How to protect IP surveillance cameras from Wi-Fi jamming

Gone are the days of criminals cutting camera wires to evade detection: with the proliferation of affordable internet-connected cameras, burglars must resort to Wi-Fi jamming.

surveillance cameras

Blocking the signal blinds the device and stalls home and business surveillance systems, which is concerning considering internet protocol (IP) cameras account for up to 40% of the surveillance market.

Let’s examine what’s happening and consider how users can ensure their cameras stay online in the face of tech-savvy burglars.

From analog to digital: a brief history of surveillance

Surveillance has come a long way since closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. Back in the day, analog systems recorded directly to tape. There were no signals to spoof or wireless systems to confuse.

Fast-forward a few decades, and the world’s gone digital, and surveillance cameras are far more affordable and available. These devices don’t require technical know-how or costly installation. Instead, they are often cheap cameras that connect via the internet. As a result, with a few cloud storage subscriptions and well-positioned devices, homes and businesses can “see” 24/7.

As I wrote late last year for Help Net Security, there’s also a video revolution in IoT, adding even more cameras to the mix. Nowadays, you don’t need to look far in the smart home or office to find a camera-enabled device. From smart ovens to doorbells, devices increasingly offer vision as a secondary feature. Unfortunately, these camera-enabled devices are now at risk thanks to burglars with increasing technical ability.

How burglars spoof surveillance signals

It was only a matter of time until would-be burglars exploited the weaknesses of IP cameras.

Minnesotan police recently reported a string of robberies using a Wi-Fi jammer to knock out connected security cameras. These jammers confuse devices by overloading wireless traffic so that real traffic (the video feed) cannot get through. Then, with no functioning camera, the criminal gang burglarized the homes essentially unseen.

There are a few elements of this story that sound alarm bells. First, this is not the first report of this happening. Look online and you’ll find stories since the start of this decade of surveillance cameras and camera-enabled devices suffering from jamming attacks.

Second, jammers are cheap, retailing on major digital distributors from as low as $50. Yes, they’re technically illegal, but that doesn’t stop criminals.

Third, most entry-level cameras – 99.9% in my estimation – are susceptible to this hack. The beauty of IP cameras is their simplicity but, in this instance, it’s also their weakness. They don’t have an analog backup or secondary transmission option. If the Wi-Fi signal is blocked, then the camera is useless.

Fight back with these camera customizations

It’s now up to users to respond to this threat and protect their cameras. Thankfully, it’s possible to fight back with a few relatively simple customizations.

First, look to integrate some power-over-ethernet cameras into your security mix. As the name implies, this type of camera receives power via ethernet cabling, thereby sending the video feed directly to the source. With no wireless communication, there’s no possibility of wireless spoofing.

This kind of solution is also possible with cameras that communicate with SIM cards over mobile networks. The mobile signal is far stronger and therefore harder to jam than Wi-Fi. But, be warned, this option is likely more expensive than power-over-ethernet.

Certainly, one element to keep in mind with the video surveillance evolution is that cloud storage costs can quickly get out of hand when dealing with large video files. Latency can also prove a problem. Power-over-ethernet solves both issues since it can record locally and directly, offering improved privacy, lower storage costs, and faster data transfer speeds.

Finally, set up your smart home to continuously check the status of your cameras. This is possible with a cloud-based IoT setup that checks whether or not the connection is “alive” at regular intervals. If the camera disconnects, the next status check will fail, and users can receive push notifications and investigate immediately. Knowing that your cameras are likely under attack and reacting quickly could be the difference between catching the culprits or not.

As this kind of surveillance spoofing gains traction, it’s up to home and business users to stay one step ahead. Don’t let burglars block your view.

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