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Limited Time Special Offer: Free Wireless Remotes

Honeywell wireless remoteFor a limited time, when you install a new alarm system, upgrade an existing alarm system, or switch your alarm monitoring service to Dynamark Security, we will give you two free wireless remote controls for your alarm system that you can attach to your keychain!  All you have to do is mention this promotion when you contact us for a free quote.

The remotes feature four buttons that can be programmed for individual control or can be paired for two-button control, which allows for a total of eight functions for multiple applications like arming, disarming, panics, trigger relays, etc.

They come pre-programmed right out of the box in high-security (encrypted) mode for that added layer of security against cyber attacks. The triple function LED gives indication that the transmission was sent when a user activates a function, indicates if the wireless key is in high-security or normal mode, and acts as a low battery indicator. The buttons are recessed and include easy-to-understand icons to help alleviate user-generated false alarms.

This limited-time offer is valid through the end of May 2018.  Contact us today to schedule a site visit so we can give you a quote!

Door-to-Door Home Security Scams to Watch Out for in 2018

ScamEvery year, especially during the spring and summer, the home security industry and its customers are targeted by scams. The aim of these scams is to get homeowners to switch their monitoring system to a new, far inferior and far more expensive options, often with hidden fees and bad intentions.

The alarming part of these scams is that these security companies don’t usually try to persuade you to switch to their company or even ask outright.

Instead, they lie, pretending to be aligned with your company or the manufacturer of your devices to steal your information and charge you for their unwanted services.

We take our customer’s safety and trust seriously, and have provided tips to bust scammers before they start in years passed. In this post, we’ll be guiding you through the top home security scams of 2018 so our customers will know what to look for to ensure their safety and privacy remains intact.

One of the main tactics scammers use is going door to door claiming to be a representative of your home security company. Many security companies, Dynamark included, include a yard or window sign which alerts would-be burglars or criminals that your home is highly protected. While these signs scare away criminals, they can actually attract home security scammers to your door.

These scammers will turn up, unannounced, and introduce themselves as a representative of your home security company, or GE or Honeywell (popular manufacturers of security devices).

Don’t believe them. At Dynamark, our main goal is ensuring safety and comfort within our customer’s homes. We will never show up unannounced offering to upgrade your system, your protection package, or to check your devices. In fact, our policy is to never go door-to-door for sales or any other motive.

We will always communicate via authorized correspondence should you need a technician or representative to come to you. An appointment will be set that meets your needs and then, only then, will an official Dynamark employee visit your home. We will never show up unannounced trying to sell you our services or tinker with your system.

Though tempting, don’t remove your security signs from your home, as these do play their part in scaring away criminals. Do, however, familiarize yourself with the signs of an unannounced home security scammer.

Another scam you might see is when representatives of a different home security company go door-to-door to sell their services. They will appear and have credentials that certify them as working for a competitor, and will simply be there to provide a sales pitch. The scam, however, is the lies they will tell to get you to switch providers.

These lies can range from “your home security company doesn’t have 24-hour support, like we do” to “your home security company can no longer provide upgrades to your system, and it is out of date. Our company, however…” and everything in between.

Dynamark, as many of our customers know, actually provides both of these services, and claims that we do not will be an indicator of a scam.

In these situations, it’s best to take the representative’s flyer or information and look up the company online. Most of these companies have terrible reviews due to the scams, lies, and terrible service they provide to customers. Remember to never give your information to them, not even a phone number, and let the scamming representative know you’ll contact them if interested.

While spring and summer allow warmer weather for scammers to go door-to-door, there is no need to worry as long as you can identify the signs of a scam. If you ever have any questions, concerns, or scams to report, do not hesitate to contact us—Dynamark is here whenever you need us.

Dynamark Security Supports Fisher House

Fisher House LogoDynamark Security is excited to announce a promotion we will be doing during through the end of March to help Fisher House, an organization that builds comfort homes near VA hospitals and medical centers around the world so that families of veterans can have a free place to stay while their loved ones receive medical treatment.

When a customer installs and activates a new security system or switches to Dynamark and mentions this promotion, we will make a $100 donation to Fisher House. 

Since its inception, Fisher House has has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $407 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation. 

The organization also helps facilitate the donation of airline miles and hotel rewards points to veterans families so they can travel for free to be with their loved ones during medical treatment. 

Help us spread the word about this promotion by sharing it on social media so that we can maximize our contribution to Fisher House!

Seven Reasons Not to Buy an Alarm System from Your Cable Company

Cable CompanyCable companies are good at getting you to purchase (potentially unnecessary) services by bundling because it appears to save money. Not many of us would have a landline nowadays, but the cable company tells you it is cheaper to have internet, cable, and a landline than it would be just to have internet and cable.

The reason they do this is simple.  They know that the more services they provide you with, the more of a pain it will be for you to stop being a customer.

This marketing gimmick to get you to pay for a landline isn’t a big deal— after all, it doesn’t affect your family’s safety when you choose to take part in it. However, your family’s safety does come into play when you purchase an alarm system from your cable company.

Before you buy in on their security systems, take a look at these seven reasons why you should not trust the safety of your home and family to your cable company.

Reason #1: Lower Reviews

Cable companies are not in the security business, they are in the revenue business. They are always on the hunt for more services they can sell to their already large client base, purely to create more revenue, and make it more difficult for people to switch providers.

Before you purchase their security systems for your home, check their reviews when matched up against companies who have been in the security business for decades. They are not great at providing excellent customer service for their main product, so it stands to reason they won’t be great at providing excellent customer service for an add-on security system.

Reason #2: Proprietary Products Only They Can Monitor

Cable companies use their own equipment to monitor your security. Their proprietary products are installed in your house for a fee and if you ever want to switch companies, these products cannot be used again. You must send them back to your cable company and pay to install all new equipment with your new security company.

Reason #3: You Never Know Your True Cost

When services are bundled, it is incredibly difficult to know how much each service actually costs. You are told they are “X” amount of dollars with “Y” amount of dollars taken off because of the multiple services you have purchased. Then add “Z” amount of tax to each service, but make sure you don’t forget “P” for the monthly monitoring or “N” for the activation fee split over three months.

None of that makes sense. Worse, it’s not supposed to. You don’t know how much you’re paying so you don’t know if you’re paying too much!

Reason #4: Promotional Time’s Up!

Nine times out of ten, when you sign up with your cable company they make a big deal about the promotional rate you are getting, and how much money you are saving for 2 years. In that 2 years, you will forget your cable bill is a ticking time bomb. One day, you will run out of the promotional rate and your bill will dramatically go up. It will be a shock to you. You’ll frantically scour your bill for the things you can cut back on to get back down to a rate you can afford.

If the part you want to cut is your alarm system– because you’ve found their charges to be outrageous– that’ll be difficult. They might let you cut the security, but you’ll have to send the equipment back because of Reason #2! They also might tell you that your bill will go up even more because you’re cutting out part of your bundle. This is not a good situation to find yourself in when your family’s security is on the table.

Reason #5: Professional Alarm Companies: Masters of the Trade

Say you have a heart problem. Do you go to a general physician or do you go to a cardiologist? Your basement has flooded because of a faulty sump pump— do you call a handyman or do you call a plumber?

The same consideration should be taken when it comes to the safety and security of your family and home. Cable companies are starting to look like “jack-of-all-trades” companies. They offer so much! Offering a lot of services does not make you an expert in all of those services. Trust your family’s security to a company that has been in the business for decades perfecting their craft.

Reason #6: Masters of Trades Don’t Raise Rates

Dynamark Security of Richmond hasn’t raised their rates in almost 20 years. As a local company, we don’t need to raise our rates to keep revenue. Our clients have trusted us for decades. Few local alarm companies raise rates, and if at all. There are long periods of time between raises, not just the promotional period of 2 years.

Reason #7: Consider It from Another’s Point of View

Put yourself in the burglar’s shoes. Think about your confidence level if you were going to break into a house with a sign saying it is guarded by a cable company. Does that sound serious to you? Now, think about a sign that says it is guarded by a professional security company. Which one might give you cause to turn around and not even try it?

The protection of your property and your family is of the utmost importance. Trust this protection to professionals with years of experience, and expert knowledge at their fingertips. Don’t take the chance with inferior protection for a bundled price.

Call our customer service team today to ensure your home’s safety.

Your Security Camera Questions Answered

Security CamerasSecurity cameras are a very hot topic these days, and lots of customers are asking about them.

In an effort to provide people with all the information they need to make an educated decision about whether they need home security cameras, what type of cameras to purchase if they do need them, and how to best use cameras if they already have them, we are publishing this short guide to security cameras that addresses these and other commonly asked questions.

The Biggest Mistake People Make Regarding Security Cameras

One of the single biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to cameras is that they hear through the media about how some burglar got caught on camera, and they just think, “Well, that is the solution. I need to go get some cameras for my house and that’ll protect my home.”

The reality is that all security cameras do is capture an image of something that happened. The problem is, it already happened.

Don’t get us wrong, cameras are a great thing and we do install a lot of camera systems. They give an awful lot of piece of mind, and–sometimes–they really do help out the police, a community, or a neighborhood. But the reality is the single most important way to protect your home is with an alarm system rather than security cameras.

If you just go out and get a camera system without an alarm system and then someone does break into your home, even if the security camera footage results in the arrest and successful prosecution of a suspect, the fact of the matter is the person still broke in and stole your stuff.

You can talk to almost anyone that’s ever had a break in–the biggest scar from a break in is not the loss of property, it’s the fact that someone broke into your home.

So, cameras are a wonderful thing, but only as an addition to a home security system.

Plus, if someone breaks into your home and then they realize once they’re inside that in fact you do have security cameras, guess what one of the things they steal will be–the recording device that stores the footage from your camera.

Potential Pitfalls of Wireless Security Cameras

Many customers ask us about wireless security cameras and whether they should purchase these types of cameras.  We don’t usually recommend wireless cameras for a couple of reasons.

Number one, most so-called “wireless” cameras are not truly wireless. They have to have power, so you still have to plug them in somewhere.  One of the biggest mistakes we see made, either by homeowners or other security companies, is plugging security cameras into an outdoor outlet. This means that a burglar can disable the camera simply by unplugging it.

The other problem with wireless cameras is that if someone cuts your phone or cable line before breaking in to your house, then your internet won’t work, which of course means that your wireless camera won’t work.

You’ll only get the footage that was recorded up to the point that the line was cut, and since most people don’t think to point a camera at their phone line, that footage probably won’t have the burglar on it.

Finally, a third problem with wifi cameras is they have very limited range. One of the single biggest complaints that we hear from people right now with these cameras is that they’re able to view the cameras one minute, and then 10 minutes later they’re looking at a black screen because the wifi just drops out.

The range on most cameras is only about 35 feet, and when you put them outside a wall, it cuts the range dramatically. You’re much better off wiring those cameras back in, unless they’re indoor cameras.

Using wifi for indoor cameras is fine, especially if you’re just trying to check in on your kids, or your pets, or an aging parent, or something like that. But we don’t recommend wifi for outdoor security cameras.

The Value of Having Security Cameras Professionally Installed

There’s obviously a lot of good camera systems out there, and a lot of good camera manufacturers. It’s possible to get some great deals on cameras online.  However, when it comes to installing the cameras, that’s where a lot of people have trouble.

Many people have called our office and said, “Yeah, I bought this camera system from XYZ company” (we won’t mention any names), or they bought something online, or from a big box store. They try to put it in themselves, and they have issues.

Either the cameras didn’t all work, or the camera quality was really grainy or wasn’t very good, or they couldn’t get it online so that they could view it remotely from an app on their phone or from sort of internet-enabled device offsite.

Typically, the equipment that you buy over the counter from a big box store or through the internet is just not the same quality as you’re going to have installed by a professional installation company like ourselves.

We do this a lot, so we know what to do to get it set up for you. It’s just turn-key. Whether you use us or any other company, we would urge anyone that is looking to really do it right to get it done professionally.  In other words, do it right the first time so you don’t have to do it a second time.

It’s a lot less expensive to do it right the first time than to have to do it twice. Even though you may pay more the first time, at the end of the day, you’re going to be much happier than if you just try to do it cheap, especially with camera systems.

Why You Need to Arm Your Alarm During the Day

Many people purchase a home security system so that they can sleep better at night, but the fact is that one of the most important reasons to have an alarm system is so that you can turn it on during the day.

A lot of people say, “Well gosh, I’m really just concerned about my personal safety. I’m not so much worried about my stuff getting stolen.”

However, the truth is the most important time for you to protect yourself using an alarm system is when you’re away from home. That may sound really weird, but think about it: If you’re at home and somebody tries to break in in the middle of the night, you’re probably going to hear them. You’re probably going to scream. They may even scream, and they’re probably going to leave.

You should definitely turn your alarm system on at night in your home. There’s no question about that. It’s what gives you peace of mind.

But the other scenario is you go to work, you decide to come home for lunch one day or something happens where you have to come home, and you walk back in on some idiot that’s still in your house that broke in the backdoor while you’re coming in the front door or your garage door.

Then you’re face to face with a burglar, between them and their only way out. That is a more dangerous situation, potentially, than someone trying to come in while you’re there.

In fact, we just spoke to a customer of ours last week, who lives in a nice neighborhood in Richmond. They typically go to work at 8:00 a.m. and come home at 5:00 p.m. One day recently, they decided they needed to come home for something, and got home around noon.

When they arrived home, they found their home had been burglarized.  Fortunately the person was not still in their home, but the burglar had busted in a back door and really made a mess of their house, and had stolen a lot of stuff. That person doesn’t know if they got home five minutes before the burglar left, or three or four hours before the burglar left. We’re just really glad that they didn’t walk in on the burglar.

That is a perfect example of why it’s so important to turn your system on when you leave your home.

Our philosophy is if you are leaving your home and you’re going to lock your door–which most people do even if they go to the grocery store for 30 minutes–why wouldn’t you turn on your alarm system?

Whether you use Dynamark Security or someone else, we think it’s just so important that if you leave your home, if you’re concerned enough that you’re locking your door, you should turn on your alarm system.  With all due respect to our friends the locksmiths, if someone wants to come into your home, the lock is not going to work. If locks worked, then we’d be doing something different, right?

A lock is simply not going to keep somebody out. If they want to come in, they’re coming in. If you’re going to lock your door, you might as well turn your alarm system on, and by doing so you’ll protect both your property and your piece of mind.

Best ID Theft Protection Services for 2017

ID theft protectionWhen most people think about protecting themselves, their families, and their businesses, they look to home security systems armed with alarms designated to alert homeowners to entry as well as cameras that can catch intruders in the act, ensuring they will be brought to justice. It’s vital to find a company you can trust (such as Dynamark Security of Richmond) to provide this kind of physical security for your family and business.

But what about your cybersecurity? You need to think beyond your family’s physical security— identity theft is a big issue, and becoming more prevalent every year. Between May and July of this year, Equifax was hacked. The data breach affected at least 143 million Americans—almost half of the adult population of the United States of America, and it wasn’t just adults whose data was stolen.

The following are examples of the best ID theft protection services you can work with to make sure you and your families are protected.

Identity Guard

What is covered?

ID Guard offers monitoring of three bureau credit reports, all credit cards and public records, social security numbers, bank accounts, applications, and internet security.

What is not covered?

ID guard does not alert the credit bureaus to fraudulent activities. They do not monitor the sex offender registry, and they do not offer 24/7 phone support.

What is unique?

ID Guard offers a higher standard of computer security than any other on this list. Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite, anti-keylogging software, and ID Vault software are included with purchase.

What do consumers say?

ID Guard has a four out of five stars on Consumer Affairs. Shawn from Alabama gave ID Guard a five-star rating, saying,

“I chose the service for extra protection and to be alert without much effort. It does a great job with protecting me from hackers and intrusions that continue in their efforts to steal your information.”

While Dan from Georgia gave ID Guard a three out of five stars and said,

“However, I did receive a lot of calls about upgrading my service. Normally I would ignore calls to upsell or telemarketers, but they are supposed to call if my identity was stolen.”

LifeLock

What is covered?

LifeLock monitors three bureau credit report scores, applications, driver’s license and passport activity, investment accounts, credit card and bank accounts, sex offender registry, court records, as well as social security numbers.

What is not covered?

No computer security software is offered.

What is unique?

LifeLock does have a guarantee on its one million dollar insurance, however, it is more expensive than most identity theft plans.

What do consumers say?

LifeLock has just over a three out of five-star rating on Consumer Affairs. The negative reviews appear to have happened after the Equifax data breach and were about long waits to reach customer service to set up protection.

James from Washington who gave LifeLock a five-star review said,

“I have heard stories of things like this happening. However, there have been a couple of incidents in my past that made me suspicious. I was able to easily correct those problems.”

Privacy Guard

What is covered?

Privacy Guard offers three bureau credit report monitoring, as well as internet, social security number, bank account, and credit card monitoring.

What is not covered?

Privacy Guard does not provide alerts to the credit bureaus when there has been fraudulent activity.

What is unique?

They do offer Norton Internet Security software with their plans.

What do consumers say?

Unfortunately, Privacy Guard was only scored at just over one out of five stars. The largest complaint seems to be membership cancellations due to financial institutions no longer doing business with Privacy Guard.

Experian

What is covered?

Experian has comprehensive monitoring of three credit bureau reports, credit applications, social security numbers, driver’s license, passport, non-credit loans, address change, credit card, bank account activity, sex offender registry, and court records.

What is not covered?

It does not have internet security software offered, and the one million dollar insurance is not a guarantee. 

What is unique?

If you prepay annually you get two months free instead of the usual one month free offered by the other companies.

What do consumers say?

Experian only has a one out of five-star rating on Consumer Affairs.

Kevin from Massachusetts gave a one-star rating because his plan was raised to a premium plan without his consent. He said,

“I never once accessed this account during this time period, and I certainly did not upgrade to premium. However, the representative informed me the account was being accessed several times per month. As I am not accessing it, clearly there is fraudulent activity, to which Experian was not only completely unsympathetic, but shockingly unconcerned.”

Most other complaints stem from price raising without consent and charges assessed for credit freezing. 

ID Watchdog

What is covered?

ID Watchdog does cover three credit bureaus and monitors bank accounts, credit cards, public records, driver’s license and passport activity. They also alert bureaus of fraudulent activity and offer resolution assistance.

What is not covered?

ID Watchdog cannot remove your name from direct mailing lists, a service that LifeLock offers, and you are charged a fee for credit history reports.

What is unique?

It has been recommended as the best service if you are already an identity theft victim.

What do consumers say?

While there are no consumer ratings on Consumer Affairs, an expert review had nothing but positive things to say, including a positive review of the customer service representatives,

“Expedient and ready to help with any questions you may have.”

Determining which ID theft protection service will best ensure your personal security, your family’s security or your business’s security is a difficult task. Should anyone ever attempt to steal any information of yours, you will be glad you put forth the effort. Your security online is important, as is your physical security. Contact Dynamark Security Centers today to get assistance with your home and business security!

How to Conduct a Small Business Security Audit

business security auditIs your small business secure? Are you sure? Businesses experience ten times more burglaries than households, yet many company owners consider their business more secure than their home. Businesses are also likely to be repeatedly re-victimized, with 17% of burgled businesses representing 69% of incidents.

It’s easy to miss security flaws that leave a company exposed. Focusing on the day-in, day-out needs of the operation can push security by the wayside. Here’s an outline of a basic small business security audit that will highlight issues to address. You may find that it reveals some surprising things that need your immediate attention.

Take a Tour

To set the stage for a thorough security assessment, you first have to step back and look at your business objectively. Physically tour your property as if you’re a visitor, auditor or even a criminal. If it helps, take along a trusted friend so you can see what an outsider would see.

As you walk around, think about vulnerabilities. What valuable things stand out? What’s shiny and new? What’s old or broken?

Make a list of physical components like:

  • The size of the land and adjacent roads
  • How many stories and rooms the building has
  • Whether there are shared walls and/or adjacent businesses
  • The locations of outer stairwells and ladders to the rooftop
  • How many windows and doors there are
  • The locations of storage and outbuildings
  • Where vehicles are parked and the condition of parking lots
  • Where money, safes, and inventory are located
  • Where alarms are located and their central point of access
  • Security features that may or not be in good working order

Also, take a closer look at your technology-related property, including:

  • Company phones, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets
  • Computerized systems
  • Cash registers
  • Servers and memory storage
  • Surveillance equipment, cameras, and speakers

Assess Your Access

Your physical assessment will lead you to think about access at all levels. Thieves don’t just climb in a window – they also creep into your data through cyber attacks. Customers, vendors, suppliers, and delivery drivers can compromise security through day-to-day access to your property. Employees may be tempted to sneak into private zones and information – in fact, one-third of business bankruptcies are the result of employee theft. Is your access too lax?

Think about these point of access:

  • Your website
  • Credit card processing
  • Inventory delivery and management
  • Company computers and mobile phones
  • Software installation and maintenance
  • Any equipment that is part of a network
  • Who has access to your Wi-Fi, if you have it
  • Building maintenance and security personnel
  • Docks and delivery points
  • Confidential information, like client records
  • Intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks

Examine weak points where criminals could slip in unnoticed. How are your employees’ computers and laptops secured during non-work hours? Who has keys to the room where your servers are kept? Do ex-employees still have access to the building, your website, or other cloud-based systems?

Audit Your Alarm System

Assuming that you have an alarm system of some kind on your building, as part of your security audit you should take a look at the system and make sure it’s up to the task (if you don’t have an alarm system, then getting one should probably be one of your top priorities).

Here are some questions that you ask yourself about your alarm system:

  • Is the alarm monitored by a reputable alarm monitoring company?  Un-monitored alarms that don’t alert the police when they are triggered won’t do you much good, and neither will a sub-par alarm monitoring company.  You should be using a monitoring company that has the Five Diamond Certification from the The Monitoring Association, a premier industry trade group (Dynamark Monitoring has this certification).
  • Is the alarm monitored wirelessly through the cellular system?  Alarms monitored through a landline can be disabled by cutting the phone line, a fact that burglars are well aware of.  The industry has been moving away from this method of alarm monitoring for years, and if you are still using it you should strongly consider changing to wireless alarm monitoring.
  • Are there contacts on all possible points of entry including all doors and windows?
  • Was the system installed by a security professional?
  • Is there a procedure for testing the alarm on a regular basis?  Who is responsible for testing it, and is that test actually being done?
  • Are employees who have a need to use the alarm trained on how to arm and disarm it?

Determine Attitudes and Habits

When you’ve taken the time to look at your assets and access points, it might become clear that your company has certain areas that seem riskier than others. Perhaps your outbuildings are secured tightly with locks and alarms, but lots of people have access to your office’s computer server room.

At this point, it’s important to evaluate the prevailing security attitudes and habits in your company. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What is the overall attitude toward security here?
  • Who is responsible for our security program?
  • Do we enforce security policies? How?
  • How recently have we developed/updated our emergency plan (fire, tornado, power)?
  • What are the local police, fire, and ambulance response times to our location?
  • Do we have monitoring equipment like CCTV cameras and intruder detection?
  • Who is trained on using our security systems?
  • Who is allowed into our buildings? And how do we identify intruders?
  • Do we have restrooms, vending machines, or other areas for public use?
  • How do we handle deliveries and packages?
  • Do our employees know how to report security threats?

Identify and Prioritize Weaknesses

All of the previous steps come together to allow you to build a picture of your security weaknesses. List them and begin to prioritize. Maybe the risk of a flood is fairly low, but you’ve had repeated instances of vehicle vandalism. This means it’s less urgent to work on your disaster plan than it is to get a CCTV security system for your parking lot.

As you identify weaknesses, look for effective ways to address them. Consider adding some of these security solutions:

  • Lighting, including motion detectors and powerful flood lights.
  • Physical barriers like bollards, tire strips, gates, and fences.
  • Warning signs.
  • Guard staff and routine checkpoints.
  • Key cards and other forms of electronic locking/tracking.
  • Video doorbells.
  • Alarms of all types – fire, intrusion, tamper, motion.
  • Restricted and monitored access points – windows, doors, docks, lockers, safes.
  • Cameras and wired or wireless security systems – keep in mind that businesses have been slower to adopt wireless systems than homeowners, meaning wired business alarms can often be disabled by burglars.

Finally, after your audit is complete, it’s essential to build a new company culture of security. The best security equipment in the world is useless if your employees aren’t using it correctly.

Develop a company-wide plan that lays out specific security procedures. Hold people accountable for security breaches. Train new employees on the rules, and continue to educate everyone about the plan on an ongoing basis.

Small BUsiness Security Audit Infographic

Ready to do a small business security audit? Partner with a reputable provider like Dynamark Security to make sure your new plan is secure on all fronts.

How to Prevent Security Cameras from Being Hacked

You’ve probably heard some of the stories appearing in the news this year about widespread hacking attacks using the Internet of Things—in other words, devices other than computers that are connected to the internet, such as appliances, TVs, and security cameras.

As a home security company, we want to arm you not just with the technology to protect your family but also the information you need to keep yourself safe.  To that end, here is a summary of what you need to know about hacking attacks against security cameras to keep from becoming a victim.

Ways That Security Cameras Can Be Hacked

So, how are hackers doing it? Don’t make the mistake of thinking they need physical access to a camera system or personal device. Most hacking is done through remote attacks, where hackers find vulnerabilities in networks and security software. From there, they can make a device act as they wish – accessing files and photos, downloading viruses, looking for passwords and other sensitive data, and generally wreaking havoc.

There are now so many types of hacking attacks, experts have divided them into categories. For example, brute force attacks are trial-and-error attacks that involve guesswork. So if someone wants your password, they can use software that tries to guess your password by submitting large numbers of guesses—up to thousands every minute.

Data breaches are another type of attack. They involve illegal access of sensitive information like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, and personal information. These can be small-scale or headline-making events – just ask a company like Target, which dealt with one of the largest data breaches of all time and eventually settled a class-action lawsuit for $10 million.

After a data breach, hacker’s next step is sometimes a masquerade attack. Stolen passwords and other sensitive information allows hackers to impersonate people.

Data breaches are especially hard to protect yourself against, since they don’t target you as an individual but rather the companies you do business with.  One thing you can do, however, is not use the same password for multiple applications—that way, if your login credentials are compromised in a data breach at one company you do business with, criminals can’t use the information to access your accounts at other companies.

Why Do Criminals Target Cameras?

Why do hackers want access to security systems and phone cameras? To see long, boring shots of people walking in office hallways? To see dozens of silly selfies? You might think that as long as you don’t use cameras to take racy photos, there’s no reason a hacker would be interested.

However, cameras can provide a huge amount of sensitive information. For example, a camera inside a business might be in the right spot to see credit card numbers as people remove them from wallets for payment. Your home’s security system might show you entering the password to get in, as well as the times you’re usually not home. What if someone’s watching?

How to Determine If Your Camera Has Been Hacked

It’s difficult to tell if your camera has been hacked. Look out for slowness and a system that doesn’t act like it should. Does your camera suddenly take 20 seconds to activate? Keep an eye on the indicator light too. If a LED light normally only activates during use, a light that comes on at other times could indicate a hacked camera. Also, if possible, look at your system’s screen that shows the processes running. A maxed-out system might be hacked.

How to Protect Your Cameras From Hacking

The best way to ensure nobody is accessing your cameras is to prevent them from doing it in the first place. That begins with choosing the right kind of security cameras and getting them professionally installed. Here are some more protective measures you can take.

Don’t buy used equipment. When you buy used cameras and devices, they could come pre-loaded for hacking and spying. Never purchase tech gear from strangers, and don’t trust that devices have been reset to factory settings or wiped.

Use complex passwords and change them often. It’s a hassle, but it’s one of the easiest ways to foil hackers. Passwords should have a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. They should be changed any time you suspect they may have been compromised—for example, if you get a notification that a company you do business with has been the target of a hacking attack that resulted in a data breach.  Also, in the case of a business, passwords should be changed any time an employee who knows the passwords leaves the company.

Keep software up to date. Allow automatic software and security updates to take place.  In you have a business, put someone you trust in charge of making sure your security camera software is up to date.

Secure wireless systems. Ensure your wireless network is secure. Make sure the WiFi access is only available by password to known devices. Use a dedicated network for large systems. Look into newer, more sophisticated equipment that comes with signals that transmit on various channels and are resistant to jamming. For maximum security, you could even opt not to connect cameras to the internet. Some businesses maintain closed systems that are only accessible within buildings, by in-person users.

Keep an eye on users. It’s also important to be vigilant about monitoring who has access to your cameras. For personal use, this can mean not allowing friends and acquaintances to use your cell phone, home security system, and WiFi. If you are having someone take care of your pets or watch your house while on vacation, consider changing the password after you return. For a business, it means you should keep a tight roster of who’s allowed to access your system.

Protect Your Phone’s Camera Also

Finally, a few words about cell phone cameras. The companies that develop them take great care to guard against hacker exploitation, but every phone is still vulnerable. The Apple iPhone is perhaps the best-protected phone on the market because it’s extremely difficult to hack. Android phones using out-of-date software can be exploited through security flaws.

Curious if your phone is vulnerable? Google “hack phone camera” to see a frightening list of instructions and software anyone can use for camera hacking.

Keep your phone secure by using a screen lock password, making sure its software is up to date, avoiding suspicious apps and links, staying off unsecured WiFi services, and paying attention if your phone is suddenly slow, or its battery is draining faster than normal.

And of course, always ensure your personal and business safety by partnering with a reputable security company.

How to Interpret Crime Statistics

interpret crime statisticsUnderstanding crime data isn’t easy. Friends, news stories – even mayors and police chiefs – often present crime statistics in an oversimplified way that allows easy conversation. But it’s important to understand the forces at work behind crime stats to have a truly accurate picture of what’s really going on.

New York City crime rates are a classic case of tricky numbers. Over the years, various officials have claimed responsibility for lower overall crime rates, lower homicide rates, lower violent crime rates, and many other measures of success. In 2015, New York City’s commissioner tweeted and talked about record-low crime rates. But an investigation found crime rates were actually up over the previous year. How is this possible?

As it turns out, the New York City commissioner, police chief, and watchdog agencies were all using slightly different methods for tracking and reporting crime stats. For example, the commissioner’s office routinely excluded victims of gunshot violence whose clothing – but not bodies – were pierced by a bullet. This type of cherry-picking leads to juicy sound bites but doesn’t present an accurate picture of the data. Here are some factors to consider when learning how to interpret crime statistics.

More Neighbors, More Crime?

You might assume that an upscale, gated neighborhood would have less crime than a rougher neighborhood nearby. But when it comes to crime data, assumptions are often incorrect. The size  – or more specifically, the population – of the neighborhood is important. Perhaps the gated community is huge and having more people simply means more potential criminals and crime victims. At the same time, it’s not safe to assume that a larger community will always seem to have more crime than a small one.

Compare the violent crime rates in Syracuse, NY and Walla Walla, WA. Syracuse has 110,000 more people than Walla Walla, yet Walla Walla has a higher per capita crime rate. Did you catch that “per capita”? It means population size was factored in. Syracuse might have more crimes in number, but Walla Walla has more crimes per capita – for its population size. Understanding how crime relates to population is an essential part of interpreting crime statistics.

The Effect of Vigilance

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Shedding light on crime, in the hopes of resolving and preventing it, can be a good thing. But it has an effect on crime data. When your neighbors report more crime, crime stats go up. It makes sense when you think of it this way, but it’s hard to remember when reading about, or discussing, crime rates.

Imagine looking at neighborhood crime rates as you choose your next home to purchase. Do you want to live in a neighborhood with a high reported burglary rate? Well, it depends. Perhaps the residents of the neighborhood are vigilant about watching for burglars and reporting burglaries to the police. Wouldn’t that be better – and safer – than a neighborhood where burglaries go unnoticed and unreported?

Data Collection Methods

It’s also vital to understand how data is collected and shared. Law enforcement professionals across the United States track crime in local precincts, report the crime to the state and share data with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

In fact, the gold standard of crime statistics resides with the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which has collected and distributed crime information since 1929. It publishes four databases of crime stats annually, with data from 18,000 agencies. But even this trustworthy source comes with a caveat: It’s slow. Local reporting agencies, like police stations, often take months to provide information to the UCR, which in turn often takes until at least the fall of any given year to combine and produce nationwide data for the previous year. So it’s sometimes hard to know if you’re looking at up-to-date information.

There’s also the matter of variation in tracking and reporting.The FBI UCR has reporting standards, but not all agencies follow them to the letter. Each community – and each police precinct – has its own habits, culture, and standards for recording crime. For example, in a sparsely-populated rural area, an assault and battery in a local restaurant might be rare and certainly reported in a crime tally. But in a bigger city, where dozens of bar fights happen daily, police might simply break up the scuffle and leave it unreported.

It’s worth noting that some of the most powerful factors in crime are hard to record, making them almost invisible in crime data. A study by the Yale Department of Sociology found that demographic indicators like race, age, gender, and poverty – which are often included in crime stats – were far worse predictors of gun violence than a person’s social network – which isn’t generally a part of crime stats because it’s hard to measure.

Mental Checklist

So whenever you encounter crime statistics, run through a checklist in your head. Is it a trusted source? Where are they getting their information? Are they cherry-picking the data? Are there terms like “per capita” with a deeper meaning? Is a higher rate of something really bad, or does it just mean vigilant citizens are doing their duty by reporting a crime?

Crime Data Terms to Know

  • Assault: Legally, an assault is a threat to carry out bodily harm without actually doing so. It is sometimes confused with battery, which is making physical contact.
  • Average: Average usually refers to the mean – where a set of numbers is added, then divided by how many numbers there are. Averages can be deceptive because even widely spaced numbers create a middle ground. The average of 1 and 99 is 50. But there’s a big difference between 1 and 99 murders.
  • Battery: Sometimes confused with assault, a battery is bodily harm against another person. “Assault and battery” means a threat was both made and carried out.
  • Burglary: A burglary occurs when a person unlawfully enters a structure with the intent to commit a crime. It is often confused with robbery, theft or larceny.
  • Demographic: Characteristics of a population like age, education, race, income, and gender are demographics.
  • Descriptive statistics: These statistics quantify something, like the number of burglaries in a certain county.
  • Firearms-related deaths/gun deaths: Look for the data behind these hot-button terms when you see them. Are suicides included? Self-defense situations?
  • Home invasion: This is forceful entry into a private residence with intent to commit a crime upon the occupants, like rape, assault, murder or kidnapping.
  • Homicide: The words homicide and murder are often used interchangeably, however, there is a difference. Homicide is when one person kills another. Murder is the legal charge of one person intentionally killing another, a form of criminal homicide. Some homicides are excusable or justifiable, like self-defense or a police officer killing someone in the line of duty.
  • Inferential statistics: Unlike descriptive statistics, inferential statistics are an attempt to draw conclusions and interpret data.
  • Larceny: The terms theft and larceny can generally be used interchangeably. Both are the unauthorized taking of property by theft or extortion – but not by robbery or burglary.
  • Mean: The mean is the mathematical way of finding an average. See “average” above.
  • Median: Often confused with mean and average, the median is the exact middle of a set of numbers. In the set of numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7, the middle numbers are 3 and 5, so the median is 4.
  • Per capita: This is a term that accounts for the size of a population. It comes from the Latin “by heads” and means something is being stated per person in the group.
  • Population: A population is simply a group of people. When looking at data, it’s important to know exactly which population is being discussed. Is it the U.S. population? The city population? A small population for a specific research study?
  • Robbery: When someone uses fear or force to take personal property, it’s robbery – often confused with burglary, larceny or theft.
  • Sample size: Every research study has a sample size – a representative group inside the larger group. For example, in a study of American attitudes about crime, the researchers might survey 20,000 citizens – not every person in the U.S. So the sample size is 20,000.
  • Sampling process: The sampling process is the method researchers use to choose a sample group to interview or survey. It is a controversial part of research and data collection because it leaves room for bias, errors, and creation of misleading statistics. Faulty polls may have errors in the sampling process.
  • Theft: Theft is a general term that includes the crimes of burglary, robbery, and larceny.
  • Violent crime: Although this term is used to mean many things, the FBI gives it a very specific definition. Violent crimes are murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.