In England, Leicester City is experiencing persistent problems with its street light system due to a recent cyber attack.

While the street lights are ordinarily switched on and off at dawn and dusk, for the last six weeks, street lights across Leicester have remained illuminated during both the day and night. In some instances, street lights remain lit on one side of the street, while remaining off on the other side of the street.

Residents have noticed and commented on this peculiar behavior. When one individual spoke with the Leicester City Council about the issue, he was informed that the cyber attack had affected the ‘central operating system’ for the street lights, causing them to “misbehave.”

What happened

The cyber attack in question occurred on March 7th of this year and has been labeled “highly sophisticated.”

The responsible party, the INC Ransom group, is known for targeting government, education and healthcare organizations around the world. Attackers appear to have stolen documents from the Leicester City Council, a number of which have surfaced online.

Upon recognizing signs of an impending issue, the Leicester City Council IT team did remove systems from the internet; a standard best practice in the event of a possible ransomware attack.

Local impact

The unintended and continuous illumination of street lights is a concern for locals due to the high level of energy consumption and high costs involved.

“The lights in my area have been burning away all day and all night, so it’s going to be costing a lot,” said resident Roger Ewens. The City Council aims to resolve the issue by the end of the first week in May.

A spokesperson for the Leicester City Council stated that IT systems were shut down as a precautionary measure in the aftermath of the attack. In turn, specialists cannot currently address faults in the street lighting system.

The spokesperson explained that the default mode for such lights is for them to remain ‘on’ in the event of disruptions to systems, ensuring road safety and preventing unlit areas from becoming hazardous.

Technical details

To more technical readers, it may come as a surprise that these street lights are centrally controlled. All that needs to happen is for the street lights to turn on at dusk and to turn off at dawn, a process that could ostensibly be managed via an ambient light sensor.

Nonetheless, a number of cities are swapping out ambient light sensors with wireless controllers. This arguably provides operators with grater flexibility and the ability to switch lights on and off in such a way as to reduce energy consumption.

More information

The Council states that it is working with the Leicestershire Police and the National Cyber Security Centre to investigate the incident. The City will not be paying a ransom.

The Council is also committed to diligently resolving all issues via a series of restorative steps. Efforts will be made to restore normal operations of the street lighting system as quickly as possible.

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