How do CCTV cameras work


As is the case with sensitive and valuable data, video footage from closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes if it gets into the wrong hands. Criminal hackers could use the recordings from video surveillance systems, for example, to locate high-risk areas on the premises or to create movement patterns. In the worst case, the CCTV system could be sabotaged to cover up a physical intrusion. In contrast, the risks of vandalism and denial-of-service attacks seem almost harmless.

IT security for video surveillance

IP-based systems for video surveillance are located in the local area network and should definitely be taken into account by companies when it comes to IT security. Because like all other devices in the network, IP-based surveillance cameras should also be protected.

Incidentally, the majority of IT security incidents in video surveillance can be traced back to human errors: carelessness and incorrect configuration. In the following, we present nine tips on how your IT department can minimize the risks of a hacker attack on the CCTV systems in cooperation with the security and facility management staff:

  1. Password security
    Most IP-based surveillance systems are delivered with preset passwords and settings. These passwords are then usually not exactly difficult to crack, which is why this is the most popular way for hackers to sneak into your CCTV system. The most effective measures to protect yourself against this are the use of strong passwords, good password management or the use of certificates instead of passwords.
  2. Deployment
    A video surveillance system that continues to access services that are not being used after it has been set up is vulnerable to hacker attacks. A cybercriminal could, for example, install malicious applications and scripts via FTP or an untrustworthy application platform. The shutdown of unused services and the installation of trustworthy applications without exception reduces the risk that hackers can exploit this weak point in their surveillance system.
  3. Access rights & responsibilities
    In many companies, IT security incidents only occur because there are no clear regulations and processes - for example when it comes to certain access rights. When it comes to who is responsible for checking IT security measures with regard to the monitoring system, there should be clarity. It is recommended that the IT department adhere to the principle of the "least possible privilege": users are given exactly the access rights they need to carry out their jobs.
  4. Software updates
    Do you remember Heartbleed? The security vulnerability in the OpenSSL software made headlines thanks to the large-scale theft of login data. A bug or malicious code in the software of the surveillance cameras can expose them to a considerable risk. In particular, if such systems are not regularly brought up to date via software or firmware updates, they become a gateway for hackers. Many manufacturers now publicly inform their customers about vulnerabilities that have become known and corresponding solutions or workarounds.
  5. installation
    Incorrect, physical installation of cameras, cables or other infrastructure can also cause IT security problems. If a surveillance camera is installed too low, for example, it could be manipulated more easily. A video surveillance system and its components should therefore be installed in such a way that the devices are out of the physical reach of possible attackers. Of course, the most favorable viewing angle should also be chosen.
  6. Physical protection
    Speaking of physical protection: If cables, servers or other network accessories are not adequately protected, there is a risk of total failure. A small damage to a cable may be enough for this under certain circumstances. In particular, if your surveillance cameras and their cabling are exposed to extreme temperatures or wind and weather, you should attach great importance to appropriate physical protection.
  7. maintenance
    If monitoring systems are not maintained regularly, there is a risk of failure or poor performance. You should therefore rely on a preventive maintenance program that uses a checklist. This is the only way to ensure that small problems don't turn into big ones. This saves you from having damaged or dirty cameras and cables. In addition, by regularly inspecting the systems, you can also rule out that they have been manipulated in any way.
  8. Network monitoring
    Most IP-based video surveillance systems use standard network protocols such as FTP or TCP / IP to move data such as video recordings from one host to another within the network. If there are weak points in these network protocols, the data could be accessed by hackers and other attackers. Your IT department should therefore always use up-to-date and secure encryption methods when sending video streams over the network.
  9. Security guidelines
    Software and hardware that do not comply with the IT department's network security guidelines can also cause security concerns. In particular, software and applications from third-party providers are often not adequately maintained and updated, which makes them extremely susceptible to external attacks. It is therefore essential for companies to create and enforce clear, meaningful IT guidelines.

CCTV, data protection & smart home hackers

While the extensive use of video surveillance systems in countries such as the USA and Great Britain has also been common practice in public spaces for years, CCTV fans in Germany naturally find it difficult. Data protection concerns are particularly widespread when it comes to monitoring workplaces. The reform of European data protection law, which will come into force in 2018, will not make matters any easier either.

Incidentally, not only companies but also private users should pay attention to the security of their surveillance systems. The increasing popularity of smart home solutions makes IoT devices increasingly interesting for criminal hackers. Even in such a case, scenarios ranging from harmless foolish pranks to burglary preparations are conceivable.

  1. Logitech Circle
    The Logitech Circle offers acceptable image quality, can be fixed in many ways and works with a simple app. If you are willing to pay a premium price for a camera that, due to the lack of personalization options, can only be used as a security camera to a very limited extent. Logitech has announced that it will soon be providing the Circle with additional functions via an update. This could make Logitech's Circle a real competitor in this market. Until then, there are plenty of better alternatives.
    Rating: 2.5 out of 5
    Price: 199 euros
  2. Myfox Security Camera
    The Myfox security camera is a decent piece of hardware. However, the associated app, the lack of personalization options and the missing menu structure limit the usefulness of the Myfox as a security camera. The best feature of the Myfox is its mechanically sealed lens. So you can be sure that you will not be watched by hackers when you are at home. If only the camera gave you an equally safer feeling when you're not at home.
    Rating: 2.5 out of 5
    Price: 199 euros
  3. Foscam R2 Wireless 1080p
    The Foscam R2 offers sensible smart home monitoring with an intuitive, easy-to-use app. The Foscam R2 does not support facial recognition - and you will look in vain for customizable security options. However, this is offset by the flexible mounting options and reliable notifications. However, there is a big minus point for the complicated setup of the smart home camera. You should be aware of this before buying.
    Rating: 3 out of 5
    Price: 160 euros
  4. Netatmo Welcome
    With the Welcome, Netatmo offers a security camera for smart homes that really tries to gloss over the negative surveillance aspect. Unfortunately, the main feature of Welcome - face recognition - is far from being 'reliable'. Because other features such as noise detection, two-way audio and cloud backup are missing, the Netatmo Welcome can only be recommended to a limited extent.
    Rating: 3 out of 5
    Price: 199 euros
  5. D-Link DCS-2630L
    With the DCS-2630L, D-Link presents an attractive smart home security cam that is characterized above all by its customizable security options. Unfortunately, these cannot be adjusted via the app, but only via a PC after logging in. A quick, mobile review of the security situation should hardly be possible. If this is not an exclusion criterion, you will definitely be happy with the D-Link DCS-2630L.
    Rating: 3.5 out of 5
    Price: approx. $ 200 (not yet available in Europe)
  6. Ezviz Mini
    If you can live with a bit overzealous motion detection, the Ezviz Mini is a solid smart home camera that meets basic security needs. The associated app could use some fine-tuning, but it works and offers a good user experience. Some additional functions such as noise detection or an emergency power supply would have been nice, but the price makes up for it.
    Rating: 3.5 out of 5
    Price: approx. 100 dollars (not yet available in Europe)
  7. Flir FX
    The Flir FX has many great features on board: viewing angles of 160 degrees, double battery, and a combination of local and cloud-based storage already beat many competing products. The app is also well designed, easy to use and also offers the option of individually adjusting the sensitivity of the noise and motion detection. Unfortunately, there were problems with the microphone and the hardware itself in several test copies. If you are prepared to accept some teething problems for the many great features, you will love the Flir FX.
    Rating: 3.5 out of 5
    Price: approx. 215 euros
  8. Nest Labs Nest Cam
    For owners of the previous Dropcam Pro model, switching is currently not worthwhile. The Nest Cam is ideal for first-time buyers of a smart home camera: It not only offers a slim, pleasing design, but also impressive video quality and a very functional, well-programmed app. However, you should be aware that various features only work if you take out a not exactly cheap subscription (around $ 100 per year) with Nest. Without this subscription, the Nest Cam is nothing more than a normal webcam. For users who are really serious about monitoring their smart home, this is a worthwhile investment.
    Rating: 4 out of 5
    Price: $ 199
  9. Samsung SmartCam HD Plus
    The Smart Cam HD Plus from Samsung offers essentially the same features as the competitors from Nest and Arcsoft - but without a mandatory subscription. This keeps the cost of the Samsung smart home cam low. If you can overlook some inconsistencies in the app design, you get a smart home security camera that leaves little to be desired.
    Rating: 4 out of 5
    Price: about 150 dollars (not yet available in Europe)
  10. Arcsoft Simplicam
    Aside from minor bugs in facial recognition - which will hopefully be fixed soon - the Simplicam worked exactly as Arcsoft had promised. The performance, the in-depth customization and setting options as well as the inexpensive cloud subscription (less than 10 dollars per month) are sufficient for a clear recommendation.
    Rating: 4 out of 5
    Price: approx. 150 dollars (not yet available in Europe)

This article is based on a contribution from our US sister publication