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...

19 comments
jennywilliams432
jennywilliams432

After my mothers home was broken into twice, I knew she needed more protection. I started looking around and found uneedHomeSecurity. I ordered it and it arrived within a week. Installation was simple and easy and for our case, there was no need for tools. After installing uneedHomeSecurity there have been two other attempts but nothing was taken. I was so pleased with our purchase that I had to get one for my home as well. I love knowing that uneedHomeSecurity is protecting my family and my mother. 

BrianPSG
BrianPSG

Fantastic and informative article. I will be sharing it with my readers.

I just have a couple considerations to add for those who want to get the best value out of there security camera solution.

First, is camera resolution. Camera resolution is extremely important when selecting your camera. It will depend on the purpose of your camera. For example, if you just want to know someone is trespassing a restricted area you can get the job done with a lower resolution. However, of you would like to identify the person a higher resolution is going to be more important. Many of the more inexpensive cameras like the ones you find on amazon or at your local walmart tend to have a lower resolution. Most smaller security technology firms are more than willing to help you find the camera that best suits your needs. Don't be afraid to ask questions of your security consultant though.

You need someone who understands how all types of cameras work and there are many "security consultants" and "security experts" out there that are nothing more than a specialized salesperson who will just try to sell you what they have. They tend to be more concerned with selling products rather than the result your looking for which is peace of mind that comes from getting the best value and most effective solution for your needs.

Second, Good IP cameras with a high resolution can start to get expensive. Another option is to use network video encoders. Basically they are little boxes that you can plug a non-IP camera into to convert the video stream to IP.

Your security guy,

Brian, theprivatesecurityguy.com

kyleethompson
kyleethompson

I am a great fan of GeoVision. They are very easy to setup and offer a variety of features and make a good surveillance system. The security is very important nowadays. But, there is one question I would like to ask here, what if some intruder hacks this system then?

robo_dev
robo_dev

"you should make sure it’s an IP-based solution These have become standard.....connect to these cameras wirelessly" That's not kinda sorta true.... In the marketplace today, about 99% of the low-end DVR systems are still all analog, using standard coaxial cable to feed video and a 12V DC power feed for each camera. Keep in mind that there are 'wireless webcams' and 'IP-based security cameras'. ...two very different animals. A wireless webcam is typically not well suited as a video surveillance camera at all, and if you start shopping for a reasonable quality IP-based CCTV camera, these cost upwards of $200 each. Something like a EYESurv, AXIS, Panasonic, or similar camera is going to start at $200, and can go up well over $1000 if you want something nice. Beware that a 'cheap' cmos-based wireless Webcam will have wonderful video during the day, but forget about low-light, or difficult lighting conditions (e.g. harsh setting sun). The bottom line here is that for your 'starter' system, from Q-See, Swann, Gadspot, EYEsurv, you get four analog cameras and some plain old fashioned coax cable with an attached 12V power feed. Many cheap $50 color CCD surveillance cameras will provide D1 (broadcast quality) video day and night. Wireless..... Wireless cameras are a great idea except....they need power. So while you saved the bother of a cable run, do you have an electrical outlet where it's needed? Plus, that camera needs both UPS battery backup and surge suppression, things you put into place when you run a single dedicated CCTV power supply. Ever have to reboot a camera? If it's plugged into an outlet in the attic, or 20 feet up on the wall of your store, good luck with that. The bottom line is that wireless cameras are great where you absoultely cannot run a cable, but it still needs power. Professionally installed IP-based cameras, by the way, use POE (power over Ethernet). With POE there is one CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable from your DVR/NVR and wiring closet, and you provide controllable, filtered, uninterrupted power from your Ethernet switch. One other comment about 'generating alerts' Comment: generally does not work. If you have a camera where there is never any motion or change of lighting, you can use it as a motion detector. Outdoors? You will get an alert when the wind blows (leaves), when the neighbor cat goes by, when a fly lands on the camera. Even indoors, changes in lighting count as motion events. So if you've heard of the "boy who cried wolf" Do not mean to be critical, good article, lots of good thoughts.

carbonman
carbonman

I'm a physical security consultant with 3 decades' experience as a consultant, locksmith, hardware specifier and security systems developer & manager. There are some good points raised in the article but I dispute CCTV being a physical security device. It's in the same category as an alarm system; it can report something untoward happening but can't stop or slow the attack/event. Security video rarely deters anyone these days. If you want a perpetrator to notice or care that you have video surveillance, you have to use a lot of signage and use live monitoring tied to guardforce dispatch (demonstrated active deterrence). Even then you'd better have the analytics programmed for each camera so the event can be popped up on the central station display. Someone watching cameras can't notice what's going on after 20 minutes viewing because their brain won't let them continue to pay close attention to a single field for longer. Real physical security consists of effective structural design and implementation, properly spec'd and installed doors & frames, appropriate door hardware, key control and staff training. If you have network or power problems, good physical security should continue to protect your staff and other assets. Electronic and network based cameras and electronic access control have vulnerabilities that Grade 1 hardware doesn't, though they can make the physical security much more effective by denying intruders time to defeat the physical measures, attack the target and flee before security forces can intercept. Tesseract Security Consulting Inc.

alidekker
alidekker

And........600 * 480 is simply not enough. The blurred video does not really serve the purpose.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I have recently been playing around with ZoneMinder which is a linux app that provides video monitoring software. I have just set it up so I don't have any real feedback on reliability or anything, but I will say that getting a streaming web cam to work on Fedora was not straight forward. I ended up moving to Debian Sarge and then to Wheezy which seems like it is going to work very well. Bill

Solenoid
Solenoid

I think that many SMB's consider this a set-it-and-forget-it system, to be paid attention to only in response to an event. Budget DIY doesn't always work that way. Anecdotally, a friend had such a surveillance system set up, but no plans to store, backup, or copy off the video files from filling up the DVR's drive. It filled up after a few months, and effectively stopped recording. So, either: A) follow through the setup beyond, "yep, it's recording" and into automated archiving to another storage system periodically to free up space on the disk, or B) set it up to record to a much larger storage system, or C) implement a maintenance schedule to manually clear storage space. Success is in the follow-through over time, not an instantaneous and transitory result. Considering option B, does anyone know of a security system that uploads its data to a (secure) cloud provider, or is that generally only what the professional services would include?

mdbizzarri
mdbizzarri

I use to work for said big name security provider for over 5 years, doing everything from home, small business, and corporate, both as an installer and sales. Now I am in IT security, and it seems that only large companies worry about physical security, and I am not sure why. People lock their house, but not their server rooms. Plus, think of having records for law suits, since our world has become that. One $1000 system can alleviate so much headache! I think that if people thought of secuirty systems like system logs, as in "we have it so when, not if something happens, we can find out why", then they will see the true value of these. And to top it off, phyiscal security is part of the CISSP certification.

jemyers08
jemyers08

How about spelling out your acronym? :-)

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Thanks for the info! It's always good to hear from someone that has a lot of experience. Bill

Solenoid
Solenoid

Consider attempting to read a license plate from your results.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I finally got my Zoneminder system up and running. Seems to work fine, but it was a lot of hassle. If anyone else goes this route and are bringing in analog feeds be sure to research the capabilities of the video adapter. The one I purchased only has one BT 878 chip on it, but 4 inputs so if you want to watch more than a single camera at a time it divides the bandwidth and I ended up having a lot of video artifacts. I believe there are higher end cards that have one chip per input so that you can get full bandwidth on each input. Bill

robo_dev
robo_dev

LOTS of new cloud-based CCTV providers are out there....they just charge a flat fee per camera, per month, etc. Many of the simple little Linux-based DVRs from Swann, Lorex, or similar companies are pretty much set and forget. As long as the drive keeps spinning and the power supply keeps humming, the device is capturing video. IP-based video cameras are just another device on the network, and the IP-based NVRs are just servers. Most, if not all Security DVRs simply overwrite at a certain threshold. Typically when the disks get to something like 90% full, they begin over-writing oldest data.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

ZoneMinder can be setup to automatically overwrite the oldest data. I believe it can be setup in a client/server type environment so I would imagine that it would be possible to use some sort of hosting service to provide storage space. It would even be possible to spin up a EC2 linux instance and then have encrypted video streams going directly to that. It would eat up bandwidth though so network connectivity would have to be looked at and it would be good to have some sort of QOS on the link. Personally I would say that cloud services would be more professional just because they tend to be a monthly payment and more complex (spinning up an EC2 instance). The easiest DYI setup I personally see would be to purchase a several terabyte hard drive, put it into a PC and install your recording software. Configure it to overwrite, but leave a chunk of free space and then check it when necessary. If you needed more space you could go to a multi-drive RAID array, but that just adds complexity. Bill

Steve__Jobs
Steve__Jobs

Current data protection legislation, in the EU, covers physical security. God help any company that loses personal/financial data because they didn't physically secure their servers. A simple door lock won't deter a determined thief.

andrew232006
andrew232006

They'll jump right past your firewall and once those pests get in your data pipes you'll have a hard time getting them out. They'll make corrupted blocks on all your hard disks. I'd watch out for the society of mathematical biology as well. What kind of person wants to study math and biology? They're up to something and I don't trust them.

Steve__Jobs
Steve__Jobs

A very common term. Read a little more widely ;)

robo_dev
robo_dev

There are three ways to roll: a) pro-grade DVR (new or used on ebay). These are rock solid reliable and most can be setup in ten minutes or less. Set and forget. Searching for and/or downloading video data can be at best slow and at worst like oral surgery.... b) PC-based systems are the most flexible and user friendly. ESPECIALLY when it comes to searching/finding/viewing/downloading captured video. These are only as good as the PC, so a no-name PC with a $5 power supply may be sitting there dead when you need to playback the bank-robber video. You need to build a server-class machine, the OS (typically Windows) needs to be as stable as possible, and things like RAID mirrored drives are good if you want it to work when you need it to work. In terms of software, there is commercial stuff like GeoVision or Nuuo, or ZoneMinder. ZoneMinder is neat, but to me it's like soldering together your own smoke detectors vs just buying something that works....it's a good learning exercise, but not for everybody. c) cheap off-the-shelf DVRs. These are the garden-variety Q-See, Lorex, Clover, Gadspot units that cost about $200. Hit or miss. May run for 20 minutes or 20 years. Software tends to be buggy and typically the video retrieval process can be painful (they don't have much of a processor). But they are cheap and do the job.