This morning, I heard on the radio that dozens of Belgian families were being watched through their own home surveillance system in Belgium. Nothing new here, as we already know for years that sites exist through which you can watch camera footage of unknowing victims, and this problem is not just limited to Belgium of course.
Now, looking at this from an IT security perspective, it would be easy to say “it’s their own fault, they should have changed their default passwords!” or “it’s their own fault, why would you make your surveillance system internet accessible?”. The reality is that most users don’t see an issue with connecting their home surveillance system to the internet – especially not if it’s fully supported by the vendor! In the end, it’s reasonable for the user to expect from the vendor that the surveillance system is installed in a secure way.
A quick search on Shodan – a search engine for connected devices – shows thousands of publicly exposed surveillance systems all over the world.
A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues had a specialized firm install security cameras around the house. Our colleague had to move heaven and earth to explain that the video controller should not be directly connected to the internet but that it should be connected to the internal network which is firewalled. As you can see, most people would have no notion of this and would be happy to see the video footage everywhere they go from an app on their smartphone without any type of authentication.
Now, how to avoid your home surveillance system from being viewed by anyone in the world? Well there are several things you can do here, varying in terms of technical difficulty (non-exhaustive list).
- Password-protect all your connected devices, and remove anonymous access.
- Change the default password on all your connected devices. This will prevent that these devices can be accessed by anyone on the internet using default credentials, such as username and password both being “admin” or “demo”.
- Keep your camera software up to date. As with all electronic devices running software is the case, camera systems could contain bugs that allow unauthorized individuals to take control of and view your images. When bugs in cameras are identified, usually (unfortunately not always), the vendors release patches to fix these bugs.
- Connect wireless cameras to a secured wireless network. If you use wireless cameras, it is important to connect them to a secure (WPA2) wireless network. This will prevent anyone in the vicinity of your network to eavesdrop on and intercept the communication.
Last but not least, more and more vendors are allowing end users to connect their devices to the cloud and have them view the images through a secured online portal. Moving forward this looks to be a good solution for private homes as with this solution it is not needed to make your cameras internet accessible but in the same time you would be able to view your live feeds from anywhere. In this case, the security of the solution also depends on the security of the vendor cloud environment.
We are currently performing research on the security of home surveillance systems and will post updates on this soon, so stay tuned!