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13 tips for security and IT professionals to keep IP video surveillance networks secure

Being able to monitor your network remotely saves you from truck rolls and costly on-site visits

Keeping surveillance networks secure can be a daunting task but there are several methods that can greatly reduce risk, especially when used in conjunction with each other.

Below are 13 tips security and IT professionals can follow in order to keep an IP video surveillance network secure.

1. The stronger the password the better

Strong passwords are the most basic security measure, but unfortunately ignored by many users. Many surveillance systems are deployed in the field with default passwords on equipment, including cameras, switches, recorders, and more. Doing so makes it easier for tech teams to access cameras; it also makes it easier for unauthorised parties to log into a camera or security network.

At the very least, all surveillance network devices should have unique passwords documented in a secure location. This prevents access to the network using simple password guessing and requires a more skilled attacker with more complex methods. Passwords should be unique per device. Having a single password for all invites a nightmare if that one password is lost.

2. Use a password manager

If you set up complex passwords which are unique for each device, using a password manager such as LastPass, Dashlane, or LogMeOnce to store all of your passwords is a good idea. This way you can protect the repository of passwords with a strong password and two factor authentication, while maintaining complex passwords which are unique to each device. These password managers offer very strong security, although not perfect.

Disable all unused ports to keep unauthorised devices from accessing a switch
Having timely, complete backups will assure that any outage as a result of hacking is minimal

3. Identify remote access risks

Remote network access can be a great tool for network administrators and system integrators. Being able to monitor your network remotely saves you from truck rolls and costly on-site visits and allows you to go prepared when needed with the right tools and equipment.

Remote network access can be accomplished a number of ways. VPN access is generally the best option, as it can be running 24/7 and does not require any user intervention. Often remote access can be granted on demand using remote desktop tools to a workstation on the network. Systems like VNC, GoToMyPC, and TeamViewer are great alternatives for on demand access, but they do require user intervention to launch. It is generally not a good idea to leave these tools running all the time.

If you must expose a device on your private network to public Internet, you will need to use port forwarding. If you have the option use an obscure port instead of the standard ports (22, 23, 25, 80, 554, etc). Remember that each open port presents a possible opportunity for an attacker. Since each VMS may be different, users should refer to manufacturer documentation for which ports must be open if remote access is required, as for maintenance or remote viewing. A deep packet inspection firewall can watch these open ports for intrusion.

4. Implement firewalls for remote access

"Never load files or applications from unknown sources, question anyone who asks for personal information or passwords, and think twice before clicking a link"

To prevent unauthorised remote access, many surveillance systems are purposefully not connected to the internet at all; instead they are connected to a separate LAN. This reduces risk but may make service more difficult as updates to software and firmware, otherwise downloaded, must be loaded over USB or other means. The connected systems are typically behind a firewall, which limits inbound/outbound traffic to specific IP addresses and ports that have been authorised. Properly implemented, this strategy may prevent the vast majority of attacks.

5. Improve security with VLANs and QoS

Virtual LANs (VLANs) improve security by segmenting traffic into multiple virtual networks. IP based surveillance equipment or general office LAN traffic may exist on the same physical switch but the VLAN ensures the networks are invisible to each other and unreachable.

Note that when using VLANs, bandwidth constraints may exist. Because of this, VLANs are often deployed in conjunction with Quality of Service (QoS), which prioritises network traffic so video quality is not impacted.

6. Disable unused switch ports

Another easy but typically overlooked method of keeping unauthorised devices from accessing a switch is to disable all unused ports. This step mitigates the risk of someone trying to access a security subnet by simply plugging a patch cable into a switch or unused network jack.

Note that this step does not necessarily prevent unauthorised access to a network, as someone could potentially unplug a device (camera, workstation, printer) from a previously authorised port or jack and access its port, unless measures such as MAC filtering or 802.1X are in place.

If your network design allows it, breaking out your control plane from your data plane is a good idea
Unneeded services may act as a backdoor for hackers or viruses, consume additional processor and memory, and increase startup time

7. Disable unused network ports

Many cameras ship with unneeded network ports turned on, such as Telnet, SSH, FTP, etc. These ports are favorite targets of hackers. A quick 30-second scan of an IP camera can reveal multiple open ports other than those expected for web access and video streaming. These ports should be disabled wherever possible to prevent potential attacks.

8. Disable unused services

Unnecessary services on viewing workstations and servers should be turned off. These may include manufacturer-specific update utilities, various Microsoft update services, web services, etc. These unneeded services may act as a backdoor for hackers or viruses, consume additional processor and memory, and increase startup time. These services should be disabled or set to operate only when manually started.

9. OS and Firmware updates

OS and firmware updates are a matter of some debate, with some users installing every available update while others wary that these updates may break VMS software or camera integrations.

However, these updates often include patches to newly discovered security vulnerabilities, such as the Heartbleed SSL vulnerability, which affected millions of computers worldwide. Patches for these significant issues should be installed.

Other, more routine, updates may be optional. Users especially concerned about compatibility issues should contact their camera/recorder/VMS manufacturers to see their recommendations for applying updates.

10. Segregate control from Data networks

If your network design allows it, breaking out your control plane from your data plane is a good idea. This is especially true if you are running keyboard and mouse control for remote systems. You can keep your local control network off the public Internet, making it difficult for hackers to gain access to your network and taking over systems, while allowing for more flexibility in video routing. This generally will require end devices to have two network interfaces or the use of dongle devices.

11. Control physical access, keep doors locked

"Control physical access to the most vulnerable areas of a network - rooms, closets, or racks where surveillance servers and switches are mounted"

Control physical access to the most vulnerable areas of a network - rooms, closets, or racks where surveillance servers and switches are mounted. If doors cannot be secured, at least restrict access to individual rack cages and switch enclosures.

Many facilities employ electronic access control to server or network equipment rooms. However, even without electronic access control, mechanical keys and locks can do a good job of protecting sensitive areas.

12. Maintain regular backups

No matter how good your security practices are, it is almost inevitable that you will get hacked. Having timely, complete backups will assure that any outage is minimal. Malware such as Ransomware is on the rise. Ransomware encrypts the files on your system and then asks for payment before a key is sent to unlock the data. If you have regular backups, you can tell the Ransomware hackers where to go. Without backups you may have to pay up.

13. Document and enforce a security policy

All the steps above will improve security on their own, but they are most effective when documented as part of a written and strictly enforced security policy. This policy generally comes from one of two places:

  • End user: When the surveillance network is part of a larger corporate/enterprise LAN, end users most likely control the security policy for all network devices and may force these requirements upon integrators.
  • Integrator: If an end user does not have a security policy in place, the installing integrator may choose to create one as part of his documentation. The integrator would then require it to be followed in order for this warranty to be enforced and to limit liability in case of a breach.

By following a good security policy you can avoid the high costs of network hacking. The most effective tool is employee awareness and their following of good network “hygiene”: Never load files or applications from unknown sources, question anyone who asks for personal information or passwords, and think twice before clicking a link.


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