5 Tips for Surveillance System Cybersecurity

By Zachary Amos •  Updated: 08/28/22 •  5 min read

Surveillance systems have a critical weakness today: cybersecurity. All too often, physical security systems are forgotten in cybersecurity measures. However, these devices can pose a major threat and a major vulnerability. Luckily, securing surveillance systems is possible. There are a few key tips that can help and some primary threats everyone should be aware of.

Why Surveillance Systems Need Cybersecurity

Surveillance systems can often slip through the cracks when it comes to cybersecurity. After all, surveillance devices are security equipment themselves. However, these devices are not operating in a vacuum.

More and more surveillance equipment today is IP-connected, hooked up to the internet, or part of IoT device networks. Connected surveillance devices can be efficient and offer some helpful benefits for users, but they also pose cybersecurity risks by being connected to the internet and other devices.

It is worth noting that smart home surveillance equipment can also be in danger. Smart home devices use IoT technology to connect a whole home through the internet. This offers some great benefits, but it also means home security systems are at risk of being hacked.

Surveillance System Hacks

Surveillance systems can be hacked in a variety of ways. They can sometimes be used as weapons in larger attacks. One of the most infamous examples of this is the 2016 Mirai botnet attack that used DDoS to lock down major websites like Amazon and Twitter for almost an entire day.

The primary weapon used in the attack was IoT CCTV cameras and routers. The hackers hijacked these devices and roped them into the botnet, which carried out their DDoS attack. Shockingly, the attackers released the Mirai botnet source code on the internet after their successful attack.

If surveillance systems can be hijacked to run a malicious botnet like this, there’s no telling what else hackers could do. For instance, a hacker could hijack a camera feed to make it loop a segment of normal footage to cover somebody breaking into a physical location. Protecting surveillance systems is critical for physical and digital security.

Tips for Resilient Surveillance Cybersecurity

All of this can sound pretty grim, but there are some concrete steps anyone can take to strengthen their surveillance system cybersecurity.

1. Remember Camera Passwords

Security cameras themselves need dedicated protection, especially IP-connected cameras and IoT cameras. When using these types of connected surveillance cameras, make sure to choose one with an encrypted signal. This way, footage getting relayed by the camera has a layer of protection over it.

Additionally, it is important to use device-level encryption on cameras. Make sure to use complex, unique passwords for this, as well. One of the vulnerabilities the Mirai botnet attack exploited was the use of 60 of the most common passwords. To avoid falling victim to strategies like this, cameras need complex passwords and encryption, protecting the firmware on the device.

2. Install an Emergency Power Supply

A power outage can leave surveillance systems critically vulnerable to physical and digital attacks.

Installing a backup power supply specifically for the surveillance system is the best way to protect security gear from power outage weak spots. This prevents communication and security protocols on the surveillance equipment from being interrupted, potentially opening a window for hackers to gain physical or digital access.

3. Protect Footage Data Storage

In addition to securing individual surveillance devices, remember cybersecurity measures for the footage coming off those devices. Hackers could potentially tamper with it or steal it for ransom if this footage is not protected effectively.

Whether the footage is stored in the cloud or a physical server, ensure the storage resources have limited access. That is, retain access to security footage data to only those personnel who absolutely need it and ensure their accounts and login credentials are secure. This will minimize the risk of compromised credentials, allowing hackers access to security footage data.

4. Practice Zero-Trust Security

Zero-trust cybersecurity is the way to go in today’s threat landscape. This approach to cybersecurity assumes a network is always at risk and minimizes that risk by strictly limiting access to various parts of the network. With a surveillance system, this could mean running the surveillance equipment on a separate network from the one local PCs and other devices use.

Similarly, create a separate login identity for streaming the surveillance video footage. Administrator login credentials should only be used for system maintenance on surveillance devices. Most of the time, keeping the devices on a lower-level login identity limits the risk that a hacker could use that device to get into a higher-level login identity.

Network segmentation works with smaller-scale surveillance systems, such as smart home security systems. In this case, a smart video doorbell or smart security system could be connected to an isolated, highly secure Wi-Fi network that isn’t used for anything else in the house.

5. Raise Staff and Team Member Awareness

Lastly, remember the people working and living with the surveillance system daily. People can be either a great strength or a crippling weakness in cybersecurity. All too often, hackers initially gain access to systems by tricking people into giving away credentials using phishing tactics.

Educating everyone on recognizing and defending against these traps is one of the best ways to keep hackers out of security systems altogether. Experts have identified cybersecurity training as one of the top security trends today. This applies to smart homes, as well. Some topics to cover in any cybersecurity awareness training include secure password creation, signs of a phishing email, antivirus software, and ground rules for giving out the Wi-Fi login info.

Protecting Video Surveillance Systems

Protecting video surveillance systems requires vigilance, but these tips can make it easier to manage. Remember – physical security equipment is not immune to cyberattacks. Defending against device hijacking and botnet attacks is a matter of simply layering security. Protect the devices that protect the building and its network security.

Zachary Amos

Zachary is a tech writer and the features editor of ReHack Magazine where he covers cybersecurity and all things technology.