Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

20.12.2019 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 177


As our family gathers together during the holidays, it is inevitable there will be a point in time when we start reminiscing about our lives together. We pull out funny stories from our past with maybe a little embellishment on each retelling.

One chestnut that always features in our ruminating is the time when one of our teenage children snuck out to a party late at night. When my wife and myself were woken by our dog, a quick inspection of the house found no intruder, but a decision to check our CCTV footage delivered immediate results. Said teenager jumped out of bed – fully clothed – and burst into tears with a full admission about the nocturnal activities!

It wasn’t that long ago that the thought of CCTV in your home was unheard of – but the development of CCTV now sees (only one pun this week, I promise) over 400 million cameras installed across the world.

CCTV has a long history. In 1927, the Moscow Kremlin installed a system to allow Stalin to monitor approaching visitors. In 1942 in Peenemünde, Germany, another early system was installed to allow Hitler to observe the launch of V-2 rockets.

When CCTV moved from monitoring to recording and monitoring, the value of CCTV increased dramatically. The first systems involved manual reel-to-reel media but with the advent of VCR during the seventies, tapes could now easily be inserted and swapped or, better still, rewound and recorded over again. Outside the banks and casinos and streets of New York, it took the development of digital multiplexing during the nineties for CCTV to really become mainstream. Digital Video Recorders (DVR) were introduced at the beginning of this century which allowed recording of footage on hard drives for even greater flexibility and faster retrieval.

The current crop of cameras are high-quality digital IP cameras that process the signal at the camera itself and then send the image for viewing and recording via ethernet cables. The data can be stored and viewed via a Network Video Recorder (NVR) or…the cloud. The last component is the area with the greatest excitement…and concern. An NVR uses hard drives to store data in the same way as a DVR but with the data being in a digital format, it makes it very easy to view the data via the Internet. Some cameras even bypass a local NVR altogether and record the data directly to the cloud. That sounds fantastic – a thief wanting to destroy evidence at a crime scene can potentially find a local storage device but it is harder when the data is in the cloud. Or maybe not…

A family in the US recently installed an IP camera to provide additional safety for their 8-year-old daughter. Whilst innocently playing in the same room as the camera a few days after purchase, a stranger struck up a conversation with the girl – via the camera. Not only could they see everything the camera could see, but they could speak with the girl. In this case the girl was aware enough to report the incident to her parents but…it could have been much worse. The provider of the camera emphasised the importance of secure passwords and two-factor authentication and I concur with those statements. The parents admitted they had a very lax attitude to security – which changed very quickly after this incident.

Whether you like the idea of CCTV or not, the reality is that you are probably being recorded by multiple cameras every single day as you go about your daily life.

Tell me your thoughts on CCTV in our society at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson