The internet of things (IoT) is probably the hottest topic in technology at the moment, with applications ranging from ‘smart’ fridges to controlling your heating from your phone. When applied to CCTV, it also offers the ability to revolutionise the way social housing is managed, as one housing provider in Kent has discovered.
CCTV is routinely installed in social housing to protect people, property and places. A complete system is usually installed in each location, and the majority are still analogue, with only around one fifth of new installations being digital. Both types typically record data onto an onsite DVR. If footage has to be viewed, each system requires a site visit, or in rare cases direct access via the Internet using a previously secured connection (usually a VPN), by someone who is both authorised and has sufficient knowledge of the system to retrieve the data. This can be further complicated by the fact that CCTV models and brands are extremely varied. Even worse, because systems require a site visit in order to view and download footage, sometimes the fact that they are not working is only discovered at the point when they are needed most.
Imagine the efficiencies if all of an organisation’s cameras could be securely accessed remotely by authorised staff. Instead of needing to visit premises to access and download footage, find out if systems are functioning correctly or check for data protection compliance, staff could do everything from their own desk or even their smartphone. Today, the IoT makes all this possible. Systems enable the DVRs storing footage to be accessed via a web browser or app so users can view live or recorded footage from another location, and dedicated cloud solutions are also available.
However, there is a potential downside to the IoT. By opening up their CCTV systems to the internet, organisations provide a point of entry for malicious intruders unless they implement effective security, and recent DDoS attacks and research have shown that the majority of systems are extremely vulnerable. In recent research by independent consultant Andrew Tierney, five routers, DVRs and IP cameras running the latest software were placed on the open internet. One device was breached within minutes and within 24 hours two were under the control of an unknown attacker, while a third was left in an unstable state and completely inoperable.
Data security is another concern. The 1998 Data Protection Act outlines the steps organisations must take to preserve the confidentiality of gathered data. CCTV users need to ensure that their potential providers have strictly-defined controls around the access to, and management of, customer data, and do not share that data with a third party without the explicit consent of the user.
Cloudview has addressed this by developing an intelligent cloud adapter, which only needs an outbound internet connection to connect existing analogue and IP cameras securely to the cloud. This enables footage from CCTV systems across an entire property portfolio to be recorded into a secure, consolidated cloud account. Recording can be initiated either by automatic event triggers, such as motion detection, or manual activation, and can be accessed and managed by authorised staff on a normal PC, tablet or smartphone. This solution can also be used as standard to add remote monitoring and alerting to a CCTV system, or to add visual verification to intruder alarms.
Security is provided through HTTPS/TLS and public key encryption and all footage is accurately stamped with date and time. The system provides an automatic alert when there is a problem with a camera, thereby eliminating the problem of visiting a site to obtain footage only to discover that a camera isn’t working.
MHS Homes has been trying out the Cloudview technology at its Saxon Shore site in Kent. Mark Merriman, the electrical contracts manager at MHS Homes, had mixed views about the system’s potential at first. However, this has changed now he has used it. He can look up footage on his mobile phone or tablet at any time and quickly check what has happened on site.
Merriman said, “This will make it a lot easier if we have to provide video to the police. I won’t have to arrange for the subcontractor to go on site, retrieve the footage and put it onto a memory stick. An authorised member of our team can do it from our office or wherever they are in a few minutes, so it will save time and money.”
He has also used the system when working with subcontractors, from downloading a photo to show the subcontractor the exact location of a lighting change to checking that that repairs had been completed.
For Matthew Eddy, neighbourhood services manager at MHS Homes, the key advantage has been ease of use, but he too has gained unexpected insights which will benefit residents. As well as getting an immediate alert if a camera is down, he was able to see that some cameras were in the wrong places.
Eddy said, “For example, we realised that the footage from one camera was not viewable at night because a nearby light was in the wrong place. We’ve now moved the light so we have clear images at all times. This gives us and our residents the reassurance that, should anything happen, we’ll have captured it on video.”
He described the Cloudview system as something that adds value, rather than the current system which is not always reliable. He is now talking to us about expanding the system to more sites. In particular, he is looking at installing it in four large tower blocks.
Eddy said, “All the equipment is currently in the lift monitor space in the roof, so if we need any footage, we have to use a specialist contractor to visit the site, climb down a ladder, burn a CD and deliver it to our offices. It would be so much cheaper and save so much time if we used the Cloudview system.”
MHS Homes is confident that Cloudview’s innovative technology will bring numerous benefits to the business and to its tenants. It has already identified additional applications, depending on camera coverage, such as providing evidence of serious anti-social behaviour, damage, fly tipping and graffiti; enabling staff to check the maintenance of communal areas; and as a reference for attendance by contractors whose services are required for safety compliance (such as fire, lift maintenance, electrical and gas checks and legionella testing). Staff in MHS Homes’ contact centre can even use the Cloudview technology to check on urgent communal repairs reported by residents while those residents are on the phone, and a video grab can be sent instantly to the relevant contractor to increase the likelihood of a ‘first-time fix’.
For more information, including a white paper on the security risks of insecure CCTV systems and more information about the MHS Homes trial, please visit www.howtocloudview.co.
James Wickes is CEO and co-founder of Cloudview.