back to article Leicester streetlights take ransomware attack personally, shine on 24/7

It's become somewhat cliché in cybersecurity reporting to speculate whether an organization will have the resources to "keep the lights on" after an attack. But the opposite turns out to be true with Leicester City Council following its March ransomware incident. Nearly two months after INC Ransom's attack hit the English …

  1. Plest Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Connect everything!

    Ah the wonderful interconnected world we live in, if it requires just a single bit, even just a literal bit, of data then shove a wifi or ethernet port on it and get it connected to the internet! Now what could possibly be wrong with this picture?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Connect everything!

      ...what could possibly be wrong...

      At least they are illuminated all the time.

      Maybe they're not all very bright, but it beats having murky shadows lurking to extract light pennies from behind heavy curtains.

      1. Fred Daggy Silver badge
        Angel

        Re: Connect everything!

        I was going to ask, if this will be examined in retrospect and will show a decrease in motor vehicle collections, or break-ins, or some other event?

        Like a decrease in colds and flu during the early days of Covid-19 as everyone washed their hands like their life depended upon it. Or fitness levels rose during lockdown as people took advantage of their 1h per day outside.

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Connect everything!

      Once upon a time street lights had photocells to control when they turned themselves on or off. Presumably that was considered too complicated.

      OK, a bit simplistic but how hard would it be to have a photocell to fall back on if contact was lost to the central control.

      1. 43300 Silver badge

        Re: Connect everything!

        Indeed, and surely photocells are a better way to control for local conditions - e.g. they would make the lights come on during a dark and wet early evening even if it wasn't their normal time for coming on.

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Connect everything!

          I think one of the reasons they went for centralised control is it just takes one pigeon with a good aim to knock the photocell out of operation. The cost of having some poor berk going around cleaning the photocells was deemed too high. But as a backup they are a better option then leaving them on all the time even if a small number of them are covered in crap (or leaves).

          1. 43300 Silver badge

            Re: Connect everything!

            Or they could link the street lights in groups and have a system whereby the reading given by the majority of photocells determines the outcome (on/off) for the whole group? That would to an extent avoid the single point of failure inherent in both a single photocell and a centralised control system (yes, this is a form of centralised control but complete failure would affect far fewer lights, and there could be some redundancy built into the control module.).

            1. Tron Silver badge

              Re: Connect everything!

              You are all missing the point. Most councils use outsourced software. I doubt many (if any) have in-house coding skills. They can request whatever options they want, but I expect they get what the outsourced agency can be arsed to give them. Nothing in Brexit Britain works properly. But at least they can see the pot holes all night.

              This does beg the question of whether, having failed to protect their data once, they have failed to protect it a second time by not paying the ransom. Whilst I'm not a fan of paying ransomware, and it might not work, they had an option to protect the data and chose not to.

              I'm sure everyone will be fully recompensed. 50p off their council tax, paid for by a new £50 a year bin charge.

              1. Snowy Silver badge
                Facepalm

                Re: Connect everything!

                Pay up once and your likely to get hit again.

                1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
                  Unhappy

                  Re: Connect everything!

                  Further than that, pay up once and everyone is at greater risk of being hit.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Connect everything!

              These days they not only do that but also have mm-radar to detect presence under them and communicate it to adjacent lights

              Such designs go to 10% brightness when not needed and light up as a car or human moves under them

              By all accounts the number of burglaries in areas where they're in use has tailed off dramatically, but that's not what they were intended to do - and that intention has backfired

              Streetlighting is a useful way of soaking up overnight excess power capacity rather than letting generation kit go cold. When councils started turning off lights overnight (or other similiar tactics to reduce power bills), the tariffs were changed to increase their charges

          2. notyetanotherid

            Re: Connect everything!

            Round here the pigeons seem to have learned that by roosting on the lamp head covering the photocell, they get free central heating for their pad...

          3. Marcelo Rodrigues

            Re: Connect everything!

            "I think one of the reasons they went for centralised control is it just takes one pigeon with a good aim to knock the photocell out of operation"

            The photocell doesn't have to look at the sky. It reads light, doesn't matter from where. If calibrated (just give a little twist to that sensibility knob, will ya?), one could even point it sideways or to the sidewalk.

          4. tiggity Silver badge

            Re: Connect everything!

            At least 1 photocell operated one near us, not knocked out by pigeons, but by tree leaf shading.

            In a while* it will be in "Summer mode" where sufficient leaf cover on the tree above the receptor for the light controller to regard it as "dark" and streetlight is also on in the daytime.

            * currently insufficient leaf cover for light to be on all day, as will be a while before tree it is beneath gets a decent leafy canopy, tree still in Spring phase of relatively few leaves "out" & those that are "out" are not at peak size yet.

        2. Dizzy Dwarf Bronze badge

          Re: Connect everything!

          They also come on during an eclipse, which kinda spoils it.

        3. StewartWhite
          Facepalm

          Re: Connect everything!

          No, that would not do at all!. Because: IT, Cyber, IoT, AI etc. It's clearly vital that Council Leader Dave Jobsworth feels that he's in charge of spending pointlessly on "cutting edge tech" rather than doing something useful.

        4. PRR Silver badge

          Re: Connect everything!

          > photocells are a better way to control for local conditions - e.g. they would make the lights come on during a dark and wet early evening

          Yes; and rare events like our recent Solar Eclipse (even if Dizzy mayn't like it). While the longest dusk-level period was maybe 10 minutes, suddenly-darkened drivers can do some mayhem that quickly. There's also global volcanic clouds, and last summer's fires in Canada.

          But those photocells cost money: $13-$30 web-price, so easily $100 on government contract. Leave it out and that boodle helps pay for the networking infrastructure.

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Connect everything!

        There is also, depending on the installation, electricity billing implications.

        In certain cases, the electricity company bills the relevant local for street lights according to a formula that has a daily hours in use as one of the inputs. So, controlling the lights centrally makes it easy.

        Don't think they bill street lights by actual consumption at the lamp post. So, a lamp may have failed, but it will still be in the charge. May be one day...

  2. Dr Who

    They could be sulking

    Perhaps these lights were made by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. They're a bit bored of turning on and off all the time, so are staying on permanently in protest.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: They could be sulking

      Do the lights come with GPP(*)?

      (*) Genuine People Personalities

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: They could be sulking

        Well they stand around not doing much and some of them are quite dim. So to answer your question, yes.

    2. KayJ

      Re: They could be sulking

      Hmmmmmmmm ahhhhhhh...

  3. Andy Non Silver badge

    Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

    Didn't street lights used to have light sensors that simply turned them on when it was dark and off when light? Remote control seems overkill and over-engineering a simple requirement.

    1. tmTM

      Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

      Yea but sensors get dirty, so you need someone out there doing the rounds to keep them clean.

      1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

        Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

        A temperature sensor would probably suffice to be able to learn day/night timings and in a few days the date would be apparent, then you can just calculate dusk and midnight.

    2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

      I suspect that there may be a remote fault detection system in operation that will alert the council to failed lights without the local residents having to bother, hence the remote access. In addition, some street lights, at least in the UK, have sockets for authorised people to connect to the power supply, and that may also require monitoring. (There is a car charging point on a streetlamp near my home.). If the council wants to save money on its electricity bills, it may also decide to turn some lights off or down at specific times. It is probably also cheaper to have a remote control system than light sensors on each streetlamp.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

        Remote control of streetlights seems silly but then I hate streetlights .... but local councils down here in hampshire don't control the lights anymore, all contracted to SSE contracting

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

          Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

          Who are very good at turning the lights off 1/2hr before its light enough to see safely, and turn them on 1/2hr after its gone pitch black.......

    3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

      There's always (always in the sense of: long before internet) been remote control (ripple control) of street lights, at least in this part of the world. The lights have been switched based on a central light sensor and schedules (e.g. reduced street lighting after midnight). And for maintenance, once in a while someone patrolled the streets to detect faulty lamps, or preemptive exchange based on expected lifetime - whichever is more efficient. I do see some advantages of connecting street lights to the web: online detection of faulty lights, more flexible control of individual lights (instead of hard-wiring to a handful of groups). But is it really worthwhile?

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

        > But is it really worthwhile?

        Sure, if you're a responsible organization and don't cock things up so badly.

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

        A lot of the control is also down to out-of-hours switching for reducing power consumption.

        What is infuriating is that most of the LED streetlights are not saving any power over the LPS or HPS as they are simply using the same KWHr but are far brighter. That most are now insanely bright to the point that it is disrupting sleep patterns and wildlife is an irrelevance.

        The light pollution is also beyond belief as they lights are so bright even though it is all pointing down what is reflected back up is causing massive light domes over any built up areas.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge

          Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

          Not only are they brighter, but the old Sodium lamps used to have a very narrow-band spectrum, which could be easily filtered out by astronomers. Now, they use phosphor-coated "white" LEDs, which have a very broad spectrum, impossible to filter.

          1. hoola Silver badge

            Re: Why are they controlled remotely anyway?

            As someone who was into astronomy I have pretty much given up because of the light dome over Leicester to the north then Magna Park (Massive warehouse complex) to the south west.

            In the space of 2 years the sky went from being not bad to appalling, all down to the very bright LEDs and no way to filter.

  4. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    There was me thinking they had a light sensor and a chip that figured out the date and time from the length of day and then would turn on at dusk and off at midnight. No need for a network.

  5. Ochib

    It has happened before and will happen again.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/lights-massachusetts-school-year-no-one-can-turn-rcna65611

  6. Beafy

    Who said that they were connected to the Internet?

    I may have missed it but I didn't notice anything that said the lights were connected to the Internet.

    They had to reset ALL their systems as part of the clean-up and for some unknown (or un-disclosed) reason the lighting control system didn't work properly as a result.

  7. IGotOut Silver badge
    Happy

    Meh...

    "The default mode for faults is that the lights stay on to ensure that roads are not left completely unlit and become a safety concern"

    You city folk and you quant little ways.

    Somehow many villages seem to cope quite well. Sure we may have them on a junction, maybe a few extra in the centre....but even then they often go off at 1am.

    Maybe if you spent a bit more time shagging your relatives*, rather than stabby stabby, shooty shooty, you wouldn't need them.

    *In before the obvious reply.

  8. DS999 Silver badge

    Hopefully they are LED

    So it won't be costing them that much extra.

    1. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

      Re: Hopefully they are LED

      "Hopefully they are LED"

      These would be the newfangled led lights that create a pool of white brilliance directly beneath the lamp, but which fades away to nothing within a few meters, and certainly long before you reach the next streetlight? The result being interspersed patches of light and darkness that make it bloody difficult to see pedestrians unless they're directly under a light. Cheaper and cleaner they may be, but they're nowhere near as good as the old sodium lights that spread, well, light in all directions.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Hopefully they are LED

        Sounds like the LED lights your city is using don't have proper lenses

      2. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

        Re: Hopefully they are LED

        >>they're nowhere near as good as the old sodium lights that spread, well, light in all directions.

        When we moved in to our current abode, at night we didn't need indoor lights because of the light pollution from LPS lamps.

        These got migrated to HPS and the pollution reduced slightly (luminaire design) and changed colour (went from sodium orange to sodium pink).

        Now they are LED lamps and we need to use our indoor lamps at night! how very dare they! by here, the pooling effect isn't a great problem - noticeably less bright between the lights but not enough to make it impossible to see pedestrians - pretty much how I remember the part of Tyneside, that my gran lived in, which had mercury discharge lamps instead of LPS (blue white, rather similar to the LEDs)

      3. XxXb

        Re: Hopefully they are LED

        "Cheaper and cleaner they may be, but they're nowhere near as good as the old........“ Insert many many modern trappings here.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are we talking about here? I can't see them being WIFI or internet/network connected so it must be some kind of scada system broadcasting a signal probably down the power lines and the system connected to that is out of service. The question now becomes what sort of contract do they have where they can't just get this replaced or reinstalled? Why has this taken this amount of time? It's now been over a month.

  10. hoofie2002

    I've had a bit of experience with Smart Streetlights. You put a smart controller into the standard photocell socket on the top of the light unit which then communicates on top of the electricity radio metering network back to base. It allows you to time schedule on/off, scheduled dimming [dimming lights at 3am etc saves money] and tells you how long the lamp has illuminated, its power use [useful for billing and energy management] and if something is wrong. Note this is designed for LED lights.

    Now you can do it properly with the big industry players like Itron. It is not cheap but they very, very focussed on security.

    Or you can do it cheap with some chinese junk and get owned.

  11. IceC0ld

    can they not turn them off, then NOT turn them on again :o)

  12. Mr. V. Meldrew

    What a load of Boll***s

    As a former car park operator we installed a light sensor that would switch the lights on at dusk and knock them off around midnight. No wifi, just simple engineering. What a load of old IT crap! Sometimes simple is easy.

  13. Badgerfruit

    Ah,the good old "replace a human with a machine to 'save money'". Profit over reliability. Again.

    Anyone else want to start our own country with older tech that just worked?

  14. Fred Dibnah

    “Svalbard-esque perpetual brightness”

    Good one :-D

  15. sitta_europea Silver badge

    Smart. Yeah, right.

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