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Making Networked Lighting Controls More Cyber-Secure

image credit: © Alessandro Terranova |
Levin Nock, PhD's picture
Senior Technical Manager DesignLights Consortium (DLC)

I manage development of the DLC list of Networked Lighting Control (NLC) systems eligible for efficiency incentives from most DLC member utility programs.  This freely available database at...

  • Member since 2019
  • 3 items added with 1,530 views
  • Apr 28, 2020 4:15 pm GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-04 - Cybersecurity, click here for more

Data breaches, ransomware, cyberattacks. These terms are peppering news reports and conversations more than ever, causing more than a little nail-biting. In fact, a 2018 Gallup poll revealed that Americans were more worried about cyberattacks than identity theft and home burglary. And perhaps for good reason. Accenture’s Ninth Annual Cost of Cybercrime Study found an 11 percent rise in security breaches between 2018 and 2019, and a 67 percent increase over the previous five years. A Center for Strategic and International Studies report estimated the annual worldwide cost of cybercrime at nearly $600 billion and singled out poorly-protected Internet of Things (IoT) devices as particularly problematic.

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The commercial lighting world is not immune to these concerns. Keeping ahead of hackers was the theme of an interactive discussion session at the DesignLights Consortium’s (DLC) 2019 Stakeholder Meeting, where one participant commented that “we want to skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.”

To that end, the DLC’s Networked Lighting Control (NLC) Technical Requirements version NLC5, to be released in June 2020, will require that all products on the DLC’s Qualified Products List address cybersecurity. The result of several rounds of stakeholder comments over the past three years, the policy is part of the DLC’s overarching strategy to expand adoption of NLCs by increasing comfort with a technology capable of vastly increasing the energy efficiency of LED lighting projects while serving as a smart buildings gateway.

It’s the latter capability that puts NLCs into the realm of IoT. Installed in ceilings throughout commercial and industrial buildings, NLCs can be equipped with sensors that collect data useful for a variety of functions, from more efficient use of office space to increasing the comfort and safety of building occupants.

Making NLCs more resilient to malicious attacks is critical for building the customer trust necessary to expand adoption of the technology. As the Accenture report cited above notes, “By prioritizing technologies that improve cybersecurity protection, organizations can reduce the consequences of cybercrime and unlock future economic value as higher levels of trust encourage more business from customers.”

By requiring that NLCs be developed and operated with best cybersecurity practices, the DLC aims to motivate utilities to provide more support for the technology, which will, in turn, result in networked systems installed on more projects…leading to greater energy savings and increased building intelligence.

NLC5 establishes acceptable cybersecurity standards and services, and NLC systems will need to certify utilization of one or more of these standards or services within the next 18 months to remain on the DLC QPL for NLCs. In addition to cybersecurity, the DLC’s NLC5 revision continues to raise the bar for listed systems with a multi-year plan for interoperability.

Strengthening the value proposition of NLCs for utilities, building owners and end users by increasing their resilience to cyber tampering is a strategy that will accelerate adoption of this game-changing and, so far, under-utilized technology.

Levin Nock, PhD's picture
Thank Levin for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 28, 2020

Interesting stuff-- is there any sense of how much the NLC market may have been suppressed previously due to cybersecurity concerns?

Levin Nock, PhD's picture
Levin Nock, PhD on Apr 29, 2020

In an informal survey, the DLC found that in the past few years, a majority of respondents (consisting of commercial lighting specifiers, contractors and end users) had omitted NLC from their projects because of cybersecurity concerns either "Often" (25%) or "Occasionally" (31%).

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 29, 2020

Wow-- I definitely didn't expect those categories to add up to over half, really shows the missed opportunities out there and how much cybersecurity education and implementation can actually translate into energy savings (also emphasizes the need for utilities to not be siloed and have these different branches all talking to each other)! Thanks so much for the follow up info, Levin. 

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