How To Prevent Surveillance Cameras From Being Hacked
As governments and companies around the world invest more in security networks every year, today there are hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras installed globally. It's estimated that 1 billion surveillance cameras will be watching around the world in 2021, according to a report from IHS Markit.
Increased implementation of security camera solutions results in enterprises, organizations and private users facing growing instances of hacker attacks. This leads to a whole set of potential problems that could cause substantial losses and damage to businesses.
As CTO of the developer of a computer vision system that monitors surveillance camera footage detecting guns and threats in real time, I know quite a lot about security cameras. In this article, I will try to explain why most security cameras are so easy to hack, while also sharing some easy steps both organizations and private users can take to protect themselves from hackers.
Surveillance Camera Hacks On The Rise
News stories about hacked home security cameras have become very common these days. In December 2019 alone surveillance cameras sold by Amazon-owned home security company Ring have been the focus of several stories.
The vulnerability of enterprise video surveillance systems is nothing new as well. According to my observations, more than half of companies and organizations, both large and small, often do not take sufficient precautions when it comes to preventing their security cameras from being hacked.
Why Security Cameras Are Vulnerable To Hackers
It’s no secret that surveillance cameras, like many other internet of things (IoT) devices, are full of vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers.
Most surveillance camera networks are usually connected to the internet and allow users to access them remotely for various purposes. For example, this allows homeowners to check on their homes while they are away or law enforcers to receive information about what is happening in a public place without being there. Camera manufacturers use remote access to update the software, which, unfortunately, also makes cameras extremely vulnerable to hacker attacks.
Cameras, just like all other devices connected to the internet, have IP addresses that are easy to find using Shodan, a search engine for internet-connected devices. With this simple tool, hackers can find hundreds of potentially vulnerable IoT devices, including cameras.
When communicating with representatives of various organizations interested in our technology, I often witness how IP surveillance camera systems are poorly secured and can allow outsiders access to footage. In many cases, this vulnerability can lead to serious consequences. However, such risks can be eliminated with fairly simple security measures and precautions, and I urge all organizations to follow these basic recommendations.
Change Default Passwords And Usernames
One basic reason surveillance cameras are so easy to hack is the fact that many users tend to use default passwords and usernames when setting up the camera network. In this case, all hackers need to do to gain access to the camera is compile a list of devices and try to access them one by one with the default password and username. It doesn't get much easier than that.
To prevent this, use a strong password that is hard to guess. When setting up the password, use numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Do not use simple and commonly used passwords, such as the ones in SplashData's list of 100 worst passwords of last year.
Prevent Cameras From Sending Information To Third Parties
In my experience, the firmware of most cameras from manufacturers is programmed in a way that keeps a connection to the manufacturer’s server without knowledge of the end user. Most users, both private and corporate, are not aware of this and therefore do not take any steps to protect themselves from this potential vulnerability, which could result in footage leaks to a third party or a successful hacker attack.
To prevent your camera network from transmitting information to third parties, including the camera manufacturer, the following steps should be taken.
Statically assign IP address for each camera and subnet mask, and leave gateway blank or set to 127.0.0.1, if this is allowed to be entered in gateway fields. If the firmware does not allow you to leave it blank or assign 127 subnets, just point the gateway to an unused dedicated IP address. This way cameras will not be able to send the information off the local company network.
Assign DNS servers that are local to cameras, and force only your domain to be present with zero-forwarding DNS servers. This way if a camera tries to do name resolution, it will come up blank. Not being able to find the IP address of the main server (or "mother ship") means cameras won’t be able to connect to it. To stay safe, you can order your own DNS servers, locked down to your addresses only.
Monitor Your System For Traffic Spikes
One of the tricky things about hacker attacks is that there are often no warnings. In most cases, hackers could penetrate your system without any signs or symptoms of an attack, and it wouldn't be until you faced consequences (such as leaked footage or hackers manipulating cameras) that you’d realize something was wrong. It could take days or even months after the attack before you’d realize the system had been compromised.
Monitoring dual-homed systems for bandwidth spikes could be a good way to spot a hack resulting in the leakage of confidential data such as images or video. There are a number of traffic-monitoring tools available to private and corporate users.
These recommendations will allow you to lower the risk of hackers breaking into your security camera network, detect the hack if it has occurred already and protect yourself from possible consequences if camera footage is stolen.