A city of digitised riches: two ‘things’ to take away from Dubai’s smart data strategy

Smart parking, less congestion, a greener way of life – the upsides to a city powered by an Internet of Things are countless, but security must remain at the forefront of our minds, say Dubai’s thought leaders

Powered by GITEX Technology Week, the Internet of Things Expo (ioTx) in Dubai brought together a global community of tech entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders who previewed ground-breaking technologies that will change the future of how we work, connect and live.

From heads of state in Dubai and Scotland as well as industry leaders, the ins and outs of data were explored in detail during the recent Internet of Things conference in Dubai’s World Trade Centre – the first conference specifically dedicated to IoT in the city.

As well as investigating financial opportunities in the sector, the event was a chance for international and local experts to share solutions and advice on creating a ‘smart city’ infrastructure, one of the key tenets of Dubai’s Expo 2020 strategy. Along the way, frank discussions were had about both the potential splendours of such a city – as well as its safety.

First thing: safety is key

In cities where hundreds of devices might be able to ‘talk’ to one another, from bridge sensors to taxicabs – how do we protect citizen’s data?

According to findings from Cisco, 2.5 billion new people will be online by 2020, and 37 billion new 'things' will be connected by the end of the decade. This was an estimated US$19trn in global IOT opportunities, but “underpinning all of this has to be security,” said Alexander Holt, Head of CivTech for the Scottish Government.

“We all know the story of the Jeep Cherokee that was driven off the road because of hackers,” he said, referencing the Wired story, whereby hackers remotely killed a Jeep on the highway driven by a reporter to illustrate the need for better automotive security.

At GISEC, which formed part of GITEX Technology Week, the conversation continued. Natalya Kaspersky, President of InfoWatch Group, presented data that found most data leaks in the Middle East were caused by external attacks on enterprise IT infrastructure, while 18 per cent of leaks were insider enabled, compared with the global average of 40 per cent.

“Attack patterns can vary: insider, virus or DDoS attack, even a combination of all of them,” said Kaspersky. “As a rule, when breaking into a particular organisation or website, attackers employ several tactics at once; they assail an enterprise through all internet-connected devices, not only desktops.”

Kaspersky emphasised the challenge in safeguarding Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) from attack when all modern cities and enterprises using internet-connected systems are constantly exposed to versatile targeted attacks.

“Unfortunately, after being in this field for 20 years I have seen security and ISO standards lagging,” commented Harshul Joshi, SVP of Cyber Advisory Services for Dark Matter in the UAE. “But at the end of the day, this is not the area we can afford to lag.”

Second thing: empower people with data  

For Younes Al Nasser, Assistant Director General of Smart Dubai Office, data was vital in ensuring a happier, healthier population.

Mentioning that he was part of a closed working group alongside 20 cities, he stated: “We were discussing smart solutions that our cities could offer, but we couldn’t come up with one single solution.”

To create a centre that transforms and provides efficiency to all residents and visitors, he argued that modern cities must use the best of the technologies at their disposal, from AI to blockchain.

To do this, Al Nasser explained three Dubai initiatives that sought to “unlock the benefits of data.”

The 2015 Dubai Data Law mandated the opening and sharing of data by public and private sector. Mentioning that policies were put in place to guard the privacy and confidentiality and IP of this information, Al Nasser discussed the cataloguing process, where users could segregate data on topics such as transportation, the economy and the environment.

The government office has also created Dubai Data Champions, where 200+ people and 40 government entities are ensuring their organisations are compliant with the new data law, and Dubai Data curriculum, which is preparing the next class of data scientists to lead the data initiative.

“Ultimately, we want the unification of data within one single platform,” said Al Nasser. “We want to help our city’s residents to become more creative, and our decision makers to become more empowered.”