What is a Smart City and How Do I Live There?

Although you might assume the growth and development of a Smart City would be precise and exact, Smart City growth is inherently organic. Because living in a Smart City is ultimately the result of human choices to build and utilize technology, there is no perfect path forward into the city of the future.

Smart Cities utilize information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to make services more efficient and resident more secure. Electricity use is a great, basic example. In a Smart City, streetlights are triggered by motion detectors. When someone is in the neighborhood, the street lights are on. Otherwise, they are off, saving the city’s limited power and financial resources.

But if you think in broader terms, imagine a garbage collection app that allows city workers and citizens to request special services such as large item removal. And that system then integrates well with an automated routing system that continuously reroutes garbage trucks ensuring the most efficient path based on current traffic conditions. Now the Smart City is saving money with lower fuel costs, reduced man hours, and fewer miles on garbage trucks.

Ultimately, a Smart City connects citizens with city services to provide better use of tax dollars for a safer, more interconnect existence. But the road towards a Smart City isn’t an easy one.

To start, the more portals of connectivity, the more opportunity hackers have to access city functions and citizen information. If a Smart City’s stop light system is sensitive to time of day, traffic patterns, and special events, then a black hat hacker could dive in and muck up the lights for the sake of chaos – or for the sake of a larger, more sinister plan. (It’s the stuff of movie and TV show plots.)

And the possibilities of ways to connect are endless – almost every aspect of city living can be measured and communicated. But what are the best ways to improve a city through Smart Technology? And what are the ramifications? For example, a pothole app could detect how frequently passengers pass over potholes, and then pass that information along to city officials. But adding a pothole app requires buy-in from citizens with sufficient money to buy and use the technology. So while the pothole app helps everyone uptown, the less fortunate residents downtown get ignored. And so a Smart City initiative suddenly becomes a social issue benefitting the most privileged.

So will creating an safe and equitable Smart City be a bumpy road (pun intended)? Yes. But progress is rarely smooth and generally moves forward. So if you are lucky enough to be in a city with such an initiative (San Diego, San Francisco, Houston… among others) jump into the fray and find out what apps are available. Download and help push our cities towards a safer, smarter place to call home.

A New Administrations and Cyber Security

The recent presidential election has brought the issue of cyber security to the front page of most new sites and newspapers. It appears that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee headquarters and that China hacked into federal employee records at the Office of Personnel Management. Foreign governments are looking at our nation’s private information. So what action should the US take? And what happens if we don’t do anything?

Cyber security is unlike most other forms of science. For example, medical research is very expensive and requires tremendous technology for progress. There aren’t too many teens in their parent’s basements pushing the boundaries of medical research. That’s untrue for cyber security. A sole individual with a good computer and a keen mind can make tremendous headway in the creating or destroying security systems. 
In short, cyber security in the US will progress – with or without assistance from the White House. 
There are some benefits of staying out of the way. Big institutions tend to add bureaucracy, slowing progress to a crawl. Left alone to evolve, programmers might generate insightful and innovative solutions that would have been crushed under the weight of over-management. Sadly, capturing those wild-west developments becomes incredibly difficult if not under the watchful eye of a federal program.
Generally, privately funded research will keep pace with the worldwide race of building and breaking security. But private companies might simply sell their secrets to the highest bidder.
The solution is difficult to define: allow progress in an organic, creative way while trapping the results and keeping solutions inside our borders. The players are even more difficult to wrangle: renegade programmers, educational institutions, private firms, and federal offices. They aren’t going to play well with others.
The good news is that cyber security may not necessarily need federal funds to progress. The bad news is that without those funds, progress might simply land in the hands of the foreign players who already have their hands in our private affairs. 

A New Generation Makes its Demands

In 2012, The Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics (vol. 9(6) 2012) published an article about the working habits of Millennials. Three points stand out:

  1. “Many of this generation’s parents are affluent middle-agers who are now confronted with progenies who are drawn to the “softer” side of life: art, poetry, music, and the surreal world of games.”
  2. “While many of them excelled in high school and college, they don’t seem attracted to the current structured world of work out there.”
  3. “Many of them seem to explore their options, waiting for the right moment or opportunity to come along, and not in a hurry to proactively chase it.”

So, if you are building a company and hiring the younger generation of workers, how do you appeal to their sensibilities?

First, don’t focus on the traditional benefits that come with employment. Health insurance, stable income, and a promise of advancement mean very little to these 20-somethings. They’ve grown up in a world where Fortune 500 companies lay off thousands of people and Federal employees are sent home during systematic shut-downs. To them, no job is secure. Health insurance is available outside of the workplace. And there are endless freelance jobs to earn money from a living room couch or local coffee shop.

Second, don’t mention the 9-5 hours. In fact, you might completely rethink those hours anyway. Why? These Millennials, heavy with tech skills, will happily walk away from your company if you press them to work a traditional workday. They will work hard; but on their time. And if you don’t like it, find someone else. (And good luck with that.)

Finally, don’t expect them to work forever. You might spend endless hours seeking the right candidate, vetting all applicants, and providing company training only to find your Millennial opts to spend winter in Switzerland skiing. You spent three months hiring and only got two months of work out of your new tech employee.

It’s time to rethink some of the traditional constraints of employment. In fact, something as inconvenient as a long commute could dissuade your Millennial from staying at the job. Remote working (from home or an approved coworking space) could go a long way in keeping a good employee from disappearing at the first hint of snow. Or sun.

Millennials have been raised well, by overly protective parents. They don’t approach the world of work with much apprehension or fear. They are a confident bunch without much to lose. And the companies that learn how to adapt to their standards might find a competitive edge for future growth in all markets.

What Cyber Security Will Mean in 2017

First, let’s dispel the myth of hackers sitting on a couch or slamming espresso shots in a 24-hour café. At some point in the past, there may have been enough one-off hackers to comprise some measurable percentage of cyber threats. But those days are over. Hacking is big business. And these businesses are operating inside and outside of the US. They are looking at standard big-business issues like supply and demand, market competition, and industry trends. And yes, there will always be independent hackers. But the real threat now comes in the form of highly organized teams with strategic initiatives.

Ransoms are an increasingly popular tool for the black hat players. In some ways, the transactions are quick and easy. The ransom amounts are fairly easy to calculate: the cost of data recovery (hiring a tech specialist) plus the cost of recovering brand image. In short, your standard ransom demand isn’t going be less than $25,000 (or so) going forward. And that’s just the floor. Plus a good black hat hacker will make sure he gets paid on both sides of the equation – wear the mask during the ransom and the white hat during the repair.

While breaching big companies is always a splashy way to make headlines (think: Yahoo, Target, and Yahoo again), the big companies have vast financial resources to stay ahead of the hacking curve. Thus the future of hacking is in the mid-level company. The perfect target: on-line grocery retail and delivery. They have enough money to pay big ransoms, but they aren’t invested enough in the tech industry to keep on top of client login and payment data.

The truly sophisticated hackers can’t be bothered with PII anymore. They want to play the markets. And by sneaking in the back door of major corporations, they can gain access to the kinds of corporate intelligence that an inside trader can only dream about. And not only can they play the market, they can manipulate the markets by releasing information to the media strategically.

The face of cyber security changes daily. The players are in every corner of the world, rolling the dice in a game against each other, major corporations, and every government on the planet.

The Human Factor

Cyber security isn’t all zeros and ones. In fact, the greatest threat to cyber security may be sitting under the mousepad at the reception desk. Or in an unlocked office. Or in your company’s training manuals.

The human factor is the generally the weak link in any cyber security system. Humans simply don’t have the kind of built-in encryption system necessary to keep out intruders. Humans can be trusting and lazy. And those are the exact behaviors a good hacker will leverage to gain access to your systems.

Keep in mind, it only takes a tiny crack in the security system for a hacker to get into your system. And with all the focus on overseas hackers, your data is still unsecure from physical intrusion. Passwords taped to the computer screen are the easiest way for someone to gain access to your internal software. No one will notice a “maintenance man” checking the lights in an office. Once hackers are working from the inside, it’s easier to maneuver around the limited, internal security measures.

Email remains one of the easiest ways to gain remote access to a system. And because we access email through multiple platforms, hackers can easily dupe unsuspecting users. If you only use one device to review your email (for example, through Google on your desktop), then you are very familiar with the way your email messages look. But email messages look slightly different depending on the device (phone, tablet, laptop, tv, etc), so you have less of a filter. Strange-looking emails don’t stand out. So when a hacker creates an email to appear as if it’s coming from a friend, you’re more likely to open, read, and download.

Finally, if you are a manager or executive, you are sensitive to data security. Your front desk receptionist is not. The receptionist is worried about opening paper mail, answering phone, and keeping guests comfortable. A sly email from a hacker could easily be opened in the haze of busy day.

If you house sensitive data of any kind, you are going to be the target of a hack. The best cyber security expert can’t account for all human activity. Consider a company-wide training on a quarterly basis to ensure everyone in your company is aware of new and emerging issues.