How to Prevent Security Cameras from Being Hacked

Posted October 14, 2020 by Koorsen Fire & Security

Cyber Security Hacking Cameras

With the increasing benefits of using wi-fi and smart technologies, there are also increasing security risks.

Many do not realize how the internet of things (IoT) – essentially any item that is connected to the internet, especially those that "talk" to each other, such as Echo Dots, Fitbits, smart refrigerators, smart thermostats, baby monitors, etc. – puts their security at risk.

Ironically, in some cases, it can be the very items that you purchase to protect you, such as security cameras, that can also be used to gain illegal and ill-intended access.

In this post, you will learn specifically about why and how someone would hack a security camera system and what measures you can take to protect yourself.

Why Would Someone Hack a Security Camera? What Is At Stake?

There are a few reasons someone may want to hack into a security camera system, and not all of them are bad.

White hat hackers – aka, the good guys – are individuals whose full-time job is hacking to find and exploit vulnerabilities in programs and equipment. When they find these weak points, they alert the manufacturers to make corrections and strengthen the security. These updates prevent black hat hackers – the bad guys – from finding the vulnerability first and using it maliciously.

Often, these white hat events get publicized. It may not always be easy to tell that the event was a deliberate one on the manufacturer's part to find and fix potential weaknesses. Still, the point of going public with the discovery is to let consumers know that a vulnerability was found and that a fix has been developed and made available.

So, the first reason someone may attempt to hack your security camera system is to help make it stronger.

However, there are other malicious reasons why someone might attempt to hack security cameras. The purpose typically falls into one of two categories:

  • Access to High-Powered Processors: the first purpose may come as a surprise, but for many black hat hackers, they seek to hack security cameras (or other IoT items) to gain access to the manufacturer's incredibly powerful processors that are used to run these devices.

    In essence, they want to use the power of the processors within the cameras as a tool. In recent years, many embedded Linux devices were hacked so that their processors could be used for mining bitcoin, which requires a lot of processing power.

    In these cases, it is not a direct attack, and the company or individual utilizing the cameras may not experience a data breach. However, their resources are being used by an outside source, and that activity would be traced back to their devices' processor, so it is still not ideal.

  • Access to Sensitive Data: the second and more obvious purpose behind hacking into security cameras is to export protected data stored in the network that the cameras are connected to.

    Since today's security cameras are connected into the user's network, providing all of the conveniences of real-time monitoring from smart phones or tablets, those cameras also provide a pathway into the said network for hackers savvy enough to find and tap into it.

    A hacker may want to get access to a corporation's trade secrets, or they may be after the personal data of a company's employees to launch phishing attacks, or they may be on the hunt for financial information, among other usable data.

    These are direct attacks on the users, and unfortunately, there are numerous ways and levels to which a hacker may attempt the attack.

How are Security Cameras Hacked?

First, it's important to understand that a hacking job that succeeds in accessing and exporting data happens in phases – hacking into a device and then gaining the deepest levels of data from your network cannot be accomplished in one easy step.

This difficulty in hacking is to your – the user's – advantage. But knowing the steps can help you better protect yourself from a devastating hacking event and appreciate why you need many layers of protection.

  • Phase one is simply finding the device and gaining access to it. Access to the device does not necessarily automatically grant the hacker access into the network. It just gives them access to whatever may be contained on that individual camera or device.

    However, what a hacker may find is an email address and/or a password used to access the camera.

    At this point is where a second stage of the attack begins.

  • Phase two of a hacking attack uses whatever information was gathered from accessing the camera to gain further information and access.

    A hacker could use the email address to begin a phishing attack on that person, or send them an email with malware, which could then give them access to that individual's computer if opened.

    If the hacker's email is successful, then they could gain access to and control of the computer used to open the email and the deeper levels of data contained on it and the network it is connected to. The hacker could access all files on the computer, see all keystrokes (and therefore determine other passwords), and quickly access sensitive information.

  • Phase three of a hacking attack could involve entering directly into the network through the device if it is connected to the network.

    While many smart devices shouldn't be granted access directly through a firewall and into the network, security cameras that offer the user the ability to connect remotely to view live footage-a pathway into the network is necessary to gain that remote access.

    This pathway means that, if proper measures are not used to secure the pathway opened up through the remote access, a hacker could find that pathway from the device into the user's network. If the only thing protecting that pathway is a password, they may be able to quickly get past it and gain access to other devices and information within the network.

Fortunately, there are many things users can do to protect themselves from successful hacking attempts.

How Do You Prevent Your Cameras from Being Hacked?

From properly setting up your cameras on their own network, to practicing good pass-word setting habits, to being smart about what emails you open, there are many steps you can take to protect your personal information.

If the following measures are correctly executed, even if a hacker did manage to find one of your cameras, it would not have to mean that he or she would succeed in accessing your sensitive data.

  • Use Different Networks: keep your security cameras on one network, and your data on another. This is suggested anyway since security camera systems require so much bandwidth that it would slow your data network down. But this step would also protect your sensitive data by isolating the camera system away from it on another network. Even if the cameras were accessed, that access would limit the hacker to the cameras.

    The recorder could still be connected with the user's network so that that video footage could be viewed remotely, but that would only be one point at which the video system is connecting with the user's network instead of multiple points for each camera. That single point could be heavily controlled and protected to ensure it is not a place of vulnerability for the whole network.

  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network): similar to the above solution, but more secure, would be using a VPN. A VPN is ideal if you are a user who intends to remotely access your security cameras and footage regularly.

    Each time you do remote access, you open up a pathway between the device and your internal network. While porting in a firewall would provide a bit of protection, it does not do anything to hide the pathway created when you access the internal network from a remote device. It would be like opening the front door to your firewall and the password being the only guard at the door.

    A VPN, however, will connect that device to your network through an encrypted connection, making it extremely secure. This connection would be like having a secret backdoor from the device into your network. While a connection between the device and network is still created during remote access, since it would be encrypted, that pathway would essentially be invisible and impenetrable.

  • Use Cloud Access: if you cannot set up a VPN just for your security camera devices, then the next best option would be to utilize cloud access functions. Many manufacturers now offer cameras that utilize the manufacturer's services and a cloud access option.

    In this situation, the devices, their control, and their recorded footage are hosted on a heavily secured and monitored server that you, the end-user, can access via the cloud. So, instead of hosting the devices directly within your network, or in such a way that a hacker can gain direct access by tapping into your device, your devices are hosted on a server outside of your network – like an offsite meeting place.

    Should someone manage to find a way to hack into your cameras, they would be within a highly secured and monitored network, which means they would likely be caught sooner and be much more limited to what damage they could inflict. They would not be anywhere near your network.

    Meanwhile, you would still have the convenience of accessing your security cameras remotely but without the risk of that access opening a pathway into your network.

  • Port Forwarding: this is the simplest, and therefore the least secure and most commonly exploited option for securing your security cameras.

    Port forwarding is essentially just keeping up your firewall, and each time you remotely connect to a camera or recorder, a port through your firewall into your network is opened. Only a password protects that open port.

    In essence, when you connect remotely, you open the firewall's front door, and any hacker around can see the door is opened. The only thing stopping them from coming through the door is the password. If your password is weak, or if you never changed it from the manufacturers pre-set, getting through the open door will be incredibly easy for most hackers.

    The reason a simple port forwarding into your firewall is less secure than a VPN or a cloud access approach is because hackers who are looking can easily see when the port – the front door into your network – is opened. That's their opportunity to start attempting to get through the door by trying passwords until they gain access.

    With a VPN or cloud, the pathway connecting your device to your network is hidden because it is either encrypted or is going through an outside meeting place (the secured server). Rather than opening your front door, you're, in a sense opening some hidden door or a secret pathway that's hard to even find in the first place.

    However, if using VPN is out of the question and your security cameras' manufacturers do not provide a cloud access option, then port forwarding is the best thing you can do. And creating very secure and regularly updated passcodes that cannot be guessed or easily repeated should be a regular practice.

  • Be Password Savvy: whether you use a VPN, a separate network, a cloud access option, or just a port forwarding option, one of the best and easiest things you can do to increase the security of your devices is to create secure passwords.

    Secure passwords:
    • Are NOT the manufacturer's pre-set
    • Are ones not used for any of your other devices, profiles, or accounts
    • Are not easily guessed (first and last names, birthdates, 1234, etc.)
    • Are frequently changed

Creating secure passwords goes a long way in preventing hackers from gaining access to your devices and network.

  • Stay on Top of Updates: constantly be checking for updates for your devices and your network routers. The manufacturers will often find vulnerabilities and provide patches for them; you have to perform the updates on your devices to get the new security level.

Again, just because a hacker can find one of your devices doesn't mean their attempt has to be successful. Take the above steps to secure your devices and your data.

Need Help Securing Your Security Cameras?

If you have a security camera system but are unsure that it has all of the available updates or is set up in the most secure way, contact a Koorsen security expert who will check for updates and advise you on ways to improve security.

If you are not yet a Koorsen customer but are considering updating or installing a new security system, give the experts at Koorsen a call to get answers to all of your security questions.

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Topics: Commercial Security, Small Business Security, Video Surveillance

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.