Security and Privacy for Wireless LED Signs

wi-fi securityMost modern LED signs obtain their content and are managed wirelessly. The controller - the CPU that controls the LED sign - communicates via wi-fi with a computer or a remote server. This computer or server hosts the software that controls the sign and by communicating with it, the controller can ascertain if there are changes in the playlist, schedule or settings. The ability to communicate with a display wirelessly has many advantages over older forms of connecting with it, some of which, I will mention below. Yet, a question that comes up often, is how is the security and privacy of the sign handled when information travels through radio signals in the air? USBMany LED signs still force their owners to update their content directly from the billboard or electronic message center via a plugged-in USB drive. This is burdensome and inefficient because USB drives usually don’t have a lot of storage capacity and break easily. In many cases, this can even be dangerous since lots of LED signs are high up on a pole and adjacent to really busy streets. Security and privacy are also compromised in these types of signs since anyone with a high enough ladder can access the USB drive and either take it or replace it with their own. A better solution is to have the display hardwired using a phone modem or a serial cable that is connected to a controlling computer. Still, that also poses several problems. For one, if the sign is far from the computer, it will require a considerably lengthy cable; Which is expensive, could be in the way of things, or needs to be placed underground and it’s likely to malfunction. The longer the cable, the more potential places it can break. Moreover, since it is hardwired to one cpu, the sign can only be managed by the computer that most of the time, needs to comply with several hardware and software specifications (for example, have a windows operating system of a certain version) to be able to run the LED sign software and communicate with the controller. These signs are very secure since they can only be accessed by one specific computer. Nevertheless, the lack of flexibility and the high potential for failures makes them slightly unreliable. wi-fi securityMost modern digital displays are controlled wirelessly. The controllers in a wireless LED sign have a wireless radio built within or are connected to one and that wireless radio bridges with an access point connected to the customer’s computer or to the business’ internet connection. That allows for the sign to be placed at a considerable distance without having to deal with a lengthy cable. When the access point is connected directly to a computer, we face the same problem we had before: that computer can manage the sign, and the computer needs to meet several requirements to run the software. When the radio pair is connected to the internet, the controllers connect wirelessly with a remote server that hosts the content management system software. This means the sign can be managed from any device that has an internet connection, be that a computer, a laptop or a tablet or phone. There are no special hardware or software requirements since the software can be accessed from your internet browser from anywhere that is convenient to the LED sign owner. That means macs, android or linux can be used. This option offers the most convenience, flexibility and is not constrained by distance or hardware requirements. Still, despite the unquestionable advances and advantages the internet allowed, one thing that has always been a concern has been its security. If information be accessed from anywhere, how can developers make sure no-one but the sign owner can control the content on the sign? This is essential in the case of government and highly visible projects, but it is also important to any business owner that invested in a digital display. Wifi security has improved significantly over the past few years. Nowadays, several very effective security and privacy methods are in effect to protect wireless communications from unwanted intruders. The most common are: A) Encryption: It’s the most effective way to achieve data security. The file is encrypted, “translated” into a secret code. To read an encrypted file, you must have access to a secret key or password that enables the software to decrypt it or understand the secret code. B) PIN lock security: A pin lock is an authentication measure that requires the entry of a secret personal identification number (PIN) before a device can be “unlocked” and used. C) Password protection: The owner of the software specifies a personal, secure password and the software doesn’t allow access to anyone that can’t input the password correctly. Unlike pins, passwords take alphanumeric and sign characters and usually differentiate between upper and lower case letters. Wireless bridging: The wireless bridge connects two wi-fi pairs to each other and only to each other. Meaning the controller wi-fi pair only communicates with the access point on the other pair. D) Wi-fi protected Access (WPA/WPA2): Wi‑Fi Protected Access encrypts information and makes sure that the network security key has not been modified. Wi‑Fi Protected Access also authenticates users to help ensure that only authorized people can access the network. Wireless Intrusion Prevention and Detection Systems: are network devices that monitor the radio spectrum for the presence of unauthorized access points (intrusion detection), and can automatically take countermeasures (intrusion prevention). Most wireless LED Sign manufacturers, like Cirrus LED Systems, use a combination of several security methods to protect their displays from intrusion. The flexibility of this type of signs added to the several complex security measures taken to protect them makes them the ideal option for most business users. If you want to learn more about the specifics of Cirrus LED systems wireless security contact us by email or phone.