is not the end game, the end game is to improve the entire security ecosystem and make the Internet more useful to people,” said Lee.

Lee shared NEC and XON’s vision of how citizens, businesses, essential services, and government agencies can neither function nor flourish without personal, property, and personnel security. He divulged how these components of society require a broad yet tightly integrated range of public safety and security services and solutions that include citizen services, immigration control, law enforcement, public administration services, critical infrastructure management, information management, emergency and disaster management, and inter-agency collaboration.

“These kinds of services used to require an army of personnel that was too expensive to maintain while being prone to human error where it existed,” says Bertus Marais, head of XON’s public safety and security division. “With the innovative technologies that we’re able to offer in concert with NEC Africa through our business partnership with NEC and our experts in digital security, all African organisations have access to one of the most advanced capabilities across the entire spectrum of physical and digital safety and security on the continent today.”

He adds: “Border control is a historical challenge in South Africa where we have numerous international ports of entry and exit as well as extended borders that must be maintained and patrolled to control the influx of illegal immigrants as well as clandestine, cross-border criminal activities.”

Lee labels a primary issue: “The Internet of Things results in the Internet of Threats.” The IoT, billions of sensors and small hardware devices connected to the Internet and feeding information back to other systems, are also used in factories to run and collect data about automated and other machinery. They are run by what is called supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software used in our national utilities, things like water reservoir control systems, electricity generating systems, traffic lights, and more. Cyber security was no concern for these systems when they were created because they were never originally designed to be connected to the Internet.

“Suddenly these systems are connected to the Internet and they’re linked to numerous other systems via the Web,” says Mark Harris, marketing director of XON. “They’re running some of our most crucial infrastructure in cities today and they’re vulnerable. We need to secure them. But they’re not the only threat cities face. Cities are becoming smart and that means they’re deploying even more IoT devices to connect infrastructure and resources as well as linking emergency services personnel and equipment via radio and the Internet. They are also increasingly deploying WiFi services to citizens, all of which connect via the Internet. This collaborative approach of devices and people, across functions, services, administrations, authorities, and businesses requires an equally cohesive and integrated approach to securing the entire ecosystem. Cities are vulnerable today and it’s only going to take one major episode to get authorities and individuals scrambling to recover. The problem is that you don’t want to be the guinea pig proving the rule. Already South Africa’s financial services industry has discovered costly cyber security issues – and they are just the tip of the iceberg.”

“The fact that all of these systems and people are connected is a major vulnerability but it can be turned into a robust advantage,” says Mark Harris, marketing director of XON. “Integration is the foundation for a single, secure, and intelligent software platform that collates, analyses, and intelligently interprets data the collective networks of devices and people. It automates the bulk of otherwise onerous, repetitive tasks traditionally placed on the shoulders of error-prone human operators, and instead alerts operators only where potential alarm exists, so that they can focus their energies knowledgeably and cost-effectively and efficiently despatch appropriate resources.”

The software platform hooks into CCTV cameras at airports, for example, to scan thousands of faces per second, matching them against databases of known criminals and suspects, then alerts operators so they can despatch security personnel. Or it gathers data from border control fences and alerts operators when strands are cut, where they are cut, simultaneously displaying nearby resources by type and even equipment, so operators can send response personnel who are equipped to deal with the issue. The platform may also connect to smoke detectors in sensitive government or other strategic national facilities to help secure the nation, municipality, or city. It could even receive information from social media, intelligently interpret that, and recognise that a flash mob will form at a specific location at a specific time. It is bound only by the type of sensors available and the availability of people and software to interact with it.

The beauty of the intelligent software platform, says Marais, is that much of the groundwork has already been done so that the sensors to feed it information already exist, as do the networks to connect everything.

“Many South African municipalities and cities, such as those in Cape Town, have already invested in the broadband, WiFi, and other networks to link all the already deployed systems, devices, and people,” he says. “For them it’s just a matter of laying the intelligent software platform over the top to gain state-of-the-art safety and security.”

Staff Writer

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