Los Angeles Streetlights to Be Controlled via Cellular Network

The City of Los Angeles, California recently announced a plan to monitor and control all of its streetlights via a cellular network, allowing city workers to control the lights remotely from a Web browser, CNNMoney reports.

The system will identify each streetlight’s location via GPS, and will allow workers to turn lights on or off and to dim them or brighten them as needed.

It will also send out an alert when a streetlight goes out, and will monitor each streetlight’s energy use (LED streetlight bulbs are already saving the city more than $8 million a year).

“We’ll be able to find out if a light goes out right away, as opposed to waiting for someone to call,” Ed Ebrahimian, director of the city’s Bureau of Street Lighting, told CNNMoney. “It’s really about customer service.”

While the city currently has the ability to control about 50,000 of its 160,000 LED streetlights remotely, the upgrade will add GPS capability, starting with 15,000 lights and and eventually expanding within the next two to three years (at a cost of about $14 million) to cover the remaining 95,000 that aren’t currently part of the network.

Ebrahimian said the new functionality could enable a wide range of smart solutions, such as linking the lights to the city’s 911 system to turn them on in case of an emergency, or setting them to blink as a warning to residents if needed.

Philips, which is providing the mobile chips and the CityTouch connected lighting management system for the new deployment, said the solution leverages banking-level encryption technology and uses secure mobile networks.

Still, Tripwire senior security analyst Ken Westin said there are additional security considerations that need to be taken into account, such as how firmware updates will be handled.

“Although the system may be ‘secure’ now, as the lights and network become more distributed they become a target for hackers who will identify vulnerabilities in the system and the lights themselves,” Westin said.

It’s not clear at this point, Westin noted, whether Los Angeles has allocated any funds for monitoring system security. “The city will need to ensure that they are continuously monitoring for vulnerabilities in the system, as well as detection capabilities to identify potential compromises,” he said. “This cannot be a system that they ‘set and forget,’ as there a number of moving parts in this system, and given the high profile of the system it makes it an appealing target for thieves.”

And while a cellular network makes deployment relatively straightforward, Westin said it can also introduce additional vulnerabilities. “A cell jammer can block communication to the devices and if networks are otherwise unavailable can make these devices inoperable,” he noted.

Recent eSecurity Planet articles have examined the security challenges inherent in the Internet of Things (IoT), and offered advice on developing secure IoT apps.

Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman has been a technology journalist for more than 20 years and an eSecurity Planet contributor since 2009.

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