Only a few short years ago a CCTV security system was a standalone unit, now it is more than likely to be integrated into the backbone of a building's IT network. With these changes, what are the new risks and vulnerabilities? Jeff Berg assesses the vulnerabilities of network-based CCTV.
Not so long ago the main complaints about CCTV failure were fairly mundane; 'someone's spray painted the camera', 'someone's stolen the camera', 'the VCR has eaten the tape', 'Maureen has spilt tea in the multiplexer'. With a network type system, there are more high tech worries, especially if it shares your internal PC network or has a wireless node or a broadband connection. So when an opportunity to explore these vulnerabilities came along it seemed like a good idea to exploit it.
Hacking and all that
A couple of years back a letter landed on my desk advertising a 'Hacking Course'; it was expensive, more than double normal rates, but we (myself and my software application engineer, Howard) were doing nothing that November so we signed up for it. Well, we arrived at the venue and met the dozen or so attendees on the course. All of them said they were attending to explore the current vulnerability of their computer networks, maybe, but you could tell there were other motives, and was anyone here from MI5?
The course leader had been hacking from a very early age, and admitted to being out playing football when the police arrived at the family home and had very nearly mistakenly carted his father off to the local nick. From that day he turned away from the dark side and earned his money testing the security of companies' networks.
At this point let me explain about hats. In simple terms a hacker might describe himself as a black hat, or a white hat. A black hat hacker is one that will maliciously attack networks causing as much damage as possible. A white hat is a good guy generally working to test the integrity of his systems and hence build better protection against hacking attacks.
I looked across at Howard and his previously white hat was already becoming grey at the edges.
The course itself was worth every penny, we spent all day hacking into a protected network, came away with a CD full of utilities and the realisation that we had learned more about network security in a day than we had done in the last four years.
By the way, if any of you are contemplating a career change, a R1 million-a-year salary is the going rate for this kind of job in London.
The next day at work was testing time, after the childish switching off of PCs at random, finding out how much everyone earned and deleting the holiday lists, it was time to settle down to some real work.
Hacking a video server
The next step was "what can we do with an attack on a video server?" Well you can shut it down, wipe all the images, change the passwords, virtually anything you like. But most dangerous of all we could gain access to the video server, and from there break into the company network, it was wide open. This was a serious security breach as it bypassed the normal firewalls on the network, effectively a perfect back door.
Now we had identified a potential breach in security we just had to try the same thing with our competitor's video servers. Oops - a very similar result, although to tell you who, what and where would most likely involve a very long stay in the type of institution where you do not pick the soap up off the floor in the communal showers.
So we showed the software development team what could be done by a half-interested hacker. There was literally a stunned silence followed by a string of repeated expletives mostly beginning with 'f'.
One week later we had a fully implemented firewall across the whole range of equipment. The loopholes were closed one by one, the units could be ping disabled making them invisible on the network, logs of every legal and illegal access were made, ports could be individually disabled, access only accepted from named IP addresses. Locked down tight, as they say in the trade.
The big test
So next thing was to try it all out in anger. We put the unit up on a fixed IP address accessible on the Internet and went home, the challenge being to see who could hack into the unit. Well we did try, all weekend, but it was 'locked down tight'. Monday morning we looked at the log file to see if it had recorded the illegal access attempts. We had a big surprise, the log file was huge, our attempts at access were there but so was a third party's - we tracked them down to Singapore, it looked like robotic software that finds a new Internet address and then hammers it automatically until it either breaks in or gives up for want of something better to do. Over 17 000 attempts at breaking in seems like a little too much activity for a casual hacker. But then that is the reality of living on the Internet, it is a dangerous place and one day someone is going to hit you, not for profit, not for gain, just for a little malicious fun.
So the advice is lock everything down, make sure an IP enabled CCTV has its own firewall if it is broadband or wireless connected. Do not forget passwords and the old adage: The only safe PC is one that is unplugged thrown down a 100 m well that is then filled with concrete, and I am not even sure about that one.
Cracked network - A network that has been breached by a hacker/cracker.
Black Hat - malicious hacker.
White Hat - friendly hacker.
Script Kiddie - derogatory term for someone who uses available hacking tools or compiles previously written scripts with no background knowledge of their operation or the damage that they might cause.
Jeff Berg is currently working for AD Network Video, part of the AD Holdings/Dedicated Micros Group. He can be contacted on 0944 8705 736482, email@example.com
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