Securing Security Cameras: The invisible eye

Varun Kapoor, IPS
Additional Director General of Police, Narcotics and PRTS, Indore  

The coming of the security cameras or CCTV cameras as they are more commonly named has brought about a revolution in the field of personal, public place and critical infrastructure security. The ever reducing size of these devices and their ever increasing efficiency, clarity and reach has made them a must for all kind of security and surveillance related duties.  

There is a basic difference between a surveillance camera and a security camera. The difference is whether a camera is passive or active. Surveillance cameras are passive. They observe and/or record what is happening in their field of view. Whereas security cameras are active. They alert people to unexpected events in their field of view. This distinction can be very subtle or very large depending upon the circumstances of a particular situation.  

Whatever it may be the fact remains that these security cameras have come within the reach of common citizens and they are utilizing it large numbers for a host of safety and security related activities. Be it home security, property security, personal security, children safety, senior citizen security etc. They are combining the observational and recording facility provided by these devices with new technological concepts like geo-tagging and geo- fencing to bring about more enhanced security features.  

These cameras are also regularly being developed and up-graded. Initially Webcams were very popular – these used a computer to transmit video feeds online. However these have been rapidly replaced by Internet Protocol or simply IP cameras. These cameras directly send the feed via a wi-fi network online. This simplifies the procedure for viewing the feed on mobile devices or phones.  

However some IP cameras don’t encrypt the signal they send, other people can access and view your feed. Thus many IP cameras on the digital market are vulnerable to digital snooping, making security features key when you shop for or use these devices. This is called the “Peeping Tom” vulnerability – meaning that any hacker can get access to your security camera and thus can not only view the entire content (some of which may be very private and personal) but also use it for his/her benefit and to the your detriment.  

Thus this vulnerability has to be avoided at any cost and the use of IP cameras should be made totally secure. The key to achieving a high level of security lie with the user. Overlooking small facts and measures leads to such shortcomings that the entire concept of secure security cameras is compromised. If we go on Google and just type – live security camera feeds – we will get a list of over 22 Lakh such sites in under half a second! This includes security feeds from airports, highways, shopping malls, traffic junctions, inside citizen homes and even their bedrooms! What a huge sham the entire security cameras market is thus being reduced to. The main cause of this massive leak is unsecured IP camera usage by the individual user. Something that can be easily prevented and should be prevented forthwith. But how?? Read the precautions below and implement them as soon as possible to prevent yourself becoming a victim of this “Peeping Tom” attack.  

1. An IP camera in a person’s home or business sends the feed to a wireless (wi-fi) router. A good wireless security protocol helps secure your video feed as it travels to your router. Look for a camera that supports current wireless security protocols, like WPA2.  

2. If you access your feed remotely then the camera sends the information beyond your wi-fi router, via the internet. Thus look for a camera that encrypts information before sending it – including username, password and the live feeds.  

3. The software that comes with your camera needs occasional updates. Register your camera or sign up to get updates to keep your software current.  

. Some IP cameras allow the user to turn off password requirement. But unless you want to share your feed publicly, don’t do it! Set up your IP camera to require a password or in other words keep your camera password protected.  

5. Use strong passwords. Do not use a password which is simple or is a dictionary word or contains information connected with the user. This is because such passwords are easy to crack.  

6. While most people change the default password when setting up their cameras, many don’t! This leaves the cameras accessible to anyone via the internet, especially those with same type of cameras who know the default password.  

7. If you are accessing the feed via a mobile device, confirm the App is up to date. Use strong passwords for the App and always log out when you are not using the App. This will prevent anyone else accessing your App if your hone is lost or stolen. Even if your App has a strong password ensure that your phone or mobile device is password protected.  

These precautions are a must f our security cameras are to be kept really secure. First and foremost we must ensure that the security camera itself is secure and only then we can expect it to provide the service we desire from it!