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Vulnerabilities with M2M communication protocols slowing smart city innovation

By Max Burkhalter
December 24, 2018

As IoT comes into focus, the goal of fully integrated smart cities becomes more plausible, though significant challenges lie ahead for the project. Several cloud-connected devices are already in use across the U.S., like red light cameras and smart power grids, but a complete IoT infrastructure is far from complete implementation. Trend Micro, a global leader in cybersecurity, released a new report in December titled The Fragility of Industrial IoT's Data Backbone, which warned about the flaws within several machine-to-machine (M2M) protocols.

The report detailed the growing threats posed by operational technology breaches through Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) and Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), two of the most pervasive M2M protocols currently in circulation. Through its research, Trend Micro identified more than 200 million MQTT messages and 19 million CoAP messages that were exposed by flaws in the protocols. The leaked production data could be easily located through the use of simple keyword searches, giving hostile actors unfettered access to valuable information on business assets, employees and technology within a given system.

These sort of widespread vulnerabilities are a major limiting factor for smart city integration, as the scope of such massive deployments rely on a high degree of uniform security. To get an idea for the many points of potential failure within a city-wide IoT system, consider the key areas of development.

Hand reaching out to a network of connected dots.Smart cities are extremely complex and require full-scale network protections to ensure their continued viability.

Major development areas for smart cities
Smart cities provide a host of advantages to citizens, city officials and businesses alike, offering intelligent urban planning solutions through IoT and M2M communication. In an early December article for Entrepreneur, contributing writer Ademola Adekunbi pointed to three notable ways that IoT is shaping the smart cities of the future. Among the key development areas, Adekunbi pointed to traffic management, smart architecture and energy management, and security and privacy as the most important development sectors for ensuring the long-term viability of a fully integrated system.

1. Traffic management: As cities become more thickly populated, the number of cars and public transportation vehicles is expected to rise. This increase in vehicles will inevitably lead to greater problems with congestion and higher accident rates. IoT networks enable real-time data on traffic diffusion, parking capacity and accident reporting, which may give drivers a more efficient means of moving around the city.

2. Smart architecture and energy management: One of the universal challenges for large cities is the ever-increasing energy demands needed to keep businesses running and residential housing safe and secure. IoT systems would help improve energy efficiency by providing building administrators precise control over the lighting, heating and ventilation systems.

3. Security and privacy: Improving security in urban areas has the dual effect of encroaching on privacy rights, though a healthy balance has been struck with non-intrusive public video surveillance systems. The integration of AI technology has made it possible to monitor for incidences of crime without infringing on the rights of citizens, such as New York City's gunshot detection network.

Stabilizing IoT within smart city deployments
Tackling the problem of protocol security will be a major turning point for smart cities and the durability of large-scale IoT implementations. This daunting task starts with a complete reevaluation of current connectivity procedures and may require a complete standardization of all cloud-connected technology within the network. This would require an overhaul of the system's hardware infrastructure, including the adoption of industrial-grade device servers and terminal servers.

Perle offers reliable networking tools that can strengthen connectivity and secure important data from being easily exploited. Read our customer stories to learn more about how our product offerings can smooth the path to the fully integrated smart cities of the future.


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