Apple

Turn your Mac into a security surveillance centre

Vincent Danen recommends a good-value, basic video surveillance system that you can set up with a software package that works for the Mac. Here's how he set it up.

When you think of traditional surveillance, monitoring the output of video cameras on a screen, you typically think of dedicated surveillance equipment or Windows software. Cameras have been available for a while that come with Windows software for monitoring, but typically these cameras do not advertise Mac or Linux compatibility.

This changes with Ben Bird's SecuritySpy software. SecuritySpy is a software package for the Mac that works with a number of different video camera types, even many that are advertised as Windows-only by the manufacturer. For instance, some brands that SecuritySpy works with include Airlink101, Axis, Canon, Cisco/Linksys, D-Link, Hawking, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sony, and many more. It supports network cameras and network video servers, and also USB and FireWire cameras. This means you can use SecuritySpy with the iSight on your computer, or many other cameras that can connect to the network.

I have always wanted to set something up to view the backyard and also the front (so I know whether to answer the door when the doorbell rings, for instance if it is UPS or someone soliciting). I found SecuritySpy quite by accident and the next day when I was at my local hardware shop, I found two supported AirLink101 WiFi-enabled network cameras. They were $100 each, nothing overly fancy, but they were cheap enough to allow me to tinker.

SecuritySpy worked flawlessly with the cameras. I have one at the front, and one at the back, and can view both cameras at the same time in real-time. The setup was simple: configure each camera independently and tell SecuritySpy about them via the Settings | Video Device Setup option from the menu bar. From there, I added a new device, set the IP address of the camera, and provided the login credentials. Within moments, I was viewing the camera.

SecuritySpy can be configured to do a lot. You can trigger motion sensitive events: these can be audible alarms, saving video to disk, and taking still images and sending the pictures to an email address or remote FTP site (or a combination of these). You can set each camera to continuous-record mode as well, creating new QuickTime movies at specified intervals. It also supports more advanced (and more expensive) cameras that provide pan/tilt/zoom support, meaning you can fully control the video camera via SecuritySpy.

As well, you're not tied to the system running SecuritySpy. It comes with a web server that can be started and connected to via any browser supporting Java. This will let you view real-time video from any computer, and you can also view other recordings from another system as well.

There was only one other surveillance package I found that was for video monitoring. It recently added support for some network cameras, but I found it buggy, and it crashed quite a bit. SecuritySpy, on the other hand, has been solid. It doesn't have the prettiest interface, but it works extremely well.

The hardest part in this little venture was setting up the cameras themselves, and that was because they, like most others, expect the user to be using Windows, and come with Windows installation software. Fortunately, this can be worked around using VMware or Parallels or, if you are lucky enough, via a Web-based setup in the camera itself. The SecuritySpy configuration was extremely easy.

Finally, there is a free screensaver you can use that will connect to a SecuritySpy server, using live video from the server as the feed for the screensaver. It also looks like a SecuritySpy client for iPhone is in the works as well.

SecuritySpy is priced based on the number of cameras it will be connected to. For a single camera it will run about $48USD, which is quite reasonable. Four cameras cost approximately $120USD, and the price for unlimited cameras is about $800USD.

If you have ever wanted to set up even a basic surveillance system, SecuritySpy is definitely worth looking into. Rather than being tied to proprietary equipment and proprietary software, SecuritySpy works with a number of cameras so you can easily mix-and-match for your needs. It is is also very easy to use, and the price is quite reasonable.

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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