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The purpose of a home security system is to make you safer. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out like that.

With more and more systems now offering a “smart” function – such as streaming surveillance video Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Surveillance is always on the cutting edge of technology. Here are four technologies that will be used to violate your privacy over the next few years. Read More straight to your device, providing a way for you to manage your alarm system remotely, or allowing multiple users to access the control panel – the number of breach-able access points has multiplied exponentially.

The news is now littered with stories of “failed” home security systems. It’s a worrying problem; they can cost homeowners their money, their health, and their sanity.

Here we take a look at some of the most notable home security hacks – exploring what happened and why it happened…

Comcast Catastrophes

In the autumn of 2013 Washington state resident Leena Rawat and her family bought a new home that came without an alarm system. Being security-conscious homeowners, they immediately went out and bought one – opting for Comcast’s “intruder proof” XFINITY Home package.

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The system is supposedly part of Comcast’s wider smart home offering, which allows users to control connected devices from a smart phone app. The home security system can send you real-time alerts when doors and windows are opened, can stream live video from inside or outside your home, and can even incorporate existing equipment.

The package isn’t cheap. Basic fees are $30-$40 per month, and the early cancellation fee is an eye-watering $770.

Fast forward 12 months and their new family home turned into a house of horrors. Intruders broke in through the basement window, and no alarm was raised by the system. They attacked Leena’s 18-year-old son whilst he slept, leaving him with life-threatening injuries.

Subsequent investigations discovered that Comcast didn’t install motion detectors on the basement window, but still signed off the system as secure. Comcast have a contract clause that waives them of any responsibility – but the Rawats are currently testing that in the courts.

This is far from the only Comcast catastrophe; in the middle of last year a Houston family discovered their Comcast alarm system hadn’t been operational since 2007 – even though they’d been paying for it. Comcast’s response? A $20 gift certificate.

The Lesson to Learn

Don’t trust Comcast seems the most obvious takeaway…

On a more serious note, this could happen to anyone. Whether you’ve done a DIY installation, contracted a professional security firm, or hired an ISP, mistakes can happen and threats can be overlooked.

Once the installation of the home security system is complete you need to test, retest, and test again. Check every window and every door and make sure the alarm sounds when it’s breached. Thereafter check your system at least once a month – you should check it with the same regularity as you test batteries in your smoke detectors.

Hacked Security Cameras

The home security camera How to Build a Security Camera Network Out Of Old Smartphones How to Build a Security Camera Network Out Of Old Smartphones These days, building a home surveillance system isn't a huge deal, especially with the right equipment. Wireless IP webcams are ideal of course, but what if you don't want to spend $50 to $200 for... Read More market is exploding, and it’s giving rise to a number of lucrative security loopholes for criminals Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats When you start to think about all the things that could go wrong when browsing the Internet, the web starts to look like a pretty scary place. Read More . Evidence suggests that everything from laptop webcams to home CCTV circuits and smart baby monitors to intruder alert systems have been compromised.

The problem arises because so many of the devices are configured insecurely due to the manufacturer defaults, and the owners never bother to change them.

russian-hack

For example, in late-2014 a Russian website was found hosting hundreds of feeds of live footage from inside UK homes and businesses; it had hacked the aforementioned devices. The website’s owner claimed he was merely proving a point by using the default login credentials for the hacked cameras – credentials that are widely available online.

At the time, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office said there were at least 35,000 exposed devices sold in the country in the previous 12 months.

It could easily become a huge problem. Aside from the creepy nature of someone on the other side of the world watching your every move, think how much personal information is visible Android Users: How to Stop Giving so Much Personal Information to Google Android Users: How to Stop Giving so Much Personal Information to Google Android users, by default, give Google a lot of information. Here's how to get out of that trap. Read More in your home. Bank cards, driving licenses, and passports could all be lying around, a camera that’s facing your computer could reveal confidential login data and passwords Password Management Guide Password Management Guide Don't feel overwhelmed by passwords, or simply use the same one on every site just so you'll remember them: design your own password management strategy. Read More , and a would-be burglar can get an easy overview of your daily routine, knowing exactly when to target your property for maximum effect.

The Lesson to Learn

You have to take responsibility for your own security. Always delve into the settings of a new system when you install it – even for something that seems as insignificant as a smart baby monitor. Failure to do so could make your home more insecure than if you didn’t buy the system in the first place.

If in doubt about how to edit settings, call the manufacturer’s customer hotline. Alternatively, you could even ask one of our very own experts!

Disabled Wireless Alarms

On the surface, wireless alarms as part of a home security system seem like a great idea. They are free of the usual risks that go hand-in-hand with wired systems (such as cut telephone lines and cut alarm lines), they can be easily installed and aren’t constrained by wiring considerations. They can be easily expanded, and they can be packed up and moved if you buy a new home.

However, there are still some inherent hazards to consider.

Even though the devices aren’t connected to the Internet, they are not safe from hackers. Logan Lamb, a security researcher at Oak Ridge National Lab, conducted his own private research last summer and found that several of the top manufacturers – including companies that sell systems in the US – can be easily compromised.

The vulnerabilities arise from all wireless alarm systems’ reliance on radio frequency signals to communicate between the sensors and the central control system.

This leads to two main problems. Firstly, because the systems failed to encrypt or authenticate the signals, anyone could intercept and decipher them and then play them to the control system as they pleased. Secondly, the signals could be jammed to prevent them from triggering an alarm.

sdr

Lamb claimed he could intercept signals and communicate with the central control system with his own $1,700 software defined radio (SDR) device from a range of 250 meters, and that he could jam the signals from about 10 meters.

He went on to claim that even though a cheap Realtek SDR device ($10 on Amazon) couldn’t send signals, it could still receive them and thus give a burglar a clear idea of when a window was left open or where in the house an occupant was at any given moment.

The Lesson to Learn

There isn’t really a clear winner in the wired alarm vs wireless alarm debate. Both have their own pros and cons. What’s important is that you shouldn’t just install one home security system and assume that you are covered.

Every system has its weak points, so protect against those weak points by installing secondary systems. Even the more traditional methods of protection, such as putting bars over your windows or buying motion-sensitive outside lights, can be enough of a deterrent when used in conjunction with a good alarm system.

What Lessons Can You Share?

Have you been caught out by your home security system? Were you the victim of a crime From The Web To Jail: 6 Types of Computer Crimes You Can Get Arrested For From The Web To Jail: 6 Types of Computer Crimes You Can Get Arrested For Governments across the world have tried to tame the Internet as a tempest of new technology threatens everything from strict government censorship and control over the media to entrenched media conglomerates and old concepts of... Read More that arose from a flaw in your set-up? Perhaps you experience the opposite, and your system saved you from some potentially nasty consequences?

Whatever your story, we’d love to hear it. You can let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Hacking Computers by Andrey_Popov via Shutterstock

  1. Ben Stutts
    October 1, 2015 at 11:07 am

    99% may be an exaggeration. But 85% is probably close. Your typical Burglar is not exceptionally bright and is after a quick buck. However, if there is something in your house that he knows about that he wants. Neither the sign or the full alarm is going to keep him from trying. Also, if you are dumb enough to advertise that you are out of town, or that you have something he wants, the sign becomes less effective. That doesn't mean you can stop locking your doors though. And, your insurance won't give a discount for just a sign. A $99 system with a sign is a better deterrent than an expensive system without the sign. The purpose of having an alarm is not to catch a crook, but to get the crook to go somewhere else. A barking dog works well also.

  2. Ben Stutts
    September 21, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Former (retired) independent alarm company owner. My own experience in the industry was that most alarm installers at the big companies are low paid and under trained. The sales people are commissioned and will tell you anything to get that sale. You are not buying an alarm system, you are signing up for a monitoring service for 3 to 5 years. To get your signature ob that contract they will practically give you the hardware. That contract is iron clad - you WILL pay that monthly fee for the entire length of that contract - even if you move and cannot get the new owner to pick up the contract. The alarm company will push a minimum feature low cost system to get you interested , then add on more stuff. The base system is wireless, 2 door contacts, 1 motion sensor and a keypad. (varies from company to company) You have 3 doors? Pay me. you want sensors on ground floor windows? pay me. You want a keypad on the back door? Pay me. You want a smoke detector? Pay me. Everything costs extra. Then if you don't have a wired telephone, you will need a Cell phone add on.

    Now remember that underpaid poorly trained installer? He may put things in wrong, set up the system wrong or damage something in his rush to finish in the time his boss allocated to your install. The most important part of the system is the cheapest - that unsightly yard sign will act as a deterrent. A typical burglar will pass up a house with an alarm sign because there is a house without one right down the street.

    Then, about one third of home alarms are turned off by the homeowner within 18 months. Because they are just too much trouble. You still pay the fee though. Believe me you won't be able to break that contract.

    If you get a $99 system, you have a cheap system that you will not be happy with. Be willing to pay for a better system that does what you want. Get quotes from several companies and ask a lot of questions. I could go on for several pages, but this is all for now.

    • Ryan Dube
      October 1, 2015 at 4:20 am

      Ben – sounds like you’re saying sticking a sign in the yard will pretty much take care of business 99% of the time?

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