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Feeling vulnerable?
April 2018, Cyber Security, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

One could be forgiven for being sick and tired of hearing about cybersecurity, as it seems to be everywhere, all the time. Unfortunately, we are in an era when access to everything provides almost endless opportunities for the criminally inclined to practice their craft. And sadly, many of the cyber criminals out there are very skilled at getting what they want out of other people’s systems. But blaming the bad guys is not the solution, you can’t stop those with criminal intent, only make it hard enough for them to commit a crime that they look for alternatives.

If your bank said it would still honour stolen credit cards and continued to issue cards that were easily cloned without any form of security in place because they were cheap, you would have a problem and blame the bank for poor security practices. However, when a surveillance product, be it a camera, DVR or NVR has a proven security vulnerability, few people seem to worry about installing these devices on their networks and connecting them to a management platform and even their smartphones. And upgrading the firmware seems to be out of the question as well.

It wasn’t too long ago that a botnet was used to launch distributed denial of services attacks on some large Internet properties using thousands of surveillance devices around the world, among other devices. Since then we have seen almost every surveillance vendor announcing vulnerabilities in their kit (or being exposed as having vulnerabilities), with some even under accusation that these were not vulnerabilities but backdoors that would allow third parties easy access to cameras or DVRs or NVRs, and therefore to the user’s network.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked two local surveillance brands for some input into what the real threats users face are, and what their companies are doing to assist users in combatting these risks. Starting out, we asked what types of security vulnerabilities we are really finding in surveillance products today and what damage can be done if someone exploits them and gets into your network and/or server?

Roy Alves, country manager at Axis Communications, takes a pragmatic approach, noting that most of the security breaches reported have been due to insecure credentials and/or poor configurations of products (such as not changing the default password). There are, of course, other types of vulnerabilities that are difficult to mitigate, like the zero-day flaws that nobody is initially aware of, not even the software/hardware developers.

However, he adds, “Just to clarify, exploitation does not start from the end-points of a surveillance system, i.e. cameras, but on the network itself. Hackers won’t be able to reach the surveillance product unless they are already in the network.

“In terms of damage, it depends on the attacker’s motivation which can range from simple curiosity to monetary motives. The most extreme will be bringing down the whole network as seen from recent attacks on hospitals or to erase the corporate database.”

Modern surveillance systems are following the international trend of being an IoT (Internet of Things) device, says Franz Kersten, channel manager at Panasonic SA. “As an IoT device, there is the risk of being compromised and forced to act as a gateway to personal information or other sensitive data.

“Gaining access, as we know, is not just limited to the device, but also opens a path to the rest of the network on which this device runs. The risk is therefore not about losing your camera, but all the information on the shared platform on which the surveillance system runs.”

When looking at purchasing surveillance equipment, he advises buyers to do their homework. The buyer should check out the brand and the system installer to make sure the money spent is going to provide a safe and secure solution.

Alves expands on this, noting that buyers should check if the devices they are purchasing can fit into their cybersecurity policy and support features like, HTTPS, digital certificates, IEEE802.1x, password strength verification, etc. “Remember that surveillance products only inherit the security of the network they are added to. Axis has a self-assessment page on our website that helps buyers know more about the security of their devices.”

Firmware: old faithful

One of the primary mechanisms used to protect surveillance technology (you can’t really install antivirus on a camera) is to ensure your firmware (the low-level code that makes the device function) is up to date. The question is, how often is firmware checked in the majority of surveillance installations? How many users know to check this? And do your installer or integrators make the effort to check?

Axis has set up a process of continuously monitoring its products in the field to find issues during their actual operation. When it comes to cybersecurity flaws, there is a reporting process available where vulnerability researchers can reach out to report problems discovered in the product. A webpage is also dedicated for reporting any product security related issues.

Alves notes, “The frequency of updating device firmware will greatly depend on the company’s service or maintenance policy as it needs to consider downtime when updating device firmware.”

In the case of Panasonic, in most instances an announcement is made to the channel. Kersten says there is also another step installers and integrators can take, and that is to appoint a champion in the company to keep abreast with the developments in the market and take proactive action to evaluate and, if satisfied with the quality and stability of the upgrade, rollout the updated firmware.

Pre-empting the issues

Of course, it would be far better if the manufacturers simply made sure there were no problems from the start. Sadly, this is simply not possible, given the complexity of the technology. It also doesn’t provide an excuse for the manufacturers. Alves believes the number of critical flaws in design and implementation that could potentially be used as attacked vectors depends on the maturity of the development organisation.

“It is not the products that are the problem, it is the organisation behind them. The hard part of this is to maintain a high quality level over a longer period of time considering that attack vectors, threat actors and so on, change over time. Doing a vulnerability audit during assessment does not say much of the risks the system may face over the next 10 years.”

From the Axis perspective, Alves says the policy is to apply as much best practice as possible and share knowledge and experience within the organisation. “All standards are just a collection of best practices; building experience and maturity takes time.” Alves expands:

• One ‘standard’ that Axis’s R&D has been looking into while working on improving ourselves is BSIMM (Built-Security-In-Maturity-Model). This is a self-assessment with a number of questions such as “Have you observed within your organisation that you…?”

• Another one is ISO 27001 that focuses on helping organisations protect their own assets. (Source code is an asset.)

• Secure coding is also a best practice that helps describe how to design and code your software to reduce risks.

Axis uses the above to define the Axis Secure Development Process.

“After this, it is up to the system owner to follow best practices over the whole life cycle. The risk of flaws in products are pretty modest compared to the risks due to inadequate policies and processes of system life-cycle management.”

From Panasonic’s perspective, Kersten says the company has joined with Symantec, an independent organisation with a good reputation for developing and implementing counter cyber threat systems. Selected cameras in the Panasonic range, together with NVRs and the VMS have secure communications embedded. There is no user interface or portal where one can log in and adjust the settings.

The secure communications feature is a data encryption tool that prevents data leaking or the devices being used as a gateway or as a means to an end. Moreover, continuous research is being done to develop and improve this feature going forward.

For more information, contact:

• Franz Kersten, Panasonic South Africa, +27 (0)11 312 7015,,

• Sasha Bonheim, Axis Communications, +27 (0)11 548 6780,,

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