Security Today

Comments, thoughts, and pet peeves about the application (or misapplication) of security today.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Remote alarm system control

Remotely arming/disarming and alarm system management are popular features no doubt. Are they worth it? What is the best service for remotely managing your alarms?

What exactly do this offer? Remotely managed and controlled alarm systems are a relatively new consumer feature, although it has been around for about a decade. Service providers typically offer web access to your alarm system so you, the user, can make adjustments, set up reports, and sometimes even arm/disarm the system remotely.

This, of course, means your alarm system is accessible via the world wide web - the internet - and anyone with that access (like billions) may also potentially have access as well. Sounds daunting and maybe even discouraging. Is it a risk? Yes. Is it a manageable risk? Yes. Most of these systems offer a feature that allows a message to be sent (email or sms) whenever the account is logged into, so the user can quickly know that someone has attempted or gained access.

So what are the advantages of such a service? The obvious ones are being able to arm the system while you are outside the building. It allows you to disarm the system remotely so a friend can get in, a landlord, the fire department, et al. That's just the beginning. You can add/delete users on the fly or change user codes. Some providers allow sensors to remain actively monitored even when the alarm system is disarmed. Whenever a sensor's status changes the event is logged, and the user can create alerts (emails/sms) to identify whenever this event occurs. So a parent can see when a child arrives home, or opens the liquor cabinet, goes into space where a firearm is maintained, and so on.  


It also becomes possible to create a system with no "quiet zone" around the access door.  This last point is unique. Instead of providing greater convenience and control it opens possibilities for identifying intrusions. Without the "quiet zone" around the keypad the alarm system activates immediately upon entry. This is true both for the intruder and the legitimate user. The legitimate user should, of course, disarm the system prior to entering. There may not even be a keypad by a door to facilitate system operations. Or a dummy keypad can be placed by a door to allow the less intelligent intruder to "try" to disarm the system - slowing them down for both an apprehension by law enforcement and limiting their ability to collect items to steal. Most importantly, the detection time is shortened.

So, is this feature worth it? I wouldn't want a system without it. Is it possible for an accomplished hacker to bypass this aspect of the system? Yes, no, maybe, what of it. For now this is a more powerful tool for the threat it is designed - the burglar. The super-hacker is not who is likely to target your home, unless you in a position of power, prestige or fame in which case you should hire a professional to guide and assist you with a more integrated all-risk approach. For the rest of us the street criminal that is likely to target our homes can be better managed as you take greater control of your systems.

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