Security

Don't ignore physical security: Cameras and surveillance systems for the SMB

Patrick Lambert offers tips on taking care of your workplace's physical security with affordable cameras and surveillance systems.

Usually, when talking about computer or network security, most of the focus is, of course, on the digital side. We've talked about firewalls, intrusion detection systems, security software, and so on. But the physical side of security is often just as important, if not more. All the firewalls in the world won't help you if your server is hosted on premises, inside some closet where any customer or employee can go in, pick it up, and walk out the door. That's why things like locks, biometric scanners, and cameras are important. Today we'll talk briefly about cameras — which ones are best to ensure your small or medium business is safe, and some ways you can use these cameras for monitoring.

A camera serves two purposes. The first is dissuasion, where any potential thief knows that they are being recorded, which may prevent the criminal act in the first place. But also, if someone does attempt anything, then you have a recording of it. And unlike a witness, a camera records exactly what went on and can be used effectively in court should you suffer an actual loss, either from someone stealing a server, hard drive, or other hardware or even just vandalizing the place. Also, don't forget that not all intrusion attempts are obvious. If you have computer systems disappear overnight, that would be pretty obvious. But what if someone gets inside your office, and connects an illicit device to your network in order to steal data? This type of intrusion, where a bad guy has access to your internal network directly, could be far more effective than an attack from the Internet, since they would bypass a lot of your security. Only by using cameras along with good monitoring practices could you detect these things.

Choosing a surveillance solution

So you may be thinking that using cameras in your offices is a straightforward process, but quite often there are a lot more issues involved. First, you need to decide what type of camera to use. When looking for a potential product, you should make sure it's an IP-based solution. These have become standard, and they no longer require specialized equipment to handle them. You can simply use a computer system to connect to these cameras wirelessly and record footage. While many solutions still come with a specialized DVR, many newer models rely on PC-based control. Then, you should also opt for cameras that have night-vision capabilities. This is important since most offices are dark at night, unlike a store which may have lights turned on all the time. Finally, many cameras have motion detectors as well. It used to be that a camera would simply record all the time, and then you had no realistic way to review all that footage. Instead, with the help of a motion detector, you can get recordings of every time someone went into the server room, or walked next to sensitive networking equipment.

If your camera setup has all of these features, then you can get some very good physical security with the knowledge that whatever happens in your offices or to your network, you're going to have a recording of it. However, that only helps after the fact. Many modern camera systems also offer real time alerts through various means. For example, you may want to have your camera check for intruders in your server room during the night, and alert you by email right away if something is detected. You can even have snapshots taken and sent right to your phone. In fact, monitoring a camera remotely from an iPhone or Android device is becoming the norm. The iCam app (below) is one of many in the Apple AppStore that provides a gateway to many types of IP cameras. Some cameras also come with their own mobile apps. Usually with these apps, you can view videos from your cameras in real time, as well as control them if they have that capability. Some cameras have zoom, tilt and pan functions, which you can control remotely.

So in order to get all of these features, you will find that the products and prices out there vary by a lot. There are many companies making IP cameras, with some of the well known names being Logitech, Trendnet, Swann and others. Prices vary, and for professional setups, you can expect to spend between $150 and $300 per camera, depending on the model. Outdoor cameras are always more expensive, since they need an enclosure to keep them safe from the weather. Still, if you don't have a big budget, there are a lot of great options as well. A lot of home-based systems work just fine for a small business. For example, the Foscam FI8918W camera (pictured above) can be bought for $89 on Amazon, and includes pretty much every feature we've covered. It has IR lights, can be controlled remotely, has audio, supports wireless encryption, motion detection, and night vision. It comes with computer recording software, and can be watched remotely on your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android device.

If you have a small business, whether it's inside of a corporate office, or even in your home basement, there's no reason not to have some type of camera system in order to monitor your premises. Any lock can be broken, but a well-designed surveillance system capable of generating alerts can help prevent a crime or at least aid in apprehending the bad guys. The surveillance business is a profitable one, and if you don't want to set things up by yourself, companies offer various business security plans. ADT Pulse for example is one of the popular choices, which provides things like remote security, video monitoring, equipment control, and so on. They also have people watching in real time for any alert, and can contact you or call the police if something happens. Here the cost is obviously going to be higher than if you do it yourself, but this may be a good solution to ensure your physical security isn't left behind.

About

Patrick Lambert has been working in the tech industry for over 15 years, both as an online freelancer and in companies around Montreal, Canada. A fan of Star Wars, gaming, technology, and art, he writes for several sites including the art news commun...

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