If it seems like there are security cameras everywhere, 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.
When you start looking for a camera system, you’ll see two types over and over again. There are Internet Protocol (IP) based systems 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.
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.
The two cameras and the computer might also connect to each other through WiFi. Remember that, because it becomes important later.
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 which manages the traffic between all the devices.
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. The card will have one connector for each camera. This is how it knows what video came from which camera.
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.
Each system typically uses a different kind of camera. The IP system uses digital cameras that can be configured with an IP address. Makes sense. The DVR system uses analog cameras 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
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). That happens in both types of cameras. At this point, the digital camera now sends the signal off to the NVR.
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.
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, 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.
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 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.
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, 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.
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.”
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. 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…”.
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, 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.
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 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.