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If it seems like there are security cameras everywhere The Paranoid Conspiracy-Theorist's Guide To Online Privacy & Security The Paranoid Conspiracy-Theorist's Guide To Online Privacy & Security Can you stay anonymous online? With not too much and the use of easy to use web-based encryption, security and privacy tools, we believe you can. Let us show you how. Read More , it’s because they are. Because they are so popular, the average person can now set up a security camera system for just a couple hundred dollars. Sometimes even less.

Three Security Cameras

When you start looking for a camera system, you’ll see two types over and over again. There are Internet Protocol (IP) based systems How the Internet Works How the Internet Works We can now access the Internet from our home computers, office, laptops and our phones. But many people still aren't entirely sure what the Internet is and how it really works. Read More and digital video recorder (DVR) based systems. What’s the difference? What are the pros and cons of these two systems? Even more important, which system is the most secure? Let’s take a look.

What’s the Difference between IP and DVR Security Camera Systems?

There are two main differences; what type of cameras they use and how the cameras and the recorder talk to each other, or their networking method. Let’s look at the two networking methods first.

An IP-based network requires each device to have its own IP address. An IP address is a bit like a phone number. You call one phone number, you get your buddy Jim. That specific phone number will always connect you to Jim. A specific IP address will always connect you to the device that has that IP address.

IP Security Camera System with NVR

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If you have two cameras, camera one might have an IP address like 192.168.2.10 and camera two could be 192.168.2.11. Usually, there is a computer in your security system too, known as a network video recorder (NVR). It will have its own IP address. Let’s say it’s 192.168.2.1.

Basic IP Camera Network

The two cameras and the computer might also connect to each other through WiFi. Remember that, because it becomes important later.

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The computer will talk to camera one and two, and camera one and two will reply to the computer using their IP addresses to identify each other. Because each camera has its own IP address, the computer, or network video recorder (NVR), knows what images came from which camera and keeps them organized properly. Typically, the cameras all connect to an Ethernet switch What's the Difference Between Routers, Hubs, and Switches? What's the Difference Between Routers, Hubs, and Switches? Are you confused about the differences between a hub, a switch, and a router? Don't worry. The answer is actually quite simple. In this article, we break it down for you. Read More which manages the traffic between all the devices.

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A DVR system uses cameras connected to the recorder by coaxial cables. The DVR itself is a computer, like the NVR, but it has a special type of card in it, called a video capture card On Air: Set Up Your Own Online Broadcast On Air: Set Up Your Own Online Broadcast Live televised entertainment has found a new home: PC monitors. Popular commercial services like Netflix and Hulu command part of the television market in an age when watching TV no longer requires a TV. Read More . The card will have one connector for each camera. This is how it knows what video came from which camera.

Basic DVR Camera System

The video capture card accepts the analog signal from the cameras and turns it into a digital signal, which is what gets recorded to the hard drive.

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Each system typically uses a different kind of camera. The IP system uses digital cameras 5 Things You Didn't Know About The First Digital Cameras 5 Things You Didn't Know About The First Digital Cameras The digital camera has taken more than 35 years of technological advancement to reach its current stage of development. The journey from original concept to the all-singing devices we have access to today has been... Read More that can be configured with an IP address. Makes sense. The DVR system uses analog cameras How Almost Obsolete Cameras Are Bringing Light To Disaster Zones How Almost Obsolete Cameras Are Bringing Light To Disaster Zones A house is replaceable. An infection is curable. Hunger is satiable. A lost history is none of these things. Read More that don’t need addresses. Other than that, what are the differences between digital and analog cameras?

What’s the Difference between Digital and Analog Cameras

Surprisingly little.

Each type of camera has a lens to capture light and focus it . Each has a light sensor of some type to turn the light into an analog electronic signal. They both also have an analog-to-digital converter. From there, the digital signal gets sent to a digital signal processor (DSP) 5 Things You Can Do with the Raspberry Pi Camera Module 5 Things You Can Do with the Raspberry Pi Camera Module One of the first expansions you should buy for the Raspberry Pi is the camera module. With a dedicated connector, the camera can be used for a variety of tasks. Let's take a look. Read More . That happens in both types of cameras. At this point, the digital camera now sends the signal off to the NVR.

Analog and Digital Camera Differences

This is where one of the big differences comes in. The analog camera puts the digital signal through a digital-to-analog converter before sending it down a coaxial cable to the DVR as an analog signal. That’s right, it went from analog to digital then back to analog again.

So, What Security Camera System is Most Secure?

That’s the question you came here to answer. So let’s get to it.

The IP system has the same kind of problems as any computer network. A network failure can bring down all your cameras and the NVR. The cameras in a DVR each have a direct connection, so failures are mostly limited to individual cameras. Yes, it’s possible the DVR could fail and shut down the whole system too. Yet unlike a data network, the DVR system is passive and requires very little maintenance to keep it working.

Retail Security System

If your IP camera network is also connected to your regular network, you can encounter issues like viruses and other malware. This is especially true if your system is connected to the Internet at any point. A DVR system could be connected to the Internet as well and could also be subject to attack.

If your IP cameras are connected via WiFi How to Make Your Wireless Security Cameras Untouchable to Hackers How to Make Your Wireless Security Cameras Untouchable to Hackers Over the past few months, stories about security vulnerabilities abound. Clearly this is not an acceptable state of affairs. To combat this, you should secure your security cameras. Let's find out how. Read More , the signal is going through the air. That does make it easier to tap into at a distance, however, the signal will most likely be encrypted. Make sure the system you’re looking at does that. DVR cameras connect passively over coaxial cable without encryption, making the signal easier to intercept, but you have to get physical access to the cabling.

Coaxial Cable Splitter

Worse yet, if your IP camera or NVR isn’t password protected it’s far too easy for someone to tap directly into it. Many cameras and systems ship with a default username and password. Make sure you change these immediately! Default usernames and passwords Does Your Default Router Configuration Make You Vulnerable to Hackers & Scammers? Does Your Default Router Configuration Make You Vulnerable to Hackers & Scammers? Routers rarely arrive in a secure state, but even if you have taken the time to configure your wireless (or wired) router correctly, it can still prove to be the weak link. Read More are available with a 5-second Google search to anyone. You should do the same with your DVR. However, if the DVR is not connected to any other network, a person would have to be physically at the DVR trying to guess the password.

Angry Hacker

There is one more thing that gives a DVR a slight edge. Because so many of them are not on the Internet, they make for a very small target. Think about it like this; if you were a hacker that wanted to mess up a bunch of cameras, would you go after the ones you can reach through the Internet or the ones you’d have to be physically in front of? If you wanted to hack around with cameras, you’d go the path of least resistance.

Considering there are sites dedicated to finding vulnerable camera systems 5 Devices You Do NOT Want to Connect to the Internet of Things 5 Devices You Do NOT Want to Connect to the Internet of Things The Internet of Things (IoT) may not be everything it’s cracked up to be. In fact, there are some smart devices you may not want to connect to the web at all. Read More , and most of them are IP based, hacking IP based camera systems is that path of least resistance.

Do Hackers Really Attack Camera Systems?

Don’t believe me? How about the thousands of DVRs with hard-coded passwords? Potentially, 55 of the top security camera companies’ DVRs are affected by the issue. Through the web interface, you could log in with the username root and the password 519070.

Raysharp Interface

It gets worse. Cloudview published a report this year that shows just how easy it is for many [NVRs] to be hacked.

“Five routers, [NVRs] and IP cameras were placed onto the open internet. They were running the latest available firmware, in their default configuration. Within minutes, attackers had begun attempting to use common logins; one device fell to this most basic of intrusions. Within a few hours, each device had been [port scanned].”

The report goes on to say that, “In over 15 [NVRs] tested by an independent consultant, none was free from serious vulnerabilities. Some took many hours to breach, but the majority took less than an hour.”

Cloudview

NVRs can be a desirable target because of the processing power of their video cards. Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) on video cards are valued for their ability to mine Bitcoins How Can I Identify The Best GPUs For Bitcoin Mining? How Can I Identify The Best GPUs For Bitcoin Mining? Quite recently, I wrote an article revealing the disadvantages to Bitcoin mining. More precisely, a major disadvantage to the actual mining process is the cost vs. revenue battle, where you may be spending more money... Read More . NVR systems can often have powerful GPUs. In 2014, the Linux Darlloz worm virus was launched to attack systems from Hikvision. Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D., of the SANS Technology Institute, identified it as, “…what looks like a bitcoin miner…”.

Bitcoin

Hikvision got after the issue immediately and found, “…all the network cameras infected with the virus were connected to the public internet without changing the default username and password.”

They did issue a firmware upgrade and security notices very quickly to ensure their customers could protect themselves. But unless you’re constantly checking for updates and notices, how would you know?

How Can I Make My Security Camera System Secure?

Regardless of which system you go with, the best thing you can do is to separate your security camera system from your data network and any eventual connection to the Internet. You might think of this as an air-gapped system God of the Air Gaps: How Malware Can Be Spread By Microphone God of the Air Gaps: How Malware Can Be Spread By Microphone What if I told you that malware could be passed around using the unlikely medium of computer speakers and microphones? Read More , but it’s properly referred to as a closed circuit television (CCTV) system. You may see Internet-connected systems wrongly referred to as CCTV, so don’t let that label fool you into thinking a particular system is secure.

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Treat your system’s DVR or NVR as you would any other computer on your network. Make sure it is updated and protected by anti-virus and firewall Windows Defender Can Now Scan for Malware on Startup Windows Defender Can Now Scan for Malware on Startup Windows Defender may not be the best security solution, but Microsoft is working hard to make it relevant. Here's an update you might find worthwhile. Read More at the least. Sign up for the manufacturer’s newsletter if they have one. That way you’ll know if there’s a firmware upgrade or if a security issue has been discovered. It’s in their best interest to let you know right away. After all, they are selling a security product and if it’s not secure then what good is it?

Do you have a security camera system? Or maybe just a single security camera like a Dropcam? How do you like it? Have you password protected it? Noticed anything odd happening with it? We’d like to hear from you.

3er Kamera, via Flickr, Simple NVR-based camera system, A security guard watches a store’s CCTV cameras, Coaxial cable splitter (TV & Internet), via Wikipedia, Angry Hacker,
Bitcoins, via Shutterstock.

  1. Qubits
    July 30, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Good article Guy - well balanced. For home use - do you have a clear (furture-proof?) recommendation, if all said precautions are put in place - analogue or IP?

  2. Guy McDowell
    May 31, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Good points. These are things I have serious concerns about as well.

    After what we've seen with 'reputable' brands like Sony, Microsoft, etc., and how they walk in and out of our systems at will, how much can we really trust a company we've barely heard of?

    Yet, it also seems like there aren't many options, either.

  3. jmb
    May 31, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    A follow up note RE the OS on at least one model of camera. I noted that a system I installed at one location announced "busybox" Linux at some point, which tells me that is the OS on which the camera is based. Does it concern anyone else that many cameras are manufactured in China? I wonder how difficult it would be to review the code stored on each camera to see if there are built in vulnerabilities - either by accident or on purpose?

    And also a note on each camera phoning home, as the IP cameras all seem to have the ability to talk to their respective "cloud." Wonder where the cloud lives? Are my videos being stored in an encrypted state? Wanna bet?

    Random thoughts from Captain Obvious...

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