It's not just network security that companies are worried about today. It's also important to protect your physical assets; that includes IT equipment such as servers, workstations, routers, etc., but it also includes non-IT assets: printed copies of documents, the money in the petty cash drawer, even the paintings on the walls.
Video surveillance has been a mainstay of companies' physical security systems for a long time, but today those systems can integrate into your network to allow you to monitor what's going on at the office from anywhere in the world, over the Internet. And there are solutions appropriate for the smallest businesses up to the enterprise level.
This isn't your father's CCTV
In the past, video surveillance was usually done via Closed Circuit Television systems. CCTV cameras plug into monitors for live monitoring or for recording to video tape. The quality is often poor and the cost for better quality equipment is relatively high. That's why the surveillance camera footage that you see of break-ins and robberies on the news are so often grainy black and white images that make it difficult or impossible to identify the perpetrators of the crime. Companies that use CCTV/VHS often keep the tapes only a short time, such as a week, due to cost of blank tapes and storage space issues.
Digital Video Recording (DVR) presented a big step forward. Although the cameras are still closed circuit, they record to a digital video recorder (in essence, a specialized computer with a hard disk). That means better recording quality, no worry about changing tapes or tapes getting tangled up in the machine. It also makes it easier and cheaper to keep recordings for a longer period of time and to search the recordings for the event you want.
The next step was to connect the computer/DVR to the network, so its recordings could be accessed and played remotely on another computer on the LAN or across the Internet. You could see the recordings immediately after they were made, but you still weren't seeing the events "live."
IP-based cameras solve that problem.
Smile! You're on candid Webcam.
The IP surveillance camera, also called a network camera, has a Web server built right into the camera itself. You can plug it into an Ethernet network or get a wireless model that communicates with your network via 802.11 technology. The Web server has its own IP address and can stream its images through your network to the Internet without being connected to a computer. You access the streaming video through a Web browser. The Web site is password protected so that you have to know the IP address, user name and password to access the images.
Software that comes with popular models of network cameras will allow you to archive the video to a hard disk and monitor more than one camera on the same screen.
Network cameras can be had for surprisingly low prices. For example, the Lorex Video Module is a very compact color camera and standalone Web server combination that supports up to 640x480 resolution. The included camera is fixed but you can also get an optional pan/tilt head camera. The camera connects to the server module via USB, and the module connects to your router or switch via Ethernet. You can get a frame rate of up to 20fps. The server module supports the following protocols: HTTP, TCP/IP, UDP, SMTP, PPPoE, DNS/DDNS, SNTP, BOOTP, DHCP, FTP, and SNMP. The fixed camera has an adjustable focus lens, a 350,000 pixel CMOS and infrared LED for night time surveillance. This packages costs just $139.99 from a popular Internet vendor.
If you have more to spend, D-Link offers a family of network cameras. The DCS-6620G is a wireless model that has a 10x optical zoom lens, low light sensitivity, autofocus, and a built in microphone so you can listen as well as look. It has motorized pan, tilt and zoom that you can control remotely. You can zoom in on a person's face or a license plate number for better identification. It records in both MPEG-4 and Motion JPEG formats. The audio functionality goes both ways, so that you can attach a speaker and talk to the subject remotely (for instance, when you have the camera mounted at a door to monitor who's ringing the bell). You can monitor via the Web or D-Link's IP surveillance software, which allows you to manage up to 16 cameras simultaneously. Of course, all these advanced features come at a price: around $800 to $900, depending on the vendor (for more info, see http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=411).
CCTV systems are often limited in the number of cameras supported, especially at the low end of the cost scale. IP surveillance systems scale more easily. Even the lowest cost systems usually allow you to monitor several cameras at once, and this is a limitation of the software, not the hardware. IP systems can scale from one to thousands of cameras. It's also easy to increase storage capacity by upgrading or adding hard disks, and with compression, many hours of video can be stored on a typical hard disk.
CCTV usually uses coaxial cable and often requires new wiring, whereas most office buildings already have an Ethernet cable infrastructure. If you have to cable from scratch, it's less expensive to install Ethernet than coax. Wireless networking makes installation even easier. And because some network cameras can draw their power via the Ethernet cable, you don't have to have electrical outlets at the sites of the cameras.
As your business grows and your surveillance needs become more sophisticated, you can take advantage of many advanced features. The software can actually make intelligent decisions, based on your specified criteria, as to when to send alarms based on sensor input and event handling. Larger organizations may also need better archiving capabilities. IP-based surveillance scales well here, too. Whereas with VHS you must actually transport physical tapes if you want off-site storage for security or space reasons, with digital storage you can automatically backup the video data to a remote location for redundancy.
IT and physical security come together with IP-based surveillance, and it offers a cost-effective and scalable way to protect your company's assets.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.