Lasers Impact on Surveillance Cameras Tested

By: Derek Ward, Published on Sep 25, 2019

Hong Kong protests have brought global attention to video surveillance and the ongoing attempts of protesters to disable or undermine those cameras using lasers. But what impact do these lasers have?

free image2

IPVM bought and tested lasers on surveillance cameras to determine what impact they have:

  • Can lasers break surveillance cameras?
  • Can they temporarily blind them?
  • How hard are they to aim?
  • How powerful do they need to be?

Warning: This report has fast flashing lights that may cause discomfort or trigger seizures for those with photosensitive epilepsy.

This video overviews how we tested and what we found:

Summary: Difficult To Break Cameras

Our testing showed it is difficult to permanently damage surveillance cameras because:

  • Close range required: Permanent damage did not occur from distance of ~50 feet or further from the camera, regardless of the strength of the laser we tested.
  • Aiming by hand difficult: Targeting a laser towards a camera is difficult from more than ~10' away. Attaching the laser to a stationary object for aiming makes sensor damage much more likely.

Striking or shooting a camera is far more likely to damage a camera than using a laser.

Easy To Blind Cameras (Temporarily)

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

However, while substantially damaging a camera is hard, temporarily "blinding" it/obscuring subject was easy. Any laser aimed into the camera's lens or even hitting its dome causes drastic shifts in exposure, at least, and completely washed out or colored video at most. Temporarily blinding cameras was easily done from 50' and further, by hand, but easiest with the higher powered lasers due to their larger beam pattern.

Any Laser May Damage At Very Short Range

Finally, at close range (5-10'), even small <5 mW laser pointers using AAA batteries (e.g., the ones used to play with pets) were able to damage sensors, albeit only a few pixels at a time. High powered 30,000 mW lasers more quickly damaged sensors and in larger "chunks" of pixels, but were also able to effectively "cook" the camera, creating smoke within a few seconds of steady aiming.

Laser Physical Feature And Beam Differences

The lasers tested effectively fell into two groups:

  • Low power pointers (~1-5 mW): Low powered models are effectively the same as typical laser pointers that users are accustomed to, for presentation use or playing with pets. These models project a small point of light and run on AAA batteries typically.
  • High power laser (~30,000 mW tested): High power models use larger, more powerful diodes, projecting a wider beam which makes aiming and damaging cameras easier. The models we tested used rechargeable 3.7V batteries, not standard AA/AAA cells. Additionally, these models allow interchangeable lenses to be used, projecting multiple patterns, but we found that these patterns dispersed the laser significantly, making it far less effective.

We look at these two categories in this video:

The image below shows all the lasers bought and tested, ranging from small, pen-sized "pet" laser pointers, to a moderately larger firearm laser sight, to the largest models (30,000 mW) which were the size of a small flash light. We also tested a DC powered blue diode (far left) which required plug in power.

Pricing

Pricing ranges from ~$13 USD online for a three-pack of low powered laser pointers to almost $200 for the highest-powered 30,000 mW option.

Note that lasers are regulated in the US by the FDA. Those sold as "pointers" must be 5 mW or less, but there is no hard limitation on output power as long as product labels follow hazard guidelines.

Pricing for each laser purchased:

Minimal Sensor Damage From Long Range

At long range, aiming the laser accurately was very difficult, and not sufficient to do any consistent damage. We had to attach it to a rolling tripod to do significant damage.

Even when stabilized, the most damage the high powered 30,000 mW could do from ~45' was creating small amounts of dead pixels. For example, with the laser clamped to a tripod dolly, we created a line of dead pixels on the camera's imager:

What the image looked like after completing the walk across the FoV:

This type of damage is certainly annoying to the camera's owner, but subjects were still easily recognizable even with these dead pixels.

Damage From Close Range Possible With All Lasers

From close range, <10', damaging the sensor was possible with all lasers tested, with effects more severe.

For example, using one of the high powered lasers at ~5' creates entire rows and columns of dead pixels, shown here:

It is possible that, with persistence, enough of the sensor might be damaged to effectively break the camera, but even with this damage, subjects may still be recognized.

Similar effects were possible with the blue laser diode, which resulted in more burnt out vertical lines:

Finally, after attacking the camera with every laser at this range, there is significant damage done, but not enough to make the camera truly useless.

Note that the small pink/purple regions of dead pixels are due to the lower powered pet laser pointers and burnt out lines are due to high power models.

Prolonged Effects More Severe

Oddly, a few days later, the video quality became far worse.

We are unsure why this occurred, possibly the damaged pixels worsened over time or with more exposure to light.

Blinding Cameras Easy At Long Range

At long range, while disabling cameras is very difficult, if not impossible, we found it easy to temporarily blind them, obscuring subjects. Aiming the laser directly at the camera completely washes out the image. The rolling shutter type of effect seen below was common:

While the pet lasers were the weakest we had, we were able to temporarily blind the camera while shining the laser from distances of ~60' and longer while holding the lasers in our hands

While it is theoretically possible to move through the scene unnoticed if the laser is pointed away from the camera for more than a few seconds, the camera is likely to capture the subject.

Nighttime Performance Similar

At night time and low light, it was just as easy to blind a camera. Because most cameras now use integrated IR, visible to the human eye, this red glow effectively works as a beacon at night. Additionally, while cameras adjusted exposure fairly quickly back to "normal" during the day when the laser was removed, at night it took several seconds longer for exposure to correct, darkening the scene (~0.02 lux shown).

Prolonged Exposure Effects

If a high powered laser is aimed at a camera for several minutes, it is likely to physically damage the camera's lens or housing, most often disabling the camera in our tests.

For example, after aiming the 30,000 mW laser at this dome for about four minutes, the lens heated and cracked, making the entire field of view blurry. Additionally, only a few seconds' exposure melted the plastic surrounding the lens, which smoked.

In another camera, the heat of the laser broke the image sensor, making the image useless. It did not seem to suffer from the same dead pixel issues of other cameras we tested, but then totally failed.

Here is the final state of the sensor after the prolonged test:

Poll - Would you replace this camera?

Take a look at this image from a laser damaged camera:

Vote:

Comments (32) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Uniview Deep Learning Camera Tested on Jul 14, 2020
Uniview's intrusion analytics have performed poorly in our shootouts. Now,...
Vivotek LPR Camera Tested on Apr 15, 2020
Vivotek has historically sold license plate capture cameras but not LPR. Now,...
Integrated IR Camera Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 30, 2020
The best and worst cameras tested in this IPVM shootout showed major...
HLC Camera Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Uniview, Vivotek on Mar 02, 2020
Highlight Compensation (HLC) claims to reduce the effects of strong light...
Video Analytics 101 on Mar 16, 2020
This guide teaches the fundamentals of video surveillance...
Last Chance - Spring 2020 IP Networking Course - Register Now on May 06, 2020
This is the last chance to register for the only networking course designed...
Dahua Smart Motion Detection Camera Tested on Mar 03, 2020
Dahua has introduced Smart Motion Detection, AI-based VMD, claiming to use an...
TVT / InVid White Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Mar 18, 2020
With mega China manufacturers Dahua and Hikvision facing both bans and human...
Video Surveillance Trends 101 on Apr 01, 2020
This report examines major industry factors and how they could impact video...
Cheap Camera Problems at Night on Feb 19, 2020
Cheap cameras generally have problems at night, despite the common perception...
Video Surveillance History on May 06, 2020
The video surveillance market has changed significantly since 2000, going...
ZKTeco Body Temperature and Mask Detection Reader Tested on May 26, 2020
While dedicated fever cameras emerged first, now tablet/kiosk fever detectors...
Hanwha Wisenet X Plus PTRZ Tested on Feb 14, 2020
Hanwha has released their PTRZ camera, the Wisenet X Plus XNV-6081Z, claiming...
NetApp Video Surveillance Profile on Mar 09, 2020
NetApp is increasing its efforts in video surveillance and told IPVM...
Tiandy Super Starlight Cameras Tested on Apr 30, 2020
Tiandy is taking aim at China competitors Dahua and Hikvision, with a new...

Recent Reports

Dangerous Hikvision Fever Camera Showcased by Chilean City on Aug 07, 2020
Deploying a fever camera outdoors, in the rain, with no black body, is...
"Grand Slam" For Pelco's PE Firm, A Risk For Motorola on Aug 07, 2020
The word "Pelco" and "grand slam" have not been said together for many years....
FLIR Stock Falls, Admits 'Decelerating' Demand For Temperature Screening on Aug 07, 2020
Is the boom going to bust for temperature screening? FLIR disappointed...
VSaaS Will Hurt Integrators on Aug 06, 2020
VSaaS will hurt integrators, there is no question about that. How much...
Dogs For Coronavirus Screening Examined on Aug 06, 2020
While thermal temperature screening is the surveillance industry's most...
ADT Slides Back, Disappointing Results, Poor Commercial Performance on Aug 06, 2020
While ADT had an incredible start to the week, driven by the Google...
AHJ / Authority Having Jurisdiction Tutorial on Aug 06, 2020
One of the most powerful yet often underappreciated characters in all of the...
SIA Coaches Sellers on NDAA 889B Blacklist Workarounds on Aug 05, 2020
Last month SIA demanded that NDAA 899B "must be delayed". Now that they have...
ADI Returns To Growth, Back To 'Pre-COVID Levels' on Aug 05, 2020
While ADI was hit hard in April, with revenue declining 21%, the company's...
Exposing Fever Tablet Suppliers and 40+ Relabelers on Aug 05, 2020
IPVM has found 40+ USA and EU companies relabeling fever tablets designed,...
Indian Government Restricts PRC Manufacturers From Public Projects on Aug 04, 2020
In a move that mirrors the U.S. government’s ban on Dahua and Hikvision...
Directory of 201 "Fever" Camera Suppliers on Aug 04, 2020
This directory provides a list of "Fever" scanning thermal camera providers...
Face Masks Increase Face Recognition Errors Says NIST on Aug 04, 2020
COVID-19 has led to widespread facemask use, which as IPVM testing has shown...
Dahua Loses Australian Medical Device Approval on Aug 04, 2020
Dahua has cancelled its medical device registration after "discussions" with...
Google Invests in ADT, ADT Stock Soars on Aug 03, 2020
Google has announced a $450 million investment in the Florida-based security...