The IoT (Internet of Things) is taking off. We’re coming up with all kinds of internet connected devices. Many of these devices are simply computers with interesting sensors and controllers attached. At Sensr.net we think mostly about IP cameras, which are a specific kind of IoT device. But that Nest thermostat or the Amazon Echo speaker are also examples of IoT devices.
These days most IP cameras will connect to your internet via WiFi or Ethernet and allow you to view and control the camera remotely. Many of these cameras include a P2P (peer to peer) feature that allows you to view the camera directly even if you don’t open your firewall. This is a neat trick which is accomplished by having the camera keep open a connection back to some well known server. When you want to connect to your camera, you’re really connecting to some remote server (in China maybe?) that then does some network magic (see STUN) and let’s your smartphone app connect to your camera through your firewall.
That nice P2P feature is pretty great, but it also means that there are servers out there on the net that can get inside your home network. Where are those servers running? Who’s job is it to make sure they are secure? Who has access to those servers and thus your network and even your cameras?
All your cams are belong to us
Who watches the watchers?
Last month the Wall Street Journal reported:
How can something like this happen? It turns out security cameras and DVRs are just network connected computers, and they can be hacked just like any other computer. However, it’s worse than that, a large number of these systems ship with default passwords, so anyone who can connect to them can get into the system and install any software they want.
What about my firewall?
But wait, what does it matter that there are default passwords on these systems? These devices are normally behind a firewall, right? Maybe, but most DVRs and IP cameras are configured so you can view and configure them from outside your firewall. When these systems are installed, most of them instruct you to set up port forwarding. This is where you can get into trouble. If you configure your firewall for port forwarding, you’re allowing anyone on the internet to connect to your device. If you setup port forwarding but don’t bother to change the default passwords, then you’re asking for trouble.
You are your own IT guy
If you do setup port forwarding, make sure you change all the default passwords and keep your firmware up to date. Yes, this is a hassle. Updating firmware on wireless security cameras is error prone and confusing. You have to make sure you have the right firmware for your camera. Sometimes there are slightly different hardware versions and if you install the wrong firmware on the wrong hardware, you’ll brick your device. Another hassle is that most manufacturers insist that you do the upgrade over a wired connection. This sounds easy until you realize that the camera is mounted somewhere and now you have to get your toolbox and a ladder just to upgrade your firmware. No wonder these devices are not getting updated.
Can Sensr.net help?
Yes, using Sensr.net doesn’t require port forwarding (cameras push to our servers, nothing reaches back into your network). This means if you’re using security cameras or network attached DVRs don’t need to be accessible from the internet at large.
Try Sensr.net for free
If you have an IP camera, give us a try. Sign up for our one week free trial, no credit card required.
We’ve been renting our place on Airbnb for about a year now and it’s been great to have Sensr.net cameras monitoring our place while we aren’t there. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have cameras inside the private spaces of our home, we have exterior cameras that monitor the approaches to the house. Think Driveway Camera and Front Door Camera, etc. We only monitor the public spaces around our home, with one exception: owner only spaces. Read more
Sensr.net shows cameras as offline if they haven’t uploaded an image in the last 5 minutes.
Why does this happen? We recommend that you have your camera upload images continuously to Sensr.net at 1 or 2 snapshots per second. This way you can view the live stream on our site without opening your firewall. If you have your camera set to only upload images on motion, then when there is no motion, we’ll show your camera as offline. See this post about configuring cameras with motion detection for more details.
With your Sensr.net account, we save images for one month on our site. Images are deleted when they are 32 days old. If you want to keep the images longer just save them as favorites or make a clip. Favorites and clips are kept until you delete the camera from our service.
If you make a clip, we will generate an mpeg file and send you a link to download it. The link we send is good for 30 days. Make sure your login email is correct and check your spam folder if you don’t see the email.
We’re working on some programs that will allow you to pull down images to your local hard drive. See the open source project here. If you’re a coder, give it a try.