I joined the summer travel flurry last month. In the whirlwind of it all, I remembered to pack my bags, upload a scan of my immunization card, and download my boarding pass. However, before I ran out the door, I didn’t think about hooking up the security camera that overlooked my studio apartment. Face, palm meet.
Smart surveillance devices from brands like Ring, Nest, and Arlo make DIY home security easy and affordable, which is why they have become popular with tech-savvy households. Cameras are the second most popular smart home device, behind thermostats, according to consultancy Strategy Analytics. In addition to providing security, cameras can help you keep track of pet sitters, messengers, yard workers, and others who might have a good reason to be at your home while traveling.
These devices will only help you monitor your home if they are turned on and connected to the internet, of course. You’re not a fool, so you probably won’t leave your camera disconnected like I did. But there are other considerations: Don’t let a dead battery or weak signal keep you in the dark. Before your next trip, you’ll want to confirm that your security cameras are operational and that they are digitally and physically protected. Here’s how to audit your video surveillance system.
Check your Wi-Fi signal strength. Many devices allow you to evaluate this in settings. Ring users can go to the Device Status page to view internet speeds and signal strength. Large metal or structural objects, such as a television or a water tank, can affect connectivity. Try moving the router closer to the device or to a more open central location. If you have multiple devices spread throughout your home, try implementing a mesh Wi-Fi network, which covers your home with wireless internet and can improve indoor and outdoor connectivity.
Create a strong and unique password. “These services routinely target what are known as credential stuffing attacks,” said Craig Young, principal security researcher at Tripwire, a cybersecurity company. “This is where an attacker will use stolen usernames and passwords in other breaches to guess logins from other sites.” With your login, hackers can watch and listen to live video broadcasts in your home, so make sure you have a strong password and enable multi-factor authentication.
A good password manager can help you create long and unique passphrases, remember them, and auto-fill those credentials for you too, simplifying the login process for all of your online accounts.
Update the camera firmware. Companies regularly release security patches that can help prevent hijackings. Go to the application on your device to see if it is running the latest software.
Protect your Wi-Fi network too. Does your home Wi-Fi have a strong password that is not easily guessed? If not, change it. And make sure it is set to WPA2 or WPA3 encryption. This will prevent snoopers from accessing the home network that powers your security devices. You can usually find these settings in your router’s app. (If your router doesn’t have an app, you can still get in by typing in your router’s web address, but that could be a sign that you need to update your Wi-Fi network.)
If you regularly provide your Wi-Fi password to visitors, consider creating a guest network, a fairly standard option on newer routers. In this way, you can share your Wi-Fi without giving people access to the devices on your network.
Enable end-to-end video encryption. Ring recently introduced full end-to-end encryption for audio and video recordings. This means that only mobile devices with the feature enabled can view the videos; people at Ring or its parent company, Amazon, cannot scan them..
In the Ring app, go to Control Center, then select Video Encryption, then Advanced Settings, and finally End-to-End Video Encryption. You will need to create a password for the encrypted videos. There is no way to recover this password if you don’t remember it, so save it in a password manager or other safe place.
Other brands offer varying degrees of encryption.
Charge the batteries and opt for power backups. Some devices are battery powered, while others are plugged in. Check the battery levels and charge them fully before leaving town. If you’re concerned about battery drain, consider backup options, like this weather-resistant solar panel charger from Arlo.
Also, when winter rolls around, remember that lithium-ion batteries, like those found in certain Ring doorbells, will drain faster in cold weather.
While battery-powered devices are protected against power outages, your internet router is not. Offering professional monitoring for $ 10 a month, Ring’s alarm system has a cellular backup system in the event of a power outage. You can also buy affordable battery backup devices, like this APC Back-UPS from Schneider Electric, which can protect your modem and router from surges or power outages.
Enable motion detection. Most devices have this feature and some can distinguish a person from other moving objects so you don’t end up drowning in notifications. Check for specific recommendations for capturing motion from the device manufacturer. Arlo cameras, for example, are better equipped to detect side-to-side movement, rather than movement toward the camera, so you’ll want to position your device accordingly.
Evaluate your lighting. While many cameras have night vision, total darkness can mean poor visibility. Faces can also be discolored due to overexposure. Changing the angle of the camera can help with that.
Lights can also act as an effective deterrent. Ring and Arlo offer floodlight cameras that can destroy areas with bright LED lights (and even emit a siren to scare off would-be thieves). Ring users can also link devices. If a camera detects motion, for example, that can trigger a searchlight and road lights to turn on or other cameras to start recording.
Enable sound detection on smart speakers. With a Nest Aware subscription ($ 6 a month), Nest cameras, as well as Google speakers like the Google Home, Home Mini, and Nest Hub, can detect the sound of smoke alarms or glass breakage.
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Alexa Guard, which can be used for free with Echo speakers, also listens for glass breakage and the smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. You can also automatically turn your smart lights on and off while you’re away. A paid version, Guard Plus ($ 5 a month, but also included with a $ 10 a month Ring Protect Plus subscription), can hear human activity, such as footsteps or talking, and a siren, or the sound of a barking dog. “When it detects a possible intruder.” An emergency helpline operator can call the police, fire department, or an ambulance on your behalf.
Ride above arm’s length, but not too high. Place your camera near entry points (front door, back door, garage, basement ladder, etc.). A visible security camera could deter potential intruders, so keep it in sight. If your device has a status light, leave it on.
Ring recommends that outdoor cameras be placed about 9 feet off the ground, while Arlo suggests that your devices be placed at least 7 feet high and within 15 feet of expected activity. Ideally, you want devices at a height where they cannot be easily manipulated, but close enough that they can clearly see people’s faces.
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