Representative IoT Device: IP Video Camera

One of the most flexible, powerful, and useful IoT sensors is a video camera. Video streams can be used directly. They can also be analyzed using modern software and an incredible range of information extracted from the images: motion detection for eventing and alerts, automobile license recognition for parking systems and theft detection, facial recognition, manufacturing quality control, part location and orientation for robotics, local environment for autonomous vehicles, crop analysis for health and pests, and new uses that haven’t been thought of yet!

The IoT revolution for video cameras is the IP (Internet Protocol) camera – a video camera with integrated computer that can talk directly to a network and provide video and still images in a format that can be directly manipulated by software. An IP camera is essentially a computer with an image sensor and a network interface. A surprisingly powerful computer which can do image processing, image analysis, image conversion, image compression, and send multiple real-time video streams over the Internet. The IP cameras use standard processors, operating systems, and toolkits for video processing and networking.

Modern IP security cameras have high resolution – 3MP-5MP – excellent image quality, the ability to see in complete darkness, and good mechanical construction that can withstand direct exposure to the elements for many years. Many of these IP Video Cameras have enough processing power to be able to do motion detection inside the camera – a rather advanced video analysis capability! They can be connected to the network over WiFi or Ethernet. A popular capability is PoE or Power over Ethernet, which allows a camera to use a single Ethernet cable for both network and power. For ease of use these IP cameras are designed to automatically connect to back-end servers in the cloud and then to display the video stream on smartphones.

These IP cameras are available with full support and regular updates from industrial suppliers at prices ranging from several hundred to a few thousand dollars per camera. They are commonly sold in systems that include cameras, installation, monitoring and recording systems and software, integration, and service and support. There are a few actual manufacturers of the cameras, and many OEMs place their own brand names on the cameras.

These same cameras are readily available to consumers for less than $100 through unofficial, unsupported, “grey market” channels.

IP cameras need an account for setup, configuration and management. They contain an embedded webserver with full control of the camera. Virtually all cameras have a root level account with username of admin and password of admin. Some of them even recommend that you change this default password… One major brand of IP cameras also has two hardcoded maintenance accounts with root access; you can’t change the password on these accounts. And you can discover the username and password with about 15 seconds of Internet research.

The business model that allows you to purchase a high quality IP camera for <$100 does not support lifetime updates of software. It also does not support high security – ease of use and avoiding support calls is the highest priority. Software updates can easily cause problems – and the easiest way to avoid problems caused by software updates is to avoid software updates. The result is a “fire and forget” model where the software in the IP camera is never updated after the camera is installed. This means that security vulnerabilities are never addressed.

Let’s summarize:

  • IP video cameras are powerful, versatile and flexible IoT sensors that can be used for many purposes.
  • High quality IP cameras are readily available at low cost.
  • IP video cameras are powerful general purpose computers.
  • The business model for IP video cameras results in cameras that are seldom updated and are typically not configured for good security.
  • IP video cameras are easy to compromise and take over.
    • Can be used to penetrate the rest of your network.
    • Can be used to attack the Internet.
  • There are 10’s of millions of IP video cameras installed.

So far we have outlined the problem. The next post will begin to explore how we can address the security issues – including obvious approaches that won’t work…

About Russell Doty

A technology strategist and product manager at Red Hat, working on the next generation of open source systems.
This entry was posted in IoT, Security. Bookmark the permalink.

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