Increasingly, cities find their infrastructure, services and citizens networked together, which promises to make the urban environment safer, more efficient, more convenient and more responsive to the user.
However, as with any data stored on a digital network, it is subject to hacking by black hats and nefarious users. And there are large incentives for doing so. It could be a ransomware attack; or it could be a cyber-attack on critical infrastructure carried out by a hostile government.
Making records more secure
As governments of all sizes look for new ways to secure record-keeping, many are turning to blockchain technology. Blockchain is a decentralized, digital technology that keeps a record of all data 'blocks' within a peer-to-peer network. The records of these interactions are kept in a decentralized, networked system. Each batch of data transactions on a blockchain are called a block and every block is sorted chronologically to form a chain. Since there are thousands or millions of copies of the same chain, the software can quickly check back on previous ledger entries. This ensures that attempts to hack the chain are quickly identified and resolved upon comparison. Hacking a blockchain would require extremely advanced programming, in addition to immense computing power to alter at least the majority of blockchains concurrently. In short, it is practically impossible.
This has obvious implications for city governments, which need to maintain accurate records of property ownership, birth and death certificates, voting records, and so forth. The use of blockchain technology could potentially save city governments millions of dollars each year in reduced costs associated with maintaining these records. In addition, the use of blockchain technology could help to improve the accuracy of these records and make them more difficult to forge.
In a smart city, blockchain can create an infrastructure network that is efficient, secure and transparent. For example, activities in renewable energy grid would be logged in blockchain, as this data can contain everything from user data and passwords to operations details, to know physical vulnerabilities. Blockchain could prevent bad actors from accessing this data and co-opting energy controls. Extend this example to something mundane like garbage collection, or something extreme like a train bridge, and the potential impact is clear.
Applying blockchain in smart cities
Smart cities use a variety of digital technologies to collect data about everything from traffic patterns to energy use. Generally speaking, there are four important tenets to building one.
- Hardware: Everything from sensors in the field, to wireless networks, to mobile devices for monitoring and reviewing information.
- Big Data: The large amount of data collected by hardware are stored in databases where they can be analyzed, often with the help of artificial intelligence. This analysis can reveal patterns and trends that can be used to improve city planning and management.
- Cloud networks: Big Data and conclusions need to live somewhere accessible across the entire city, and physical servers are a limiting solution. Keeping this data in a cloud network enables democratized access, but also makes it apparent to potential hackers.
- Applications: Whether in the physical sense of optimizing energy, or an app on a phone that provides real-time info on traffic congestion, this is where the above tenets create change in operations or behaviors.
Blockchain technology can be used to create immutable records of transactions, contracts, and other data. This data can be stored on a decentralized network, making it accessible to everyone with an honest use. Considering the potential data reach and security implications of a smart city teeming with connected citizens, smart cars and passive sensing, blockchain seems to be essential for cyber security on an industrial or civic scale.
The use of blockchain technology for city record keeping is still in its early stages, but there are already a number of pilot projects underway. For example, South Burlington, Vermont, has developed a blockchain system to track property records. The city of Austin, Texas, is also exploring the use of blockchain technology to to improve homeless service. Reno, Nevada, is using blockchain to secure its building and permitting processes, which is a large demand for the "biggest little city in the world."
As more cities explore the potential of blockchain technology, it is likely that we will see more widespread adoption of this innovative technology. This could potentially revolutionize the way that cities keep track of their records and make it easier for residents to access these records. In turn, this could lead to improved transparency and accountability from city governments.
Blockchain technology is quickly becoming a staple in many industries, and smart cities are no exception. Smart cities work by integrating different types of data from various sources into a cohesive and useful whole. By using blockchain in this process, cities can create a more trusted and transparent system for recording information. This could have far-reaching implications for everything from public safety to urban planning.