Tag Archives: best practices

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.

No more one size fits all – welcome to vertical view

Like the round peg trying unsuccessfully to fit into the square hole, many surveillance cameras have been similarly hampered by trying to reconcile their horizontal nature within a vertical video monitoring scenario.

Vertical ViewConsider all of the security-related situations in which a vertical camera image would be preferable over a horizontal one — policing the long, tall aisles in a big box store, home improvement center or supermarket; or watching over the straight, narrow corridors found in hospitals, schools, and even some office buildings.

In all of these instances, a vertical or portrait view of the scene would be preferable to a horizontal one. So rather than lock the user into a 16×9 horizontal world, if the user needs a full HD quality video stream, why not allow the maximum number of pixels to the field-of-view (FOV)?

Today most security cameras have been designed for the horizontal perspective so simply rotating the camera to a 9×16 FOV sounds easy enough, but the resulting video is simply a sideways oriented 16×9.  In addition to rotating the camera or effectively turning the imaging sensor on its side, the data recorded by each of the pixels on the sensor has to be rotated to reorient the video stream into a true 9×16 streaming HD video. Sounds simple, but doing so without quality loss or sacrificing video frame rate can be a challenge.

In theory, of course, it is possible to cover those narrow, vertical corridors and aisles with traditional landscape-style camera views, but it will take additional cameras — and additional cost — to achieve it. This is not only limited to camera and installation costs, because each of the cameras deployed will be recording additional scene area to the left and right of the center scene, which adds cost for bandwidth and storage to the overall cost calculation.

Fortunately, the industry is now responding with highly efficient mini-bullet and mini-dome cameras that have the higher-level processor and memory capacity so the camera can be placed in permanent portrait mode. It’s not just about switching the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 9:16 for these cameras, but it’s also about having sufficient horsepower to properly achieve and support this functionality with no residual impact on the camera’s resolution or frame rate performance.

By having cameras that reconcile properly with the space they are covering, operators will get the most complete, most usable images for active surveillance and forensic purposes. No more wondering what has been cut off from the picture, no more parsing together images to get a complete look.

And when these new cameras are made part of a larger system that includes an NVR with preconfigured layouts to accommodate the taller, narrow viewpoint, it becomes an even more ideal fit for viewing, archiving, and retrieving these images.

Kind of like putting that square peg into the square hole. It’s a perfect fit.


What other ways are/could you use a vertical view as part of your security solution? Let me know in the comments section below.

Technology to help go with the flow | preventing card user fraud

In the post-9/11 world, access control has become ubiquitous, especially in the corporate world where thousands of people stream into and out of individual office buildings every day.

Workers equipped with access cards enter through turnstiles, actual and virtual, or gain entry into buildings through card-controlled doorways. A swipe of a card allows the cardholder access. But what is there to prevent the wrong person from using someone else’s card to gain admission to the site?

A form of identity theft, if you will, card user fraud takes place when a person who isn’t the actual cardholder enters a building under false pretenses. Security personnel may react when an unfamiliar face comes through the entryway, even if the card still works. But in a setting such as a corporate headquarters, where hundreds of people are converging on the entrance at one time, security may not be able to visually identify illegal card users. And even if they can, they want to ensure that the flow of people continues unimpeded.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to the point where, through the unification of video management and access control systems, security personnel can stay on top of potential identity fraud at the point of access. Unification means that personnel can avoid operating multiple programs, having to toggle between various screens or stopping everyone to determine whose access is being denied.

Consider the example of the corporate office building. At the height of the morning rush, dozens of people may be passing through the access point each minute. Under the unified “swipe and show” technology, a security officer will see an image of each individual card user from the database as they pass through the access point, and can use that to visually compare it with what they are seeing live. If there is an anomaly, they can pull the person aside and verify their identity without stopping the flow of other entrants.

card user fraudAdditionally, policies programmed into each cardholders’ access information may trigger alerts for security personnel. For example, if someone is entering at the correct time with an active credential, the officer will see an image in the software with a green border. But if the person has broken a policy, such as trying to gain access after hours or through the wrong door, the border may appear as yellow for a minor violation that still allows them access, but needs to be addressed in person; or red, which means access is denied.

Remote access is another application for the “swipe and show” technology. The security officer in the control center sees both the image on file as well as live video as a person seeks entry at the remote location and has the ability to react quickly to allow or deny admission.

While the focus is on proper identification, the side benefits of “swipe and show” are that access continues seamlessly for those who should be allowed entry and security personnel have yet another tool for quick and easy card fraud prevention.


Are you using “swipe and show” security technology? If so, how has it impacted your business? Please leave me a comment below.

The Security Camera Conundrum: Finding Your Video Solution

If you’ve ever stood in front of the yogurt section of the supermarket, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the choices available. When yogurt first came on the market, it was available in a few flavors. Then they started to add more varieties, different fat contents, fruit on the bottom or mixed in, Greek vs. traditional.

The same can be said for the security camera market. At one time, there were just a handful of choices to be made. Everything was analog and fixed and boxy. Now the selection rivals that of the yogurt case, with PTZs, fisheyes, domes and high definition, low light, and more.

Security Cameras

But unlike yogurt, where a poor choice means you don’t eat the whole container or keep it off your shopping list for next week’s trip, picking the wrong camera can be a costly transaction, not only in terms of budget but also overall security.

Thus, when the time comes to make a camera choice it’s critical that you carefully weigh your options. To help you through that process, here are some questions to consider:

What do I want to accomplish? With all the options in the marketplace it’s important to drill down to just how the camera will be used and what result is desired. Think about not only how it will be used, but also where — indoors, outdoors, in a setting where aesthetics are important, and so on. If you’re running a meat packing company and need to record video within a chilled meat locker, you’ll have different specifications than someone looking for a camera that can zoom in on a person at the perimeter of a dark parking lot.

If you need to track shoplifters within a retail setting using recorded video that can be used to make a case against an individual, you’ll be looking for video quality and the selection and placement of cameras that allow a seamless experience. That’s different than the meat packer, who is more concerned with a camera that operates in extreme temperatures and rugged conditions.

Next, ask yourself: What do I already have in place? While there are instances when you are purchasing cameras as part of a new installation, often a camera is being added to an existing system. So think about what types of recording and analytics systems you have in place and if the camera will be the appropriate fit.

Once you’ve determined how the camera will be used and what works with your existing or desired system, you can move on to looking at specific types of cameras to fit your need. In North America, mini-domes have become the form of choice, having proven to be versatile, robust cameras that provide wide angle, telephoto, and IR illuminator options. Cameras also come with various mounting options, so add that to your list of considerations when making a selection. Compact mini-domes may be a more appropriate choice in a budget-conscious installation, still providing high-definition, but in a smaller size for discrete applications.

If you’ve determined that you are best served by a rugged, all-in-one solution, a bullet camera may be the right pick. Sturdy and weatherproof, bullets often come with included mounts so there is ease of set up. On the flip side, box cameras can be among the most flexible, offering dozens of lenses, built-in recording, and various housings and mount options so you can customize and tailor the camera installation to fit your need.

Of course, specialized cameras such as fisheye cameras and PTZs offer different levels of functionality for a variety of applications. For example, the fisheye provides a 360-degree view, offering good situational awareness. But there are also limitations; in this case, a 20 to 25-foot sweet spot, which means that anything beyond that range falls off in resolution and image clarity at a much greater rate than other types of cameras.

A PTZ camera can track and zoom in on a subject. However, PTZs perform best when used in conjunction with other types of cameras because the PTZ may not be looking exactly where you want it to when an event occurs. A fisheye or fixed camera, for instance, may catch an event in its field of view, but it’s the PTZ that can then be used to zoom in, pick up the action, and follow it.

And then there’s camera resolution: How much do you really need? Higher resolution comes with trade offs, especially in terms of storing and moving data across a network. Deciding on the proper resolution goes back to the first question about the goals of your surveillance program. How does the resolution of the camera support your objective? Is the goal to be able to capture faces and license plates, or simply detect movement in the dark? Knowing the answers to these questions can determine your resolution needs.

Finally, in making your camera choice, don’t rely solely on the product specifications provided, but rather narrow down your options and put them to the test. There are no industry standards on specifications, so they vary by manufacturer and individual camera. The best way to figure it out is to see a camera in action — does it address the issues you have and allow you to see, capture and analyze video to its fullest extent? If it does, then you’ve found the one that’s right for you.

Please visit our website for more on selecting from the many different IP cameras available from the American Dynamics.


For a more deatiled review, please watch my ASIS 2013 recroded presentation below, which explains how to make an educated decision on selecting a camera based on visibility requirements, resolution, form factor, design needs, and much more!



What other factors have you considered prior to purchasing a security camera? Let me know in the comments section below.

Live Video Monitoring or Recording?

Live Video MonitoringAs IP video continues to gain traction in security, the capabilities of the technology are challenging some established guidelines of when to record video and when to monitor live video. Along with the technology, these standards have evolved to encompass a host of different scenarios, satisfying the diverse needs of end users in a variety of applications – from casinos and hospitals to parking garages and sports stadiums, and more.

There is little argument that the decision to monitor live video vs. record for forensic purposes should be based on the value of the assets being protected. In casinos, for example, the high cash value of potential losses makes it an easy pick for live monitoring, whereas your average commercial office building generally relies on recorded video.

Depending on the specific needs of the application, another important factor to consider is the deployment of video analytics, which can add more sophisticated levels of efficiencies and automation.

As such, many employ video recorded on motion, which reduces bandwidth consumption and the high storage costs associated with storing hundreds of hours of continuous recording each week. In some scenarios, however, this could negatively affect your security operations.

Take this example of a large urban hospital. With about 1,600 cameras all set to record on motion, the video management system was logging in excess of one million events per day. The sheer number of alarms overwhelmed security staff, and became a waste of time to attempt to clear them all, rendering the information useless.

While it’s true that a scene with little activity will produce a very small amount of data, there are a lot of variables to take into consideration. Take the difference between a camera view of an empty asphalt parking lot vs. that same parking lot shaded with many surrounding trees. The empty scene, where changes from frame to frame would be minimal, would typically produce a camera stream of as little as 0.5Mbps. In contrast, moving objects, such as leaves blowing in the wind as in the tree-filled scene, as well as low-light or shadowy conditions even during daylight hours, can havesignificant ramifications on the use of motion detection, increasing the amount of data streamed to up to 10Mbps.

Lighting is a key consideration when employing video motion detection to save on storage costs. Modern mini-dome cameras, with their own onboard IR illuminators, are typically able to counteract low-light conditions. The additional cost for the IR functionality will be more than compensated by the savings in storage and potential equipment wear and tear that can be a consequence of inadequate lighting.

As in the hospital example, trying to manage and record such a significant flow of information, particularly from high-resolution cameras, can have serious ramifications on equipment health.Triggered by factors such as poor lighting or improperly configured equipment, these large and sporadic rushes of data sent to a recording device, known as thrashing, cause it to repeatedly start and stop writing, which can significantly shorten the hard drive’s life span. Over time, this weakens the recorder’s ability to function properly.

For the hospital, an analysis of the facility’s alarm activity showed the best solution would be a hybrid approach – using motion-based recording on a scheduled basis only during certain times of the day and only on certain cameras.

In areas where analytics are deployed, the same hybrid approach can also apply very successfully. A large sports stadium that sees more than 50,000 people enter its gates within a 12-18 hour window on game day can also be easily overwhelmed with event alarms from the video management system. Simply by identifying on which cameras it was necessary to continuously record as well as monitor and during what time periods, situations of excessive alarm events can be avoided and managed successfully.

Striking that balance between continuous and motion-based recording takes a little more setup on the front end but can save in the long run on hardware wear and tear – and, ultimately, lower your cost of ownership.


How are you utilizing your security equipment to lower your cost of ownership? Please leave me a comment below.

Appliances: A new take on an old term

Whether it’s a washing machine, a food processor or a coffee maker, an appliance is intended to perform a pre-defined task — cleaning clothes, chopping vegetables, making your morning cup of Joe.

AppliancesLikewise, appliances in the high-tech security world are those devices that are dedicated to executing specific operations without beingbogged down by dealing with non-essential tasks. After all, you wouldn’t want your washer to also brew the coffee or prepare a smoothie.

Still, in the video management world, the primary option presented to customers is to buy a computer or a server, which can and does perform many functions, and install video management software on it. This computer, which likely uses a Windows operating system, is also churning through all the activities related to running, updating and managing that OS, taking functionality away from its primary focus — video management — and channeling it into other operations. Additionally, it is vulnerable to the myriad viruses and bugs that come with a standard operating system.

But in an appliance-based scenario, there is no external operating system. So while you can’t play Angry Birds or check your Facebook status on your new NVR, you’re also more secure and likely to achieve higher performance levels from this task-focused machine. That can be a boon to the customer who now can invest in fewer NVRs to accomplish the necessary surveillance and recording jobs.

Creating an appliance can be done with new or existing hardware, and neither needs to be the latest model since there are no operating system requirements. Other advantages to going the appliance route is not having to worry about OS upgrades or the burden of becoming an OS-certified technician as the operating system middleman is eliminated. Everything needed to run the system becomes embedded in the off-the-shelf computer/server.

And for the IT department, which is increasingly meshing with the security sector, working with appliances is familiar territory.  They already are comfortable with appliances such as routers and switches, so adding a security appliance to the mix isn’t out of their comfort zone.

We can all imagine the quality that would result from the washer-coffeemaker combo.  For that same reason, using dedicated appliances in the security field is an effective tool to streamlining video management and ensuring that the process is as efficient as possible.


Are there other ways you have streamlined your video management processes? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

The Ins and Outs of H.264

H.264 compressionNew developments in technology often present related challenges that need to be overcome, all part of the give and take environment of progress. The rapidly evolving IP camera arena is not immune to this, and one challenge that has emerged is the complexities of the H.264 compression standard. As the pixel count in IP cameras grows, so does the need to tap into the variety of techniques H.264 offers.

Rather than relying on the vague low, medium and high settings associated with MPEG-4 and MJPEG, H.264 offers techniques that far exceed previous compression models but, in turn, requires more knowledge of what they are and how they work.

One of the first things to consider in selecting an HD or megapixel camera is the H.264 profile used by the device, and weighing that feature with how the camera will ultimately be used. Is the goal to provide a crisp and clear image of a bank or pharmacy robber? Or is the goal to tap into the benefits of reduced bandwidth consumption?

If the purpose is a lower-cost installation where performance isn’t the primary consideration, it’s possible to get by with a base profile, which was developed for low-complexity applications and lacks the flexibility of motion prediction models.

If the goal is to meet the needs of standard resolution transmission, than using H.264 main profile is a viable option. It offers a motion prediction model that speeds encoding within the camera, and is also more effective in compressing interlaced images.

But if the focus is on HD and megapixel applications, than the clear choice is a camera using the H.264 high profile. This profile was designed for HD video encoding and decoding, and can process more bits as well as add the color depth associated with Blu-ray-quality video. It is also commonly used in streaming video for YouTube and the iTunes store, for example.

Another factor to consider in the IP camera scenario as it relates to H.264 is the bit rate setting. Again, there are three options: variable bit rate (VBR), constant bit rate (CBR) and constrained variable bit rate (CVBR).

VBR offers the least precise option for CCTV professionals because of its inherent vagueness among the five settings and the quantization parameter, or QP value, tied to each of them. As a result, many camera makers are moving away from this option and going with CBR as their main or only option.

CBR allows users to set a specific bit rate as a maximum. And even though the camera may not produce to that level, it won’t ever exceed it. The downside here is that it can lead to the purchase of more storage than necessary.

CBVR, which allows a user to set a maximum data rate and the minimum a camera could produce, is currently the least used option among the three, but offers the most control and ability to predict storage needs.

The market will continue to migrate towards IP cameras and, as a security professional, it’simportant to know your performance goals and cost parameters. With this information in hand, you will be able to identify and dictate the correct H.264 profile and bit rate for your security video installation.

Interested in more details on deploying H.264? Click here to download an informational white paper on utilizing the H.264 compression standard.

How to use the many facets of H.264 AVC Compression


What other factors are you using when determining your H.264 settings? Leave a comment below.

Security Basics: Making the most of the security you have

Security basics checklistAs security professionals, our goal is to make sure our clients are up-to-date on not only the latest technology, but also have the tools to understand what supporting systems they can use to make everything work.

In a recent webinar, “The key security features you aren’t using but should be to keep your business safe and secure,”Steve Lewis, senior product manager for Software House, focused on getting back to basics, taking participants through the various best practices for making sure safety and security are at their highest levels and operating properly.

If you’re interested in reviewing some security basics, especially in the context of our evolving world and changing security threats, watch Steve’s archived webinar.

Click me


What underutilized security task do you perform that others may overlook? Let us know in the comments area.20