How Secure Are Wi-Fi Security Cameras?


Everyone’s seen the horror stories. Someone placed an Internet connected camera in their home and left it open to attack, allowing strangers to eavesdrop on their most private moments. Here’s how to pick a camera that guarantees your privacy.

Watch Out for IP Cameras

There are two main types of Wi-Fi-enabled security cameras: traditional IP (or networked) cameras, and modern “smart” cameras like Alphabet’s Nest Cam and Amazon’s Cloud Cam.

Most of the scary stories you see online about insecure cameras are about IP cameras. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with IP cameras. These are simply security cameras that connect to the network, either over Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection. They provide a web interface you can use to view their feed. These cameras can also be hooked up to a network video recorder system or a computer, letting you view and record all those camera feeds in one place. The cameras may have some built-in storage, but it’s generally your job to record their video feeds somehow, if you care to do so.

In practice, many people don’t set up these cameras securely. They leave them configured with the default username and password, and then connect them to the internet. This means anyone can watch the feed just by visiting the camera’s IP address online. There even are search engines like SHODAN designed to help people find these exposed camera feeds and other vulnerable Internet of Things devices.

If you’re just an average person looking for some simple security cameras, skip the IP cameras. If you’re a hobbyist with the do-it-yourself spirit, you might want to give IP cameras a go. Just be sure you know what you’re doing and set them up properly so people can’t snoop on you.

How “Smart” Cameras Are Different

Modern security cameras like Alphabet’s Nest Cam (Alphabet is the parent company that owns Google), Amazon’s Cloud Cam, and Netgear’s Arlo, for example, are different than IP cameras. These are designed as easy-to-use smarthome devices.

Instead of providing a dumb web interface pre-configured with a default username and password, cameras like these require you use an online account system. Live video feeds and recorded video clips are available through those online accounts. That account can sometimes be configured with two-factor authentication for additional security, which means even an attacker that knows your account’s password wouldn’t be able to view your cameras.

These types of cameras are automatically updated with the latest firmware, too. You don’t have to manually update them to fix security problems.

In other words, there’s no real complicated configuration. You just plug the camera in, create an online account, and then connect the camera to your account. As long as you choose a strong password and, ideally, set up two-factor authentication, there’s no way for an attacker to gain easy access.

Beware the Cheap Cameras

Of course, whatever smart camera you choose, it will be uploading its video feed—or at least video clips—to some server somewhere. It’s important that you trust the company involved.

For example, Nest is owned by Alphabet, which also owns Google. With Nest, you’re basically trusting Google. Other big companies, like Amazon, Netgear, and Honeywell also seem pretty trustworthy. These big companies should be serious about security and do a good job of securing their services. They have reputations to uphold.

RELATED: Are My Smarthome Devices Secure?

Some cameras just seem less trustworthy. For example, the Wyze Cam costs $26, where other manufacturers generally sell their cameras for $100 to $200. We actually thought the Wyze Cam worked pretty well and it’s certainly an amazing value. However, Wyze doesn’t offer any two-factor authentication support. And, whenever you initiate a live streaming session, that video feed is provided by a Chinese company named ThroughTek.

Whether you trust a company like Wyze is up to you. For example, Wyze might be fine for keeping an eye on the outside of your house, but you might not want to place it in your living room. It’s worth nothing that you can even use a Wyze camera without connecting it to Wi-Fi, and just record to a microSD card.

RELATED: Wyze Camera Review: The Cheapest Home Security System You’ll Ever Find

Other cameras are even less trustworthy. In 2017, many cameras by Chinese manufacturer Foscam were found vulnerable to attack. For example, some of these cameras contained hardcoded backdoor passwords that would allow attackers to view live feeds from your camera. It’s worth spending a bit more for a more secure camera.

Choose a Camera That Supports Two-Factor Authentication

As we’ve already mentioned several times, two-factor authentication is a key security feature to have with a smart security camera account. You can set up two-factor authentication for your Nest account and Amazon account.

Unfortunately, the Wyze Cam doesn’t offer this feature. Even Netgear’s Arlo cameras don’t offer two-factor authentication, so don’t count on every camera from a trustworthy company including this type of security.

For maximum security and privacy, be sure to choose a camera that supports two-factor authentication, and be sure to set it up! Do your research before buying a camera.

RELATED: What Is Two-Factor Authentication, and Why Do I Need It?

How to Keep Your Security Cameras Secure

The core advice here is pretty simple. Here’s how to choose a secure security camera and keep your video feeds private:

  1. Buy a “smart” security camera, not an IP security camera that requires more configuration.
  2. Get a camera from a trustworthy brand you recognize, like Nest or Amazon.
  3. Use a strong password when you create your online account for the camera.
  4. Enable two-factor authentication. (Be sure to buy a camera with this feature for maximum security.)

If you do all these things, you should be completely secure. The worst case scenario would be a massive breach of Nest or Amazon’s servers, but that would be a big shocking story, and would be fixed immediately.

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