Could strangers be tapping into your home security system?

It seems like surveillance footage is always in the news these days, with calls for help to catch the criminals caught on video. Remember the elderly woman who was assaulted in her convenience store in Kalihi? All three suspects turned themselves in to police after that footage went viral.

Store-bought security systems

We all want to feel safe in our homes, and we reasonably believe getting security cameras will make us safer. So we go to the store and get a security camera system, set it up, and feel better.

Store-bought security camera systems are easy to set up, and also easy to hack.

Store-bought security camera systems are easy to set up, and also easy to hack.

These systems are designed to be easy for the average consumer to set up on their own, but that also makes them easy to hack.

A news team in Florida found footage online of a little girl sleeping in bed, children in daycare, a man in his living room. People in the privacy of their homes, going about their business. The footage was streamed off cameras the families themselves most likely installed in their own homes, for their own safety, without any idea that creeps all over the world could be watching them online.

If that isn’t bad enough, hackers are getting into baby monitors and terrorizing children.

More dangerous than a prank

The consequences of this type of security breach go beyond the violation of your personal privacy. Once a hacker gets into your camera, they can get into your wifi network.

... If a hacker has access to one connected device, he or she could potentially access everything tethered to that home's Wi-Fi network, whether it's a home computer storing personal financial information or a company's computer system that's being accessed by an employee working from home. - CBS News

Why a store-bought security system is vulnerable

When your security system sends your video surveillance feed to the cloud, that's when it becomes vulnerable to hackers.

When your security system sends your video surveillance feed to the cloud, that's when it becomes vulnerable to hackers.

Store-bought systems often list something along the lines of “quick and easy setup” among the benefits of their package. What allows it to be so easy?

Your camera is just one of many sending a signal to the company’s network. So the feed from your home goes up into the cloud to their server, which redirects it back to your device. Nothing needs to be set up when you put your camera online. The most that happens is you could be asked to enter a password, which theoretically keeps your feed private.

It’s a simple process, making it easy for the consumer, but the protection provided by a password (assuming the consumer changes the password, which often doesn’t happen) is easy for a hacker to bypass.

What are my options?

The general recommendation is to change the default password immediately and often. While this is a good practice, passwords are still vulnerable, especially when you’re connected to a cloud service that thousands of people are using.

Does that mean you shouldn’t get security cameras for your home? Absolutely not. Security cameras are great for a number of purposes which we’ll get into in a future post. But what you should do, is keep your system off the cloud. Once your footage touches the internet, you’ve opened a door to all the creeps lurking there.

A home security professional should be able to install your system in such a way that you’re still able to access your cameras on your smartphone, no matter where you are in the world, without sending your footage through the internet.

Key points

  1. If you can afford it, have a home security professional install a camera system that does NOT use a cloud service. Pricing can be comparable to high-end systems you see at home improvement stores or online, so get quotes and information from multiple companies even if you think it might be out of your budget. Many of our clients have told us they expected the cost to be much higher than it was, so you might be surprised.

  2. If you have to get a store-bought system, make sure it has password protection since that isn’t always a feature. Change the password as soon as you install it, and remember to change the password often. Use a “strong” password (lots of characters, including numbers, symbols, etc.)

  3. Home security cameras (including nanny cams, video baby monitors and pet monitoring cameras), are serious business. Please don’t bring this type of technology into your home because it sounds cool or it’s a fun new gadget for your home. Do your research, consider the risks, and weigh your options.

Please let us know if you have questions. Security and home automation are what we do, and we’d be happy to talk to you about how you can keep your home and family safe.