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China’s smart cities pressed for tightened cyber defense measures

Updated: Sep 5,2018 4:04 PM     People’s Daily Online

With more and more Chinese cities jump onto the “smart city” wagon with digitalization and internet-plus strategies to facilitate urbanization and improve residents’ livelihood, the risks of cyber attacks are rising despite that, major risks remain at a low level, experts noted.

Addressing the 2018 Internet Security Conference (ISC) which kicked off on Sept 4 in Beijing, Chen Zhaoxiong, vice-minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), pointed out that China also is pressing for strengthened protection of basic cyber infrastructure, especially of telecommunication, the internet, and the Industrial Internet to guarantee key data resources as well as personal information security.

Such demands are in line with China’s smart city construction layout that is mapping out across the nation, which also goes hand in hand with cyber attack risks, noted Wu Yunkun, president of 360 Enterprise Security Group, in an interview on the sideline of the ISC.

Wu told People’s Daily that major risks lie within four aspects: compromised personal information security, vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and potential life losses and economic losses when things go south.

Attacks on IoT would only have a major impact on society, according to Wu. With regard to the manufacturing industry, attacks could paralyze whole assembly lines or bring down a whole city by taking down the power grid, and attacks on self driving vehicles could be fatal.

Luckily, China’s power grid is not an easy target and will not be brought down as some fear, as all the power stations and substations are not connected to the public internet. Instead, they use a separate network and all the power equipment is independently designed and manufactured, thus making it more reliable.

On personal information security, China’s Huazhu Hotels Group lost some 500 million pieces of client information, marking the latest case of massive leakage.

Qi Xiangdong, chairman of 360 Enterprise Security Group, told reporters that he was stunned but not surprised by the latest incident. “It was bound to happen, but not because of how Huazhu managed its data. In fact, most companies are at about the same level [in cyber security], so it is likely that many more have suffered from information leakage,” he said.

New technology that sees rapid growth tends to see more weak links and is more vulnerable to attacks, but the benefits outweigh the risks. “We simply need to focus more on security along the way,” Qi said.

President Xi Jinping has also repeatedly emphasized cyber security and pressed for enhanced defense of basic information infrastructure by taking more preventive steps beforehand.

“By taking preventive steps beforehand, as President Xi put it, we can better guard our countless devices. It is more than computers now. It can be a smartphone or a charging pile or a street light,” Wu observed.

Wu suggests that China first protect the millions of connected devices across the nation, then work to improve their software and hardware, most of which are too poorly equipped to take preventive measures such as patching.

Thanks to the nation’s gradually improving awareness, China has already witnessed a rise in cyber security, as the ratio of security to a company’s budget has climbed to 5-10 percent nationwide in recent years, which is about the same level as that in the US, where the ratio was 1-3 percent in the past, according to Wu.