Cyber Security
Local communities across Britain which make use of "connected places" projects are potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks. AFP News/NICOLAS ASFOURI

Key to national success and prosperity in the 21st century is the safe and secure deployment of new technologies. Whilst new technologies bring new opportunities for economic growth and more effective public services, they also bring risks which need to be addressed and managed at both the local and national levels.

At the national level, the National Cyber Strategy was been published by the government last year to establish a framework for "protecting and promoting the UK's interests in cyberspace". It is intended to consolidate Britain's reputation as a "responsible and democratic cyber power".

Specifically, its objectives include increasing the strength of the British cyber ecosystem and decreasing cyber security risks to empower businesses to make the most of new tech.

Britain's tech ecosystem is highly competitive within the global international economy, with a potential value of $4 trillion by 2032. Moreover, in terms of cyber security, Britain is already a world leader according to Viscount Camrose, Minister for Cyber, AI, and Intellectual Property.

Keeping Britain at the forefront of technological innovation is part of the government's strategy to protect Britain's global strength and influence. This is a point illustrated by the UK Science and Technology Framework published back in March this year.

However, what does the increasing salience of technological innovation mean for local communities and local authorities up and down the country?

As part of the government's National Cyber Strategy, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) has announced a new guide to help local authorities protect cyber security as they develop connected places. The alpha Secure Connected Places Playbook has been designed with accessibility in mind so that those without a background in tech can make use of it.

So what exactly are connected places? Simply put, the phrase refers to the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices to collect data which has the potential to improve local services and benefit local communities.

More specifically, connected places entail the use of "sensors, hardware, networks and applications" which collect and analyse data on services and places within a local community. The collection and analysis of data can help improve important public services. For example, in transport, social care, and critical infrastructure and utilities.

For example, smart traffic light systems can be installed to ease traffic congestion on busier roads. To help improve social care, sensors can be deployed in homes to aid assisted living. In terms of the environment, sensors can be used to monitor water levels in areas prone to flooding.

These are just some of the examples of how connected places projects can collect information which can help local communities.

However, while they can bring benefits to local communities, connected places are also "attractive targets to hostile actors" according to the DSIT. There are several reasons for this. They include the collection of large volumes of data, their "interconnected nature", and their integration with local infrastructure.

Cyber attacks on connected places have the potential to cause loss of sensitive data as well as damage to physical infrastructure essential to the well-being of residents.

Therefore, to address cyber security concerns, multiple local authorities contributed to the creation of the new playbook, ensuring that it is applicable to the needs of different local communities up and down Britain. Amongst others, they include, Bradford Metropolitan City Council, Westminster City Council, and Dorset Council.

What does the playbook include?

Firstly, the playbook includes a summary of the National Cyber Security Centre's Connected Places Cyber Security Principles. Information provided on the principles can be used to generate cyber security awareness amongst staff involved in designing and maintaining connected places projects.

The playbook also includes areas of guidance, firstly, on effective "security governance" of connected places projects, secondly, on how cyber security concerns can be integrated into the "supply chain management lifecycle", and, thirdly, on how to conduct threat analysis.

However, the story doesn't end with the alpha playbook. The DSIT will now take further measures to improve the cyber security of local communities. Local authorities are being invited to take part in the project's next phase, the "beta testing" of the alpha Playbook.

The aim is to publish a "beta version" of the playbook next year which will make use of the experience of a widened cohort of local authorities. Moreover, with "dedicated cyber security support", 12 local authorities will "apply and refine the advice in the alpha Playbook".