Make Sure Your Networked Security System Is Secure

One thing I know we sometimes fail to think about, if we’re not used to working in a networked environment, is the need to protect devices from attack. An important thing to remember is that anytime you allow a DVR or other security system access to the outside world via the Internet, it is vulnerable. Now, if that device is isolated from anything else, you may think you don’t need to be concerned. But as we’ll see, we need to be vigilant about network and computer security at all times.

Threats Come in Many Varieties
As I said, there may be some situations where you may be tempted to think your system is safe. You might be right. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand just what network security is all about. 

Before we go much further, let’s define some of the things for which we need to be on guard.

Virus — A virus can be defined as a small computer program that is written to cause anything from annoying messages to serious computer damage. It can create copies of itself to be spread across a network. A virus must be physically transferred by some medium, either on a disk, in an E-mail or by a viewing a malicious or compromised Web site.

Trojan horse — Unlike a virus, a Trojan horse does not insert its code into other files on a computer. It is a standalone program that looks benign until it is activated. Trojan horse programs can carry any type of payload, but are generally used to compromise security on a computer or network, to allow unauthorized access. It can often be disguised as a known application available for download off the Internet.

Worm — Another self-replicating program, a worm can propagate itself throughout a network without needing user intervention, unlike a virus, which needs to be moved from computer to computer manually in some way. A worm often causes the greatest damage simply by its propagation and taking up large amounts of available network bandwidth, often bringing E-mail servers or whole networks to a halt.

Hack — A hack is an actual assault on a machine or a network initiated by an attacker (hacker). It can originate from inside or outside a network. There are two general types of hackers. A black-hat hacker works to infiltrate networks for either personal gain or corporate/government espionage. A white-hat hacker attempts to gain entry to a network simply to achieve a goal, or even to provide security auditing and risk assessment, without harming the network or its owners.

Malware — Malware has become a catchall term to describe any type of code used to infiltrate a computer. It not only includes viruses and Trojans, but also adware and spyware, defined below.

Spyware — Spyware has become a serious problem with the proliferation of broadband access to the Internet. It (and its for-profit cousin, adware) consists of code installed on a computer by a user viewing a malicious Web site, or one that has been hacked and had spyware code installed on its server. Spyware applications generally either offer backdoor access to your computer, or they record and send information back to a central location. This information can be keystrokes, Web sites visited, or even credit card and logins/passwords for Web sites. 

Attacks can come in many ways. They may not be a direct assault on a machine or network. Malware can enter a network or machine indirectly of any action performed by a user. They may not even know, for instance, that the Web site they “surfed” wasn’t real. Trouble also doesn’t have to come in from the outside. Internal attacks are a very real threat, especially in security applications.

Look Inward as Well as Outward
Attacks initiated outside the network are certainly the most prolific. It is said, and demonstrated, that if an unprotected PC is connected to a broadband Internet link, that machine will be infected in some way within 20 minutes! Between spyware, adware and viruses, a computer can even be rendered inoperable within an hour. 

Not all trouble comes in from the outside, however. We are in an unusual circumstance in some ways. We are usually providing some sort of physical security (e.g. video) to fill a need. That need is quite often problems arising from inside a company or campus. What this means is we are also vulnerable from the inside, and need to guard against those types of compromises as well. 

We mentioned an example of a small, isolated network at the beginning. With just a DVR and a client computer connected together, and no other links to the outside world, it may not be necessary to fire up firewalls, install anti-spyware programs or implement other protections. But what about the “inside job?” 

How many times have you walked into an installation to find the DVR in an unlocked broom closet, or under a desk in an open shipping area? We spend a great deal of effort providing the customer with a security system for protection, with cameras covering every inch of retail space, watching every move a customer makes, but then we leave a huge hole that a ne’er-do-well employee can waltz right through. 

It wouldn’t take much to pull the plug on a DVR or camera power supply just long enough to make off with a large amount of valuable equipment (not to mention the DVR itself) and leaving behind no record of the infiltration.

Software Solutions Are Plentiful
While locking down a network or PC takes some degree of technical knowledge and skill, physically protecting the hardware just takes some common sense and thought. It doesn’t take much to provide a small, locking cabinet or lockbox in which to store the DVR. Also, using a plug-in transformer is probably not the most secure way of powering a camera, especially if it’s out in plain sight. As I said, just a little bit of foresight can eliminate a large amount of vulnerabilities.

So what about the device itself? What can we do to make it safer for the customer to have access to the outside world, or even just the rest of the company? Let’s take a look at the software-based solutions we have to consider. On the device itself, if it’s PC based, we have several options. In the Windows™ world, multiple solutions may be necessary. The first, and usually most obvious, is anti-virus software. This is an absolute necessity for the times in which we live. Most anti-virus program manufacturers will charge a recurring fee for updates to virus signatures (the file that identifies the type and location of the bug), but there are some free alternatives. 

AVG anti-virus™ has a personal use version that is free, but it also has licensed versions with more features for home and business use. I think most of the anti-virus programs out there today are pretty good. No one will catch everything, though. And also remember, it takes time for a virus to be spotted in the wild, and protection written for it. 

There are also several good versions of anti-spyware and anti-Adware programs out there for sale and for free. These are also very important, especially if the DVR or even the network itself has access to the Internet. 


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