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LED lighting systems: Potential security risks?

Posted: 25 Feb 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LED  lighting system  sensor 

Philips, at this month's Euroshop exhibition, staged an intelligent LED in-store lighting system that transmits location-based data to the shoppers. Via a smartphone app, the system communicated to the users by sending special offers and information to the shoppers, relevant to their location in the store.

Already being tested in some shops, the lighting system is claimed to be a boon to personalized shopping. Paranoid conspiracy theorists and those antagonised by 'Big Data' and its erosion of civil liberties may also see this as a boon, given that the cyber security and data privacy aspects of the Philips innovation have not been tackled so far.

Also this month over in the USA, Newark Liberty Airport revealed that it has installed a lighting system featuring 171 new LED fixtures which form part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into security software that will monitor the behaviour of people and vehicles at the airport using an array of sensors and eight video cameras around the terminal. Again the issues of data protection access appear to be wooly at present.

Admittedly LED lights serving as network nodes to which sensors and cameras can be connected is not at first sight startlingly different to the concept of CCTV surveillance systems we are all too familiar with but the increased integration of more and more sensor, image processing and monitoring functions into the hitherto benign lighting fixture could have a profound impact on every citizen because of the sheer ubiquity of the lighting systems around the world.

This week in the New York Times Fred H. Cate, director of the Centre for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, described the potential for misuse as "terrifying". Cate is primarily concerned about the technology itself but from the process of adopting it, driven by, he said, "that combination of a gee-whiz technology and an event or an opportunity that makes it affordable". Cate suggested there was often not enough thought being given to what data would actually be useful and how to properly manage it.

At Newark Airport, the Port Authority says it will own and maintain the data it collects. For now, it says, no other agencies have access to it, and a law enforcement agency can obtain it only through a subpoena or written request. Of course hackers don't tend to go in for many subpoenas or written requests they simply hack into the system.

In many ways the LED did not seem too revolutionary when it was first invented but it has certainly blossomed since then and integrated into LED lighting systems it is moving swiftly from a neat way to help governments and businesses save energy by automatically controlling lights to opening up an expanding market for lights, sensors and software capable of capturing and analysing vast amounts of data about the habits of citizens.

Almost on a daily basis we're seeing networked lighting control solutions being installed not just for the energy benefits they offer but for a whole host of non-energy benefits.

Citywide intelligence gathering
In October 2013 Silver Spring Networks, Inc., a leading networking platform and solutions provider for smart energy networks, was selected to deliver the networking platform for a citywide intelligent street lights project in Copenhagen, Denmark. Under a new partnership with Citelum. Silver Spring is expected to begin networking 20,000 street lights in Copenhagen in 2014.

Copenhagen is claimed to be the world's most sustainable city, and selected Citelum to improve energy efficiency, lower operational costs, enable remote lighting management and control, and improve citizen safety through the enhanced lighting system.

"Silver Spring has been selected by Citelum thanks to its compliant wireless IPv6 smart city networking platform, providing the scale, performance, security and extensibility needed for a city of Copenhagen's ambition," said Pierre-Louis Ouvrard, Business Development Director, Citelum.

Together, Citelum and Silver Spring expect to provide multiple LED lamp options, with a single networking platform for Copenhagen's smart city network.

Silver Spring's unified networking and software solutions ensure higher levels of reliability, enable broader geographic coverage and are more cost-effective than existing solutions.


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