Even though they are inexpensive and relatively easy to install and use, security cameras are not used in the small and medium business world nearly enough. Even when they are, I often find that they are treated as “set and forget” devices, and not used effectively. Making matters worse, many of the companies that offer security camera design and installation come from the older closed-circuit camera world, and don't have the skill set necessary for the current IP-based cameras.
As a recent example, I was called in to assist a customer with issues they had related to a 20 camera system installed at the time their building was constructed. It took some effort to get the access information out of the existing vendor, but I found various issues, including:
Odd camera placements
Poor choice of display software
No instructions provided to the customer about operation or ongoing system maintenance
I am a very strong believer in the use of security cameras for businesses of any size. As I said above, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and require little maintenance, at least when they are done right.
Cameras provide a variety of benefits. They are good at monitoring what happens in your facility when you are not there. Such recordings can be of great value to the police and insurance companies in the event of a theft or security incident. They also allow a receptionist, or other person who is at their desk frequently to track what is happening inside and outside of your facility in real time. Finally, they can be a significant part of a regulatory compliance program. Both HIPAA and PCI DSS require monitoring of physical access of records and systems, much of which can be accomplished using cameras.
Some years ago, I was responsible for security and compliance for a credit bureau. As part of our SSAE 16 compliance effort, I had improved the camera system we already had In place. At one point, I began getting complaints about loose change missing from a number of desk drawers, something quite uncharacteristic for this tight-knit company. After reviewing various video clips, I discovered that an individual working on data cabling after hours was cleaning out valuables from the drawers in a regular basis. If I had just asked the contractor if their people might be responsible, they probably would have insisted that this was not the case. Armed with the video clip however, they could not argue the point. This may seem like a minor issue, but it could just have easily been critical data or equipment.
For those considering the use of video cameras (and I hope the above has convinced you of the importance), here are some tips:
Choose your contractor carefully
As a said above, many in the video surveillance business come from the closed-circuit world, which has quite different technology. Make sure your contractor has experience with IP-based cameras, and the software used with them. For very small installations, an IT support company can usually do the job
Plan your camera placement and angles
As you are planning your system, decide what you want to monitor. Failure to do this usually results in you installing more cameras that you usually need. Cameras should be used at all entrances to the facility. They should be used for any secure areas, such as data centers/computer closets. They should also be installed in areas with sensitive records. Finally, don’t forget one or more cameras for the outside of the building. Recordings from these are particularly useful to the authorities in the event of a burglary.
Select the right features
There are a variety of camera features available, as well as specialized cameras for specific needs. Here are a sampling:
Pan Tilt Zoom – this involves a motorized mechanism which can be used to remotely move or focus the camera. This is useful if someone will be monitoring the cameras, but not if the primary objective is recording.
Low light – if the camera will be use in a dark room or outdoors at night, pay attention to light requirements for the models you are considering.
Covert - These cameras look like other ordinary items, such as a fire sensor. They are useful when you don't want the subjects to know they are being monitored.
Ballistic - Cameras in a ballistic housing resist damage from projectiles, making them a good choice for outdoor use.
Fisheye - This camera type, which is similar in appearance to a smoke detector, can "see" 360 degrees below it. While it would be hard to make out faces with such cameras, they are good for monitoring for movement over a large area. A relative of the Fisheye is the Axis camera, which mounts on a wall, and "sees" 180 degrees.
All Network cameras require power and a data connection. As such, even when using wireless cameras, cabling is still required for power. In my experience, it is usually easiest to run a network cable to each camera using Power over Ethernet (PoE). This technology allows the camera to be powered using the network cable. It requires the use of a special network switch to inject the power into each cable. With only a network cable required, installation is usually quick and inexpensive.
Use the right software
Most manufacturers of commercial cameras include software for monitoring and recording. In my experience, their software is usually not the best choice. There are a variety of purchased and open-source products available that offer better functionality. I am a fan of iSpy, an open-source monitoring and recording package. Make sure the PC to be used for monitoring/recording is powerful enough to handle the task. For larger installations, a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) is often appropriate.
Set them up for recording and continuous monitoring
Cameras should be setup for continuous recording. Since almost all security cameras and software packages now have the ability to record only on motion, the recordings are easy to store and locate. Where possible, setup live monitors where a receptionist or other individual can keep an eye on them.
Keep the firmware updated
Cameras, like any other Internet of Things device, can develop vulnerabilities. As an example, multiple defects were recently found in the Motorola Focus 73 camera allowing hackers to access the camera remotely. Even with cameras that update themselves, you must monitor them to make sure such updates actually happen. After all, the cameras are for your benefit, not an uninvited guest.
Bottom line - Cameras are an affordable and important part of the security effort for a business of any size, but they must be planned carefully and installed properly.