Jason Hill, LILIN on the evolving security market
The red logo of ‘LILIN’ may have become synonymous with surveillance since the company’s conception in 1980, but it hasn’t always been easy. Just ask group vice president at the company and managing director of UK operations, Jason Hill.
“This year is my 25th year in the security industry, having begun with Thorn Security after finishing my Electro-Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship,” says Hill. Hill’s extensive CV boasts experience working for both American and Japanese companies, but he affirms it was undertaking his role in LILIN nearly 20 years ago that has been his most career-defining move to date.
What started as a basic three-person set up instigated by founder and long-term company president Mr Hsu working beneath the towering skyscrapers of Taipei in 1980 is now a global organisation employing over 400 people. The LILIN trademark now neighbours the rest that outline the skyline of Taiwan, but it was adapting – from the original decision to transition from making brackets for cameras (for the likes of Vidicon) to its very own line of line of cameras to choosing to make the transition from analogue to IP – that made it all possible.
“For the past 20 years the CCTV industry has been an incredibly competitive marketplace, unusually for an electronics based industry we have had to compete with up to 1,000 other brands,” says Hill, who helped Mr Hsu set up a UK branch of LILIN in 1998. “This technology sector seemed to attract small start-ups, consumer brands and limitless OEMs, leading to an array of choice for installers and end users alike,” he continues.
“…within a few years it became clear that the real value of IP was the ability to integrate.”
It was the shift to IP – backed by a huge investment of money and manpower (including team of over fifty engineers) – was an instrumental change that cemented the manufacturer’s position as a global leader in the surveillance space. “When we transitioned from analogue to IP products in 2008 we thought we were just changing the method of image transmission from analogue to digital,” recalls Hill. “But within a few years it became clear that the real value of IP was the ability to integrate.” This led to a company-wide motto and strategy: “Integration Possible.” And this approach is evident in LILIN’s portfolio, with the manufacturer having only one SDK/API for the entire range of cameras its produces (currently at just under 100) – with support for systems from AMX, Control4, Crestron, Fermax, Savant and URC.
“This reduces development time for integrations with automation and control systems, but more importantly ensured installations and integrations were future proof,” says Hill, who adds that a camera it will unveil year proudly still will incorporate a driver the company developed back in 2013. “We then extended integration to the recorders, the NVR itself, providing HTTP based control of the playback functions in much the same way a Blu-Ray player is controlled. For the first time end users were able to operate the entire CCTV system from their universal remote control; changing multi-camera views, fast forward, rewind, frame advance etc. all on their main television in beautiful HD quality.” It was here LILIN found its true calling: the high end residential market. “End users were impressed and installers loved the ease of installation, integration and product quality; we found we suited the market very well.”
Since then R&D efforts have shifted to accommodate the CI market more, with significant launches including the company’s first video door station, introduced last year. “We also learned all about SIP, and now all our cameras are SIP clients.” This naturally has opened up new opportunities in the UC and broader commercial market by offering up some unique approaches on how to build custom intercoms, help points and Public Address systems on the back of the IP camera infrastructure.
Addressing growing security concerns
“Our focus on the traditional security market for our products has now shifted to major projects, working with integrators that value our ability to adapt solutions to specific end user demands and looking for areas where we can integrate with other key technologies,” affirms Hill. With the connected camera market increasingly crowded by low-cost offerings from China, concerns over privacy and cyber-crime are at an all-time high, and are often cited as the main worry holding back consumers from deploying home technology systems.
“Of course last year the MIRAI Botnet used a list of 26 widely deployed brands to identify where those devices were unprotected on the internet and using the default user name and password, a DDoS network of 2 million devices was built, capable of pulling 1Tbit/s of bandwidth – enough to take down any server it was aimed at,” says Hill. “Interestingly it is believed it was originally targeted at servers hosting Minecraft games, but later used to target Netflix and even the entire Liberian Internet.”
Hill admits the potential for harm is there with mass market IoT offerings and that the evidence is there for people to see; “Devices are easily identified online by their brand name, the website Shodan.io is a widely used service to help locate and identify such devices, it’s interesting to explore and see what you can observe by trying this free service.” He adds: “But be warned it may surprise you. When we look at some of the devices listed there we will usually be able to see a log page for the recorder or camera that shows just how many other IP addresses are accessing or attempting to access it, with often hundreds of attempts each day.”
“When we look at some of the devices listed there it shows just how many other IP addresses are accessing or attempting to access it, with often hundreds of attempts each day.”
Hill advises those considering a connected device refer to the ICS CERT website (hosted by the US Department of Homeland Security) for a list of IoT devices with known security flaws; backdoors, open Telnet ports and easily identifiable passwords credentials.
What advice does Hill for installers? “There will be some more scary stories emerging in the coming years about IoT device exploitation, make sure you install responsibly, change default passwords, protect access to the network and don’t compromise your clients security for the sake of a few hundred pounds.” He continues: “Make network security a key benefits of the automation solution you sell.”
Future predictions: IP of growing importance
The future of the surveillance market isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Hill says the company fully expects the adoption of IP cameras to rise “exponentially” in the near future. “It’s just a technology that people love, for a wide range of reasons, but it’s certainly linked to the ubiquitous use of smartphones and our addiction to them.” He pinpoints the increase in power and range of functions and analytics alongside the growth of 2-way communication are creating an exciting climate for technology innovation and integration possibilities.
As to serving the broader automation industry, Hill says the company will continue to engage with the market to deliver what they need; “Future developments at LILIN are influenced by our technology partners in each key channel, where their knowledge of specific needs are finely tuned.” He concludes: “We will continue to listen and adapt, with our agile approach to production allowing us to respond quickly to new trends when we see the market potential.”