[Expert Column] The Story Behind Smart Cities: An in-Depth Interview with Penta Security’s CTO

cover image

The proportion of the global population living in cities has surpassed 50%, and is expected to reach 65% by 2050. Seeing more and more people rushing into cities, urban planners and civil engineers are now using new technologies to help increase the capability of urban infrastructure and the efficiency of city services, transforming conventional cities into so-called smart cities. The idea of the smart city quickly gained popularity worldwide, with a number of global cities now going through their development stage.

So what is the smart city? A smart city is a digital city that utilizes information and communication technologies to connect urban infrastructure and services with their users so that supply and demand can be matched in real-time, greatly enhancing the efficiency of urban activities and optimizing the lives of all residents.

To enable all the information transmission, a smart city is connected as a tremendous network made up of tens of thousands of IoT devices. This makes cybersecurity technology one of the most essential building blocks of the smart city. With more than 20 years of experience in cybersecurity, Penta Security is currently playing a key role in a number of smart city development projects.

To see the story behind the development of smart cities, we need to understand the security challenges they face and the measures that must be taken to ensure the safety of all residents. To answer such questions, we invited Penta Security’s CTO Sang-Gyoo Sim to take us through everything we need to know about smart cities. As a well-respected smart city expert with a Ph.D. in cybersecurity, Dr. Sim has been in charge of overseeing the cybersecurity aspect for many smart city projects.

Here is a summary of our interview with Dr. Sim.


How would you define the smart city? What are the characteristics that make a city “smart”?

A smart city is a city driven by data. The city would collect data generated from its residents’ daily activities, and at the same time, analyze and learn these data to improve the usability, effectiveness, and accessibility of its services. The ultimate goal is to improve the lives of urban residents living under high population density. It might seem vague, so let’s take some examples of how this is applied in four major areas: transportation, safety, environment, and welfare.

Take transportation for example, V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication provides real-time safety information to drivers on the road, so that when there is a traffic accident, a broken traffic light, or a falling object or sinkhole on the road, traffic can be redirected to the next best suitable route, reducing unnecessary congestion. In addition, when traffic lights receive real-time traffic information, they could self-adjust the lengths of the green and red signals based on traffic needs, further optimizing traffic flow.

In terms of safety and policing, CCTVs equipped with AI technology detect unlawful acts and incidents such as fights, vandalism, and traffic accidents in real-time and automatically notify the police. Motion-sensor street lights that automatically turn on when pedestrians pass by enable efficient energy use while making a city free of blind spots.

From the aspect of the environment, environmental conditions can be tracked by measuring levels of air pollution, noise, UV, and population flow through sensors installed in each area of the city, helping residents plan their daily activities accordingly.

Finally, an example in the area of welfare would be smart monitoring systems that track the electricity and water consumption of elderly and vulnerable residents living alone. If abnormal usage activities are detected or if left unused for a long period of time, the system would immediately inform the nearest social welfare centre to check the status of the resident.

These examples show how a smart city utilizes data to provide a convenient, safe, and clean living environment for its residents.


What kinds of security risks does the smart city face?

The primary role of security in the smart city is to maintain the stability and reliability of all the necessary data flows within it. Since smart cities operate based on the generation, collection, storage, and analysis of real-time information, security is crucial for all these stages.

Many tend to think of smart city security as IoT security because a smart city contains tons of IoT devices. However, there is much more to it. While IoT security focuses on securing the connections between the end devices, gateways, and servers, smart city security should focus on ensuring the integrity of the data that flows in and out of them. To this end, various aspects of security must be considered in each stage of the data lifecycle, from data generation, collection, sharing, to analysis, storage, and deletion. Take data generation for example, in a smart city, the entity that generates data can either be an IoT device or a person, hence it is necessary to establish an authentication system that can verify the identity of both devices and people. 

In terms of data collection, sharing, and storage, an important criterion that must be considered is data management transparency. In smart cities, data is not only collected and used for city services, but can also be shared between subjects and services. If the flow of data is not managed transparently, it would not only undermine the integrity of the data itself, but also hurt the reliability of the entire city.

Lastly, we cannot talk about smart city security without looking at privacy protection. This is because personal information may be included during data collection, after which any vulnerability with regards to personal data protection would be revealed in the data analysis stage. A successful smart city requires the active participation of its residents, and the only way to maximize the participation rate is to gain the residents’ trust by ensuring that their personal information is safely protected.


What are the potential consequences of a smart city security incident?

A cyber-physical system (CPS) is required to operate a smart city. This is when information technology is applied and integrated into physical systems like transportation infrastructure, water supply, sewage, and gas supply. If a security incident happens to the cyber-physical system of a city, there would likely be significant disruptions to the functioning of the whole city.

What’s more is that a security incident in a smart city would not only cause inconvenience to its residents, but could also lead to direct financial and physical damages. For example, tampering with financial data could cause residents to suffer financial losses, while hijacking data related to city operations could paralyze a city’s administrative, transportation, and utility services, resulting in additional damages and safety issues.


Then, what are the security technologies required for the smart city?

Just as how the smart city is a data-centric city, the security system for the smart city should also be data-centric. In other words, security systems should focus on ensuring the integrity and reliability of the data throughout its lifecycle of data generation, collection, sharing, analysis, storage, and deletion.

First, there needs to be authentication technology in place for the data generation and collection process, so that each data subject — whether it be a resident or an IoT device — can be verified before entering the network. Next, an access management system utilizing authorization technology must be applied to not only ensure transparency during data sharing and storage, but also to guarantee the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. Lastly, to ensure privacy, data security technologies such as encryption must be considered to secure any data that contain the residents’ private information.


What is the most difficult or challenging aspect of smart city security?

Different from a typical enterprise IT system, a smart city is not composed of a single integrated system. Instead, it is a “system of systems” in which a number of unique systems are interconnected to operate as one huge system. It can also be seen as an ongoing process of integrating new systems into existing systems. As a result, the interoperability of these systems becomes a major difficulty because every system requires different security technologies. Hence, maintaining a set of well-balanced security systems in this complex environment is the biggest challenge for smart city security.


What is Penta Security doing for smart city developments?

As I said, a smart city is a “system of systems”, and that each unique system requires different security technologies. The security technologies needed for transportation infrastructure, office equipment, cars, and people are all unique. This is exactly when Penta Security comes into play. Since the company has been steadily developing security technologies used in various fields for over two decades, it already possesses most of the technologies needed to secure cities. From data encryption to authentication, network security to security services, our goal is to use our expertise to help smart cities realize their true value and improve the lives of urban residents.

In addition, as smart city engineers look for ways to ensure data management transparency and data integrity, blockchain technology became a perfect candidate for securing the data-centric city. Penta Security has developed a blockchain-based data management system and is currently working to apply it to smart cities.


Throughout this interview, Dr. Sim explained to us the benefits the smart city can provide to its residents, and explained how security is a fundamental prerequisite for the smart city. This makes cybersecurity a crucial building block for the future of our urban life.

To learn more about Penta Security’s technology lineup, visit: pentasecurity.com/solutions


About the Interviewee: 

blog image

Dr. SangGyoo Sim is the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Penta Security Systems Inc. and the Co-founder and CTO at Autocrypt Co., Ltd. As an expert in smart city security, Dr. Sim is currently an Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity at POSTECH specializing in industry-academia cooperation.