Dangers of Deleting Surveillance Video

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 20, 2010

In this update, we examine the risks of deleted surveillance video and best practices / settings to minimize this problem.

Fairly regularly, a news story emerges about surveillance video of a criminal incident mysteriously disappearing. In March 2010, surveillance video went missing of an American football star accused of rape. In April 2010, the University of Maryland reported that surveillance video of a civil disturbance was lost. In the Mayland case, officials noted that the video automatically overwrites older video and that somehow a 2 minute gap appeared in the exported video.

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** ******* ****** *** *** ******* ************* ****** *** ****** video ****** (***** ************* ***** **, ***** ***). ** ********, **** ******* ***** users ** *** *** ******* ******* ******** ** ***** ** which ***** ***** **** ** ********* **** ** ***** ******* (e.g., ** **** ******* ** ***, ***** **** ** ** days *** ** ******* **** ** *** ** ******* ** 'free').

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Storage ******** ** ******: A number of systems have settings where you can adjust the maximum storage duration independently by camera. The advantage of this is greater flexibility to keep video from certain 'high risk' cameras longer than 'lower' risk. The downside is increased confusion or risk that someone forgets or allows video to be over-written (e.g., they did not realize that camera 3 is only set to 7 day storage but camera 4 is set to 14 days).

No ****** ***** ****** ** ****** *****: Very rarely do VMS systems allow users to delete video from within the application. It's highly uncommon to find a 'delete video' button inside the client application. This provides some safeguard against accidental or malicious deletion.

Accessing ********* ***** ***** ** ******: In most traditional appliances (e.g., DVRs), it was either not possible or very difficult to access the stored video files directly. This provided additional barriers against a malicious user from deleting video. However, most VMS systems by default, allow any user who can access the VMS server to go to the the folder(s) where video is stored and manually delete video with a click of the button. This is an especially important risk if you are concerned about an admin or technician having motivation to do so.

Locking ***** / ******** **** ******** *****: While exporting video is the most common way of ensuring that surveillance video is not lost, some VMS systems allow you to flag or mark video segments to prevent them from being deleted in the normal FIFO / oldest video cycle. One practical downside is that the implementation of this feature requires marking each camera and time frame individually so it can be cumbersome to simply set all video from a 1 day or 1 hour to be locked.

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  • Restrict ******/****** **** ****** ***** ***********: Make sure that surveillance video cannot be easily manually deleted from the server it is stored. Implement restrictions on accessing these files. Downside is that it requires some IT expertise.
  • Lock ***** ** **** ********: As soon as you believe an incident might require investigation, lock the video to prevent automatic deletion. Downside is that many systems do not support this feature and it still requires an operator to know how to use the feature. Upside is that it can be done quicker and for broader time frames than exporting to file, CD or DVD.
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