Stopping Surveillance 'Videojacking'

By: John Honovich, Published on Feb 16, 2011

A rising fear among security professionals is that surveillance video can be 'hijacked' and put on the Internet, resulting in embarassment or worse for the organization involved. A number of people are calling for more sophisticated and secure techniques to protect surveillance video. Unfortunately, such techniques do little to address the real risk and key threats to surveillance video.

A good example of the common but faulty recommendations offered can be found in a Feb 2011 Retail Solutions Online article [link no longer available] where end to end encryption from the camera through the monitoring client is advocated. While this is technically possible (in at least some systems) and may be important for proving the validity of evidence in court, it does little to address the threat of videojacking.

Most of the videos that are embarassing or hurting organizations are coming via mobile phones - either directly recording an incident (e.g., the Seattle police fight) or by filming the screen of a computer playing surveillance video (e.g., the Pennsylvania fountain case). Phones provide an easy and quick way to capture and share surveillance video.

Phones are a much more dangerous threat towards sharing surveillance video than hackers. With phones, there's no need to be a technology expert or network hacker to access the video. Just be inside the premises or the security monitoring center and click record on your phone. By contrast, hacking surveillance systems is a lot of work for relatively little gain compared to what else one can access on a corporate network (see our review/discussion on Is Hacking IP Cameras a Major Risk?).

To stop misuse of phones, we see 2 fundamental options:

  • Physically restrict people from having phones in areas where there is surveillance
  • Strengthen access control to video surveillance systems

The first option is generally not feasible unless you are in a maximum security area. As such, the second option, controlling access to surveillance systems is key. Many users leave their surveillance monitoring stations on all day. While this increases convenience and is often important to let people quickly look in on what's happening in a facility, unrestricted access means that someone with a phone can capture surveillance video in a minute. 

Tactics to restrict access include limiting the rights of operators to access recorded video and automatically timing out users after inactivity. Equally important and very basic, in surveillance, too often users share common username/passwords ('guard' and 'guard' or 'admin' or 'admin'). This makes auditing extremely difficult while increasing the chance that unwanted people access the system.

Because of mobile phones, stopping videojacking will not be easy. The most practical way to impact this is through improved access control to video, not encryption.

1 report cite this report:

Wireless Video Surveillance Hijacking Threat on Mar 25, 2011
An Australian investigative report is highlighting the risk that video surveillance systems face from wireless hijacking. In this note, we examine...
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