Make Sure Prospective Customers Know the Dangers of DIY Security

Technical expert Bob Dolph says the industry has reached a pivotal point where we either educate the public on the institution of traditional security, or give up and retire.

Make Sure Prospective Customers Know the Dangers of DIY Security

One of the advantages of writing monthly on security technology for more than 18 years is the vantage point of seeing major technology trends. I started out in this industry in the 1970s with the introduction of the digital dialer and what I often call the Wild West of security technology.

I now start out the beginning of 2020 with the recognition of one of the biggest turning points in our security industry. As you may have guessed from your own recent experiences, it is finally the true emergence of the tech-savvy consumer and low-cost DIY wireless security products and systems.

Now first the good news. It has been reported that between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of small dealers (revenue less than $1 million) nearly doubled from 29% to 57%. Now for the bad news. According to a Parks Associates and SSI 2018 Residential Report, more than 60% of installing dealers report DIY systems biting into demand for their services.

Additionally, 74% of customers are asking for smart home services. However, 65% of dealers presently do not sell DIY security systems. It is now a pivotal point in our industry where we either educate the public on the institution of traditional security or we give up and retire.

Recently I saw a primetime TV ad about a popular DIY wireless doorbell system being promoted by a major sports celebrity. The ad was designed to convince the consumer to give up the cost of a professionally monitored alarm system in exchange for their DIY system.

First the customer must understand the risk priorities for residential security. Burglary is not No. 1 as many think. The biggest residential property loss is from water damage (are you selling this feature?). Next is fire, and then burglary. Any loss, of course, is time sensitive. The first few minutes of reporting and responding to a fire, or even water damage, is crucial.

There is an important reason our industry has evolved with top-rated monitoring services. The public has to be constantly reminded of these important issues. While wireless systems are convenient and economical to install, they are vulnerable to accidental incidents and deliberate compromise.

Traditional wired systems still have an important position in our industry. Anyone can do a simple search on YouTube for wireless system hacking and find many testimonials on how easily this can be done. A good example would be the Simple Jamming video by Pen Test Partners.

Some major wireless DIY alarm systems can easily be defeated with a $5 remote (433 MHz) transmitter. In fact, people are now being warned not to use the yard sign that identifies their DIY system so as not to point out the type of system and possible attraction to simple defeat.

Every professional alarm salesperson should have a basic video presentation kit on some of this competitive material. Why not at least present a hybrid solution? That could be reliable wireless devices for those retrofitted perimeter windows and doors, and then back everything up with wired interior motion, glass-break, smoke/fire sensors, controls and cameras.

Monitoring should be through anti-jam dual Internet and cellular devices. Reliable electrical and RF supervision should be provided on all devices and services. If communications fail, the alarm company must know and notify the customer. Wireless networks such as WiFi are extremely vulnerable to intermittent failure.

All should be aware that wireless devices come in many flavors. Some are:

One-way transmission — RF signal is sent in one direction from wireless alarm sensor to control receiver. Cheapest, easiest to fail and compromise. Used by many popular DIY systems.

Two-way transmission — Transmission is acknowledged by receiver. Better supervision and reduction of sensor battery drain from no repeated signals.

Spread-spectrum transmission — Sometimes referred to as frequency hopping. Multiple frequencies are transmitted. If one frequency is not being received the system will shift to another frequency. More reliable to counter RF interference and compromise. Originally designed for the military.

Transmission encryption — Basic sensor transmission can be read and duplicated by easily obtained devices, such as low cost (>$20) Universal Software Radio Peripherals (USRP) or the HackRF One. However, signal encryption can make this very difficult.

As security professionals, systems with the above features should be sought out and offered. Customers need to be made aware of vulnerabilities and the extra security your services can provide.

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Tool of the Month

Professionally installed wireless is possible with the right equipment. One important device, especially for large UL-Listed installations is a tester. The EN7017 Android & Apple Site Survey Kit and App from Inovonics easily fits this bill.

This kit provides security integrators with a wireless blueprint in advance of installing device, allowing the quick preparation of accurate quotes.

About the Author

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Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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