Ask LH: Will Wireless Cameras Help Secure My Property?

Ask LH: Will Wireless Cameras Help Secure My Property?

Hi Lifehacker, Recently I’ve had a series of break and enter attempts made against my home. Whilst none have been successful yet, my biggest concern is the police and I have minimal evidence of what has happened. There is no CCTV in/around the street, no witnesses and I personally haven’t got a look at the person(s) involved. The police are going to send a forensics team this time to try and pull prints.

We are renting a single story brick home. If I owned the home, I would have installed my own security system and cameras but being a rental, I can’t do this. I’ve read a lot about wireless IP Cameras recently and I am wondering: would this be suitable for someone renting a property, where a traditional wired installation probably isn’t possible? Thanks, Insecure

Break-and-enter picture from Shutterstock

Dear Insecure,

Wireless IP cameras are affordable and require minimal installation. However, they also run a higher risk of being stolen because the cameras are easy to remove. You’ll subsequently want a solution that stores footage remotely; either directly onto your network or via automatic uploads from an SD card slot.

IP cameras are quite simple to set up these days; most come with software that guides you through the process when you first log into the control centre. Once everything is set up, you can then keep tabs on your property remotely via the internet. Some are even compatible with free smartphone apps that ping security alerts and let you pan and tilt the camera.

Important features to look out for include motion detection, timer switches, an infrared/night mode, audio capture, email alerts and, if your camera is exposed to the elements, outdoor suitability. You may also want to plump for a model that is capable of HD video capture, as this will aid in the identification of suspects.

If you’re looking for an affordable solution, the Kogan Wireless IP Camera currently costs $59 per unit. While it’s not high-definition, it comes with all of the other features mentioned above, including 270 degree pan and 90 degree tilt rotation which can be controlled remotely via iPhone or Android devices.

Naturally, you should also speak to your real estate agent about the situation prior to setting up the cameras. As a renter you’re entitled to safe and secure accommodations — the landlord may upgrade the locks on your house and might even cover some of the camera surveillance costs. (Burglars aren’t known for being gentle with properties after all, so it will be in their interest to thwart them.) We’d also spring for home contents insurance if you haven’t already.

On a final note, also be mindful of where your cameras are pointing during set-up — if you inadvertently breech the privacy of a neighbour (by directing the camera over a backyard fence, say), it could be you getting questioned by the police instead of the thieves you’re trying to catch in the act.

Do any security conscious readers have a suggestion of their own? Disseminate your findings in the comments section below.


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  • We had a problem with a nosey neighbor and it was making my wife uneasy. I installed two FOSCAM ip cameras from a local supplier and set-up Zoneminder on my existing Linux server and we are very happy with the system. Siting the cameras was the hardest part and I agree that they could easily be taken by would be thieves, but then again I would have a record of that wouldn’t I.

  • From setting up my own cameras:
    – Test the motion sensitivity for a couple of days, preferably with different weather conditions (this won’t be an issue in Sydney), so you can dumb it down to an acceptable level. You will be surprised what will trigger it – shadows, leaves, even the sun going behind a cloud.
    – Strongly recommend having any images captured uploaded to an off site location (FTP, email, etc).
    – If you choose email, set up a separate email address just for the image capture, or you may find your main inbox flooded with images of the neighbours cat strolling across your lawn.
    – If you are using cameras with IR LEDs behind glass, do a live test first, or you may find the reflection of the LEDs blind the camera most effectively.
    – If you mount the cameras outside, try to place them where they don’t stick out like dogs balls. A camera will not stop any crimes, and is only a mild deterrent, at best. A house frontage bristling with cameras draws attention from both the lawbreaker and the law enforcer. The former thinks there is something to steal, the latter is quite curious on the overt security presence (multiple cameras outside can indicate a drug or cultivation house). Bizarrely, too much overt security can perceived as a threat/challenge by some overly territorial individuals, resulting in unprovoked vandalism.
    – If you’re mounting cameras inside, consider the reverse angle of chokepoints. Pointing at the door is bad placement, as the outside glare will bloom out the image, however a camera discreetly above the door will capture quite a good shot of him, as he is leaving the property.
    – Expect your neighbours to ask questions about the setup. Be vague. Tell them your brother set it up or something.
    – If you use software that allows you to highlight a specific area for motion detection, allow for some lead time for the camera to ‘wake up’ and capture the image – I used Swanns Max cam software, and initially it was capturing some excellent shots of people just moving out of view.
    – Check and test. Check and test. Check and test
    – Make sure the camera is only going to capture people who are on your property. I don’t know the legality of filming people who jog past your place on the footpath, but it’s probably a situation best avoided.
    – Research your cameras before purchase. I bought some cheap D-Link IP cameras, only to find they were useless during the day, because of the sun glare off the concrete driveway, and useless at night, as they had no IR capability.
    – If you hack the doorbell camera to have an IR filter on all the time, it will view right through sunglasses, giving a clear view of the persons face. Most thieves will ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is home.
    – For cameras that have little/no IR functionality, you can string up some fairy lights, or have those solar garden ornaments to provide some illumination. For a real James Bond feel, replace the normal LEDs with IR LEDs (search eBay) to give unnoticeable light for your cameras – unless Sam Fisher is visiting, then he’s going to find your place light up like a fairground.
    – If you have camera running inside, and you and your partner like to go au naturel, make sure the password on your camera, email account, FTP account is a strong one, or you may unwittingly entertain millions on the Internet via live streaming or stolen pictures.

    After all that, if your place does become compromised, and you get a good mug shot of the offender, don’t be surprised if the police do not follow up on it.
    Unless it’s someone you can pinpoint (like your nosy neighbour) or a person of interest to them, it will fall into the low priority bin.
    We had someone steal a laptop in broad daylight from our office in North Sydney, and despite crystal clear image of the woman (subtley dressed in bright yellow and blue), the police bluntly told us it was not a matter they would be following up on, which to be honest, I agree with totally.

    Oh, one last thing.
    Despite all your siting, interlocking fields of view, weatherproofing, offsite uploads, all cameras will be defeated by someone wearing a wide brimmed hat, and keeping their head down.

  • I use a QNAP nas server running surveillance software on it and a combination of D-Link IP cameras for indoor and Foscam cameas for outdoor. I set mine up initially to catch nosy neighbours entering my property and also to watch our dog in the backyard

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