Smart City Security Testing: Research -> Tooling -> Methodology -> Go!

NCC Group

The idea and concept of Smart Cities is certainly gaining traction. Cities around the world are already investing in trials, testbeds and in many cases operational system deployments such as smart energy, smart lighting, smart parking; the list goes on...

The motivation in driving Smart Cities forwards lies with the promise of increased operational efficiency and the ability to use vast amounts of data captured by sensors and systems to improve the quality and provision of services and welfare to citizens. However, much of the marketing around Smart Cities is expectedly optimistic and often has little to no reference to security. As Smart City subsystem rollouts continue around the world with complicated interconnections to a myriad of other networks and orchestration systems that seek to govern and control the underlying city, this begs the question: "How do we test or assure the security of an entire city?"

At NCC Group we are answering this exact question through a dedicated research programme on Smart City security testing. Leveraging the expertise of our global hardware practice in the work that they do on IoT and embedded systems, we are researching the various protocols and systems that will underpin Smart Cities; developing tools and testing techniques and fleshing out methodologies for repeat and consistent testing and validation of Smart City security. For example, we have recently completed an in-depth study of LoRaWAN, a low-power, long-range protocol ideal for sensors that will be deployed around Smart Cities and will need to be operational with little to no maintenance for long periods of time. Using Pycom LoPy4 devices we have developed a full LoRaWAN testing capability which includes scanning, interception and interrogation capabilities. We are now building on this capability to include support for other Smart City protocols such as NB-IoT.

With our tooling and methodology we are able to drive around Smart Cities and enumerate sensors and devices. This is a key initial step in Smart City security testing as it allows us to map out the technology landscape and enumerate the technical function and capability of devices found. Each device in a Smart City, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, poses a potential attack vector into the Smart City network, or at least provides a method to potentially corrupt and manipulate sensing data in ways that might cause onwards disruption to services. The ability to geo-locate sensing equipment is likely to be a goal for attackers - given physical access to these devices it may be possible to perform all manner of tampering and hardware-based attacks.

In addition to looking at the security of edge and end-node devices we are also surveying Smart City orchestration and general unified IoT connection software. The ability to take full control of these applications could allow attackers unfettered control of an entire Smart City – suddenly "root shell" becomes "root city" – a sobering thought.

Want to get involved in researching and testing IoT and Smart City technologies? Please do get in touch -

Matt Lewis
Research Director
NCC Group

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