A team of researchers from the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at the University of California, Berkeley, asked 76 cybersecurity experts working in the tech industry, academia, government and the nonprofit field to rank 9 common smart city technologies based on underlying technical vulnerabilities, attractiveness to hackers, and the potential impact of a successful cyberattack.

Emergency alert systems that give guidance to the public during times of distress ranked first in all 3 categories, followed by street video surveillance and traffic signals. Several respondents described scenarios that might occur if any of the systems were hacked while 10 described situations in which false emergency messages caused widespread panic and civil unrest.

An additional 18 survey respondents said tampering with traffic lights could cause accidents and gridlock and potentially prevent police, firefighters and ambulances from reaching emergencies in a timely manner. Participants also said nation-states and insiders would be most effective at executing cyberattacks, compared with thrill-seekers, cybercriminals, terrorist groups and hacktivists.

Other assessed technologies, including smart waste and recycling bins and satellite water leakage detection systems, are perceived to be less vulnerable than technologies such as gunshot detection, public transport open data, and smart tolling.

Alison Post, associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley, said the results should alert municipal leaders pursuing smart city programs that they need to take cybersecurity into greater consideration when making technology decisions, according to State Scoop.

“The balance of risks and potential gains is going to vary,” she said. “As they’re thinking about different types of systems, it would behoove them to coordinate with IT departments where the impact of an attack is likely to be very high on health, trust, as well as imagining nation-state or insider threats being likely.”

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