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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.

9 comments
ngalbraith
ngalbraith

I've spent many hours reading about different cameras and software for home security, and this one seems to be great ... but I wonder what happens when the burglars grab your mac along with everything else you own. If the cameras are hidden and self-recording, maybe that's not too much of a problem. Also, are there recurring fees, or is this a 1-time investment?

Apex CCTV
Apex CCTV

I work at a CCTV place and some one asked me if we had anything Mac compatable. I told them we had stuff that was iPhone compatable, but that means they still have to have a system that they can access through the iPhone, so it's really not the same thing as Mac compatable.

RealNonZealot
RealNonZealot

Firstly, thanks to Vincent Danen for this post; it's a neglected area of Mac functionality and a nice addition to the discussion. When we in IT took over responsibility for video security at my workplace, we ditched the badly-designed and horribly proprietary/expensive video security systems from Bosch and Panasonic in favor of SecuritySpy about a year ago and never looked back: SecuritySpy has been fantastic. A decent Mac Pro can take at least 50 cameras in our experience so far, and likely more, as long as you have appropriately fast storage (i.e. external hardware RAID with fast drives in it), and NIC teaming potentially with third-party multi-port NICs, etc. We first tried Drobo units for storage but discovered that they don't work well in an environment where the system writes to the drives 24/7: Drobos need a rest period to do their thing when nothing is being written to the drives (that fact is buried in their KnowledgeBase, not obvious up-front in the info section). So we are using MicroNet boxes: we're using the existing" Platinum RAID", but their upcoming "RAIDBank 5" seems like a great product for this kind of system for those buying new storage. We're using Axis cameras and really like them, both feature/reliability-wise and price-wise, and for the range of options available in the line. SecuritySpy "stations" can be deployed on client Macs for security guards or whoever is monitoring the cameras or retrieving video: they connect back to the main SecuritySpy server to get their video. It's a great setup. For security users with iPhones/iPads, there's the Remote Patrol app (http://web.me.com/robb18/Remote_Patrol) and others that work hand-in-hand with SecuritySpy. The only warning that I would have is to be well-prepared for the video security "professionals" and vendors, who will mock your Mac-based solution to VIPs and swear on their lives to anyone that will listen that it will never, ever work. Of course, when it works perfectly, you can laugh at them and tout the giant pile of money that you saved your company, not to mention the better functionality, scalability and reliability that you have from not going with their nasty proprietary appliances or pitiful, badly-designed Windows-based junk (and there's a *ton* of that junk out there...we've dealt with some of them). For the risk-averse, it's easy to make a low-risk case: the cameras, network infrastructure and storage (which are the bulk of the expense) will work with any system, including Windows-based ones, and SecuritySpy is extremely inexpensive. So even in the unlikely case that SecuritySpy doesn't work out, you can just plug in whatever other box and software you want and you're done. It's an easy case to make for a "pilot" or "test" project if necessary. Even if something happens with the SecuritySpy product, there's at least one other Mac-based video security product from giant SKM, namely SKM-on-Mac (http://www.videonext.com/). We're replacing our old proprietary video security systems piece by piece as the cameras fail and selling the rest on eBay when we're done with it, so it's a low-cost migration to a wonderful new system. New buildings are starting out fresh with the SecuritySpy/Axis solution. Based on my experience, it's like coming out of the wilderness when you get rid of the proprietary appliances and the pathetic, badly-designed Windows apps (they are mostly truly horrible): my advice is to definitely give it a try. John

Mipam Thurman
Mipam Thurman

There is a great, free event focusing on Surveillance Technology on Macs, led by VideoNext, one of the leading IP solutions for Surveillance. Come to one of the four seminars on the topic at 12:00, 2:00, 4:00 or 6:30 at Tekserve in NYC on Sept. 23. Go to http://www.tekserve.com/meansbusiness to register today.

H3144-IT
H3144-IT

You can do the same with CAVU from VideoNext! http://www.cavu.me/ Great Software with compatible iPhone & iPad Apps. Both for Home & Enterprise Usage, works very well with AXIS, Pelco, Cisco, Panasonic and other Cameras. Best regards Max Mertens London, UK

RoninV
RoninV

SecuritySpy appears, based on the review alone, to be a worthwhile app to try. Though there are probably numerous Windows alternatives, is there one with the same feature set for the price?

robo_dev
robo_dev

While the main downside to most of the proprietary appliances is cost, the benefit of a proprietary system like a Panasonic or Kalatel system is that it's extremely reliable, and it's hard for someone to break. The current trend in the industry is to go to distributed solutions, putting more intelligence, and even the recording capability in the camera. For example the distributed video surveillance approach used by Iron Sky for metro-area surveillance shows us how to use video data as a crime-fighting tool, and their approach has benefits for the enterprise as well. (No I don't work for them!) My experience has been both on the proprietary stuff like Panasonic, Bosch, GE/Kalatel, and on the Windows stuff, mostly Netrome, GeoVision, and ZoneMinder. The big thing to be careful about is that the system that your design has the level of reliability you require. All too often, the Windows-based solution will be hosted on a single-power supply no-name PC without even a RAID array or a UPS backing it up. Of course that system would be cheaper than a GE-Kalatel DVR, but after a year, the PC power supply fan will seize and the system goes down. I've found that if you build a server-class PC, add either a Linux-based system like ZoneMinder, or a Windows-based system like GeoVision, you get a stable full-featured solution. Personally I never considered using a Mac for this, but I guess you learn something new everyday. I would be interested to see how the open-source Linux PC application ZoneMinder stacks up against the Mac solution??

RealNonZealot
RealNonZealot

There are a ton of Windows apps in the space, ranging from shareware to enterprise-quality systems: that's not really news. You can find them (along with reviews) by Googling for "Windows video security" or "Windows video surveillance". Be aware that many of them are complete and total junk, with a few good systems mixed in: in other words, it's par for the course for Windows apps: you get to sort through the piles of horrible apps to hopefully find the few decent ones. And then you're still dealing with a Windows system and all the downsides that go along with that. The nice thing is that those that prefer Mac-based systems have some nice options in the current space. SecuritySpy has been around for a long time, but in the last few years it ramped up to be able to handle many cameras. VideoNext also has a nice (but *way* more expensive) system that has additional bells and whistles and offers an alternative as well.

vdanen
vdanen

ZoneMinder is something I'd never heard of before. Thank you for bringing it up! I'm definitely going to check it out and see how it stacks up against SecuritySpy. You may see something in the next month or two indeed.