Security Hardening & Its Importance to Protecting Your Security System

Not a day goes by, it seems, that we are not hearing about some sort of security breach involving a major retail operation or corporation. Hackers seem determined on getting at protected data, such as credit card information or Social Security numbers, by any means possible.

For the security industry, every such attack brings new concerns about the safety of network-based systems. The network is the back door to accessing all kinds of information, whether it is financial, personal or something specific to the security of an operation.

Protecting Your Security SystemFor instance, a cyber criminal may be looking to interfere with a security system by interrupting the video stream, altering camera views so someone can make a physical attack on a location or hijacking the servers to perform illegal functions. Even a camera, if left vulnerable, may be used as an entry point to a larger network.

As a result, it is increasingly important to know what steps a security system provider is taking to ensure that its network-based equipment such as NVRs and video management system software are hardened against cyber attacks.

While the U.S. Federal Information Security Act mandates a specific level of compliance, it is critical to work with a supplier that understands what is involved in the compliance process, and is invested in taking a lead on this critical issue.

Here are some questions to ask a security system supplier:

  • How often are updates provided for the product and how are security vulnerabilities handled?  More frequent updates to the product means more opportunity to remove vulnerabilities. Also, by monitoring new vulnerabilities found through international databases a supplier can release a patch quickly to address a critical vulnerability.
  • Is the company undergoing third-party assessments of its products? Having an independent, third-party undertake penetration testing will point out what vulnerabilities exist and allow the company to take the proper action to harden the system against cyber attacks.
  • How often does the vulnerability testing take place? Each time the software within a product or system is altered, there should be a new test so the development team can address any new software issues before the product is released.
  • Has the company documented what it is doing? Knowing what the vulnerabilities are and how they have addressed them can go a long way toward ensuring your comfort level with a product. Ask if the company has prepared a white paper or some other document on its products and processes.

Cyber criminals continue to develop new methods for gaining access to information and systems. Knowing how a supplier is safeguarding its products is a good first line of defense.

 

What questions do you have about security hardening? Please leave it in the comments section below.

Physical Security: An Important Tool for School Safety

Over the past decade, installers and integrators have experienced a steady increase in inquiries for security products, including video surveillance, alarm systems, access control, and integrated security management systems, in schools and campuses across the country.

School SafetyIt’s no surprise that administrators, faculty, and parents are questioning andaddressing the level of security in their schools as shootings and campus violence continue to make headlines. In 1999, the year of the Columbine shootings, electronic security was not much of a discussion topic for schools, or even college campuses for that matter.

In the past, schools with physical security were usually equipped with a few access control points and emergency notification systems. One year after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, the Campus Safety and Security Project conducted a national survey of colleges and universities, which revealed that approximately 50% of higher education respondents had perimeter access cards for their residence hall facilities. Far fewer facilities had monitored cameras or surveillance systems.

Today, an increasing number of campuses, high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools are implementing integrated video surveillance, analytics, and security management systems.A recent study from IHS, expects the market for school security system integration to rise by more than 80% from 2012 to 2017. The report called “Vertical Insights: Video Surveillance & Security in Education,” projects the market for security systems integration in educational institutions to grow from under $3 billion in 2012 to $4.9 billion by 2017.

For many schools, physical security is an ongoing process of redefining needs and staying vigilant. It was 15 years ago when the superintendent of the Cherokee County School District (CCSD) in Georgia, Dr. Frank Petruzielo, created the district’s public safety department. Back then, the district, which now comprises 47 schools and centers, had no intrusion detection, unmonitored fire alarms, and a handful of unmonitored, individual cameras purchased by individual schools.

Today, Cherokee County School District has entered the world of IP physical security with a hybrid IP surveillance solution and a unified security management system that features victor unified management system, VideoEdge hybrid recorders and American Dynamics’ Illustra IP cameras,allowing security staff and administrators access to live video and events throughout the school system. What started as a project for the district’s high schools and building perimeters, has grown to include surveillance in target areas at middle schools and other facilities.

CCSD is just one of countless campuses, schools, and districts that has found value in installing or upgrading its existing security to offer a safe environment for employees and students. Emergency notification systems, fire alarms, alarm systems, access control, video surveillance, and integrated security management systems are working together to allow schools to keep the pulse on their facilities and the people inside of them.

Read more about the Cherokee County School District and its journey to a hybrid IP surveillance solution.

 

What do you think are a school system’s biggest challenges to upgrading school safety?Please leave me a comment below.

I Can See Clearly Now: Fisheye Cameras and Dewarping

There’s much to like about 360-degree fisheye cameras.

Their ability to capture images that could be missed by a traditional fixed camera or even a pan-tilt-zoom only model makes them critical for security applications where sweeping views are required. For example, 360-cameras excel within settings like an open concept retail store where a single camera can be observing all directions at the same time. The cameras have also proven useful beyond the retail setting in college lecture halls, casinos, office lobbies, hallway intersections and enclosed parking garages, to note a few.

Fisheyes are also touted for their wide dynamic range, as well as savings on bandwidth and storage usage while still capturing full resolution images.

The image produced isn’t a typical, flat one, but rather is round and distorted, the result of capturing an ultra-wide field of view. To make the images usable, they need to be flattened out, or dewarped. In most cases, the dewarping process takes place at the client, such as the NVR, PC, or server depending on where the client software that handles the dewarping of the images resides.

Fisheye Cameras DewarpingA few manufacturers offer cameras that can natively dewarp the images. Thus, the video can be viewed in the more traditional format, but with the benefit of getting all the detail that a 360-degree view provides. Having the camera perform the dewarping process relieves the burden and reliance for this action from the recorder and client, bypassing the step of having to dewarp the recorded view separately.

In dewarped or flattened images, security personnel can hone in on details that are important to the situation, while also having the option of looking at the larger picture. If you think about a 360-degree image as four quadrants — north, south, east and west — consider that when an event occurs, you have the option of retrieving an image that shows action in the north quadrant only, where you believe the suspect activity occurred.  There may be something that took place elsewhere that you now want to check out, and so you can playback images that capture activity in the south, east and west quadrants as well.  For this reason, fisheye cameras are a cost savings as they can take the place of four cameras when placed at the intersection of hallways.

Having quick access to a normalized view of a situation, especially when an event is occurring, makes dewarping at the camera level a convenient tool for seeing everything the video has to offer.

 

In what ways are you using Fisheye Cameras? Please leave me a comment below.

To 4K or not to 4K video?

4K VideoOur industry’s seemingly insatiable appetite for more and more resolution has now produced a wave of interest in 4K cameras that promise exceptional clarity and sharpness, akin to the big screen, Ultra HD television sets found in consumer electronics stores and an increasing number of North American homes.

The jury is still out on whether there is an immediate need for the resolution that can overcome the downsides of increased storage and bandwidth required for running 4K cameras in a surveillance

operation. Like so many things, if the cost of the camera, cost of the supporting system infrastructure and components were of no concern, this new format would likely be a more viable and attractive option for many security applications.

Here are four things to consider before making the leap to investing in and deploying 4K video:

1. What will I get with 4K that is not possible at lower resolution?
There’s no doubt that 4K technology is light years ahead of analog quality, but the reality is that the increased clarity and sharpness provided by that level of resolution is often over and beyond what is required and able to be managed by a typical security operation. For many reasons, full HD/1080P is the most commonly used resolution for new systems. The majority of security systems in use for live monitoring situation do not really benefit from such a resolution, as the human eye is well served with the details of a 1080P picture. Higher resolutions pay out when more details are required in forensic investigations.

2. Double the resolution, double the processing requirements
Users typically want to see more than one camera on one monitor, and only  occasionally switch to full screen modes. With 4K, the clarity of that multi camera view would be no clearer than what would be viewed from a lower resolution camera. In addition, delivering streams from multiple 4K cameras presents some technical challenges. The client PC and graphics card must handle a significant flow of data. The best approach is to have the live view limited to only enough resolution for the video size and screen resolution of the display.

Today a typical approach to balance PC power requirements and quality uses lower resolution streams for live view, while recording in the highest resolutions. 4K resolution taxes the workload on the network because recording the highest resolution means the full stream content moves from the camera to the NVR.

3. Limitations on form factors, lenses
The availability of affordable high resolution optics is just not there yet, and a dome style camera with a typical curved dome bubble cannot transmit the 4K resolution. In addition, a true 8MP resolution lens with appropriate coverage for the 4K sensor is quite large, which would render a 4K version of the compact dome camera (the market’s favorite form factor) essentially not possible.  The dome camera would get physically bigger which, for many customers, is a negative.

4.  Bandwidth and storage requirements
From a cost perspective, quadrupling the resolution from full HD to 4K won’t quite double the camera price. However, on the recording side it will most definitely demand more than double the storage requirements when operating under the same conditions.

Bandwidth consumption is related to processor power available on the camera. For example, the average full HD cameras deliver about 6Mbps at 30 ips. On the bright side, some manufacturers are offering full HD models with advanced compression capabilities that can reduce bandwidth consumption to about 3Mbps, with the next iteration to handle 4K video at full HD bandwidth consumption levels. Additionally new compression standards such as H.265 HVEC (High Efficiency Video Encoding) will make higher resolution bandwidth more practical for surveillance.

So where does this leave you, 4K today or not just yet? For some customers a bigger number is frequently perceived as a better solution but surveillance installations should focus on the reason the system investment is being made in the first place; protection of personnel and protection of assets. It is far from a one size fits all decision and resolution is an important tool in the system solution.

 

Are you using 4k video cameras with your security system, if so, how has your experience been? Please leave me a comment below.