Intruder Alert

Arm yourself with Locks and Cameras.

September 1, 2003

5 Min Read
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Indoor cameras may be mounted on the wall, off the ceiling, in an equipment rack or outdoors. Outdoor cameras are designed to be waterproof and withstand a wide range of temperatures. Most cameras need a power line. Be wary of those that work off battery, as they have a very short power life. Unless you buy a wireless-enabled camera, you'll have to run a network cable. Long cable runs (greater than 100 meters) may call for coax or fiber.

If image quality is important to you, use high-resolution cameras. And we've found that color cameras produce sharper images. Cameras supporting color correction are worth considering, since low-sodium and fluorescent lamps can cast a yellow tint and wash out all color. Some cameras also may support low light or night vision. Cameras near light fixtures may become oversaturated and wash out the picture, so it's a good idea to look for a camera that adjusts to ambient light levels automatically.

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Many cameras feature a built-in Web server, which can be accessed from any browser. Other cameras may require you to upload still photos to an external FTP or Web server. This method makes it easy to archive old snapshots, and is limited only by the amount of disk space you can buy. If you plan to deploy a large number of cameras, look for a vendor that offers some form of centralized management or software that lets you display multiple cameras in one window.

You should also consider units that let you limit users based on IP address range or passwords. If you don't limit access, an attacker could use the images generated by the camera to reconnoiter your room.

Environmental monitors are an excellent add-on to any camera. These probes and sensors, which are easily attached to the camera's system, can often be programmed to alert you to changes. Add-ons monitor conditions such as temperature, airflow, humidity, power draw, doors and sound levels.When it comes to purchasing door locks, the options are limitless. Some advanced locks require a form of power to operate. For nonmechanical combination locks, the power source might be a small built-in battery, while magnetically sealed locks need a constant power feed. If you go this route, find out what happens when, inevitably, the power goes out or the battery dies.For locks that require power, there are two common modes when the power fails: fail-secure and fail-safe. If a lock's power-off state is fail-secure, it will remain locked; if it's fail-safe, the lock opens when the power goes out. Thus, fail-safe locks are vulnerable: Cut the power source, and the door opens.

So fail-secure is better, right? But what if there's an emergency, such as a fire? Will people be able to get out of the room easily if the door stays locked? Can firefighters get in? You'd never let security trump employee safety.

As a work-around, some fail-secure locks can be set to unlock automatically when the alarm system sounds. Other locks come with an option for fail-secure for entering but fail-safe for exiting (to see all options, check out the vendor survey responses in our online Interactive Buyer's Guide).

Every lock needs an authentication mechanism. Metal keys are familiar, easy to use and hard to break--but they can be easily copied, and if an employee loses one, you'll have to change all like keys. Magnetic stripes, smartcards and radio (RF) cards offer greater security: In addition to requiring specialized equipment to duplicate, each has a unique identifier that provides a log of entrances and exits and lets you revoke access if necessary.

To validate a user's key, reader devices are placed in front of doors. These door readers can be standalone units or networked together. Networked readers require new cabling, which can become quite expensive, but you won't have to go to every door to update enrollment. If you have high employee turnover or a large number of doors, the networked approach may be worth the money.All token authentication has a common failure point--if it's stolen or borrowed, anybody can gain access. If the token is lost or left at home, the employee can't get in until it's replaced.

Combination locks overcome this problem. The longer the combination phrase, the harder it is to guess the combination. The best combination locks can detect repetitive failures and offer a cooling-off period or an alarm. Of course, it's still possible for someone to look over a user's shoulder and see the combination being punched in. The most effective locks are those that use both a token, such as a key, and a combination that only the user would know.

Biometrics let you authenticate identity based on physical traits like fingerprints, handprints, voiceprints and retinal scans. But this option poses problems, including difficulties with enrollment, lack of user acceptance and environmental interference (see our Buyer's Guide on biometrics). One way to ease into biometrics is to look for a setup that will integrate with existing authentication systems. For the smoothest transition possible, you must have user buy-in and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Be sure the lock you choose fits the environment. If it's not waterproof, it shouldn't be installed outdoors. As for biometrics, some locations have a high concentration of airborne particles that may cause the sensitive equipment to fail and the locks to jam.

Finally, the strength of the lock should be equal to the value of the equipment you're protecting. At Network Computing's Real-World Labs® at Syracuse University, we've broken the magnetic hold on several cheaper locks.Michael J. DeMaria is an associate technology editor based at Network Computing's Syracuse University's Real-World Labs®. Write to him at [email protected].

Post a comment or question on this story.1) What color depth and maximum resolution does the camera support?

2) Does the camera store or upload snapshot archives? Can you add time-stamp watermarks to the snapshots?

3) Can you pan, tilt or zoom the camera remotely?

4) Do you have the option to add environmental monitors?5) Can multiple cameras be centrally managed?

6) Do the cameras fit any special needs, such as low light, color correction or waterproofing?

For details and prices on specific makes and models, use our Interactive Buyer's Guide charts.

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