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So much data, so little security -- what happens if your city gets hacked?

Johanna Ambrosio | Oct. 11, 2013
Microsoft's Craig Mundie offer security suggestions to MIT Emtech conference; other experts tout smart cities technology.

Companies need to decide what assets are of critical value, where their loss would be of such a nature that the company could go out of business. Mundie termed it "life or death. It's a survivability question of what happens if you lose certain things." Today's traditional IT security methods are no longer "adequate," he said.

One Mundie suggestion: Partition the essential information "so it doesn't exist in any one place at the same time."

Unfortunately, Mundie was not available to elaborate.

He left immediately after his presentation to go to New York to receive the Dwight D. Eisenhower award, which honors individuals — both in public and private life — who make significant contributions to national security. Past recipients include President Jimmy Carter, Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleeza Rice, and former IBM chairman Thomas Watson, Jr.

Other speakers at the conference today talked about the notion of smart cities, and how that idea could evolve.

Katharine Frase, chief technology officer of IBM's public sector practice, said that the city of Rio de Janeiro has implemented a system designed to predict and proactively plan for the rain storms that can create mud slides and, sometimes, cause human death. There is a 'command center' that brings representatives of all city departments together, but there are also analytics run 36 hours before an impending storm.

The data can predict within "a few centimeters" of accuracy which roads will be flooded so, for instance, ambulances and other emergency responders can be rerouted to safer areas.

She also cited a Dubuque, Iowa, program that engaged citizens to help manage energy and water consumption. The idea was to help the city plan, and to help save money on both the household and city levels.

Some 150 households were in a trial program and reported "tremendous efficiency," Frase said, not only in saving money and resources but also doing things like reporting leaks for the city to fix. Points and other gamification techniques were used to help encourage people to stay involved, she said.

"All cities have more data than they think," Frase said, "but it's often locked into one agency. So if they share, they can make better decisions."

Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT lab that explores how sensors and devices can be used in cities, talked about an experiment that tracked 3,000 pieces of trash that originated in Seattle, Wash. Within two months, much of it - including e-waste - wound up on as far away as the East Coast and Baja, Calif.

"If you move things around more efficiently, you can save money and affect behavioral change," he said.

There's a more practical use of the technology as well.


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