It’s Time to Embrace Closed Circuit Systems

Compromising basic wireless security systems will become an increasingly important topic of discussion.

BACK in October 2014, I made a prediction in an SSI article, “Why Wireless Is the Wild West of Security,” about the burgeoning yet potentially hazardous impact of wireless communications in the electronic security industry. At that time I reported on the design and manufacture of a new, inexpensive open-source software-defined radio (SDR) transceiver called HackRF One.

My exact quote was: “Can we see in the near future an inexpensive scanning module that can be left at a residential or even commercial location for a few days, then picked up by the thief and in a few keystrokes a complete analysis of a wireless system is performed?”

Not too long after, SSI Associate Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Scott Goldfine in his December 2015 Between Us Pros column commented, “Today’s technology is causing some to forget what true access control and surveillance are all about. Out of laziness or ignorance there has been a dumbing down of deployments – often aided and abetted by wireless technology – such that overly basic designs are implemented.”

Because of recent developments in SDR hacking projects, I can now say with a good level of certainty that common technical compromise of basic fully wireless security will become an increasing topic of concern for current and future alarm system customers.

Recently, it was reported that a Dr. Andrew Zonenberg, a senior consultant at IOActive, had demonstrated the compromise of a popular do-it-yourself (DIY) wireless alarm system. Zonenberg showed that with this particular system one could use basic open-source hardware and software, bought for $50-$250, to harvest PINs and turn alarms off up to 200 yards away.

In another demonstration of wireless security vulnerability, security expert and hacking authority Samy Kamkar during last year’s DEF CON23 Hacking Conference revealed new research and real attacks in the area of wirelessly controlled gates, garages and cars. Kamkar noted that all of these are subject to attack with low-cost tools (such as RTL-SDR, GNU Radio, HackRF, Arduino – try Google if you are unfamiliar – and even a $20 Mattel toy).

Additionally, the Internet is littered with videos that show virtually every step of how to assemble these basic hacker systems. In many cases the hardware and software is open-source, which is an invitation to today’s hobbyists, hackers and criminals.

What can a security pro do to counter these present and future wireless security concerns? It is now time to embrace a proven security concept, and that is the “closed circuit” system.

At the bare minimum, wireless systems should be installed where the remote keypad and at least one key interior motion sensors are wired to the control panel. This way at least a basic core system cannot be hacked by wireless methods. This can be a strong, competitive selling point.

One final note on closed circuit electrical supervision: Many of us have also drifted away from end of line (EOL) resistors, which are to be mounted at the end of the sensor circuit and not in the panel. These provide more than just detection of tampering. The orientation provides a proven method for detecting opens or shorts that can arise from construction, wear and tear, and even hungry attic rodents looking for tasty cable.

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About the Author

Bob Dolph

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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