When CCTV cameras first made their appearance, there was a murmur of disapproval from many privacy-conscious people. But over the years, the ever-growing technological capabilities of these gadgets have made them indispensable. CCTV cameras are now mandatory to ensure safety of people and property.
The number of these eyes on the wall is only increasing, with almost all large premises — places of education, office and commercial establishments, apartment complexes, factories, bus stands, railways stations — having high-end video surveillance cameras. They not only keep a watch, but also perform intelligent functions like perimeter protection: if someone crosses the line, an alert goes out to the staff. Some cameras even warn the intruder to keep away.
Deployment of hundreds of these networked surveillance equipment brings with it two major challenges: One, storing and managing huge volumes of data in the form of high-resolution video footage; two, the security of these networked IP-enabled devices.
Storage is an important issue, since that’s what makes up a major component of the video surveillance system, with the camera component itself being comparatively small, says Sudhindra Holla, Country Manager, Axis Communications, India & SAARC. The 33-year-old Swedish company is a market leader in security and surveillance, with over 75,000 partners in 179 countries.
One of the technologies that is making things easier is called Zipstream, smart enough to know what frames to store, how and when. “The technology looks at the frames, and selectively saves them,” says Holla. “Not all frames have objects that move. Many are static. It saves and stores only those frames which have moving objects. This results in huge savings,” he says.
Important details from the forensic point of view — face, tattoos, licence plates — are isolated and preserved, while other areas like vegetation, lawns, white walls are blurred and compressed.
When Zipstream is enabled, there are six levels for bit rate reduction (file compression), each of which indicates how much bit rate you need to reduce. In the case of PTZ (point, tilt, zoom) cameras, a feature called dynamic bit rate controller is enabled automatically when a camera is panned, tilted or zoomed, avoiding bandwidth peaks.
Zipstream technology can reduce bandwidth and storage requirements by an average of 50%, compared to H.264, which is the current MPEG standard, he says.
Securing the cameras
The very equipment to ensure one’s safety could be insecure. Networked CCTV cameras are prone to be hacked, and like phones and laptops, cameras too should be secured. Sensitive and confidential information like, who all attended a closed-door meeting could be revealed, and possibly even what transpired during that meeting. Illegally getting access to visuals can compromise the security of installations and employees.
Recent media reports spoke of ‘backdoor’ in gadgets like smartphones and cameras, compromising security. ‘Backdoor’ is like a masterkey for a lock. Though you have locked your house, the presence of the masterkey with the lock manufacturer or house owner theoretically makes the house vulnerable to be broken into. Holla says Axis cameras don’t have a backdoor. “We have a clear no-backdoor policy. If someone is buying a camera or accessories from us, they can be rest assured that there is no backdoor,” he says.
However, no IP device is totally hack-proof. Some may be easy to break into, others difficult. One common area of potential danger for customers is when they aren’t prompted to change the password of the camera after installation. Holla says Axis cameras not only prompt the user to change the password, but also give an option to set user policies. Rights to operations like who can change the camera settings, or view what is in the camera, or change the password, can be specified. “Even if someone actually gets the password, there might not be many significant things the intruder will be able to do,” he says.