Participants in almost every industry know that unplanned downtime of a network or operations is costly. The same goes for a physical security system, particularly video surveillance cameras. 

If a security camera misses a theft or evidence of a contrived slip-and-fall, it could literally put a company out of business. In the event that such an incident occurs and someone goes to review the camera footage, they discover that there is nothing there. The camera has failed and security leaders are left without crucial information. What happened? What went wrong? Who is to blame?

Now more than ever, reliable security systems require proactive device maintenance and lifecycle management to ensure continuous video coverage. With technology advancing at an increasingly rapid pace and cyberattacks on the rise, end users must remain vigilant against these threats. It is important to regularly apply the latest software upgrades and firmware updates that can help predict — and resolve — issues that may affect video surveillance camera performance over time. It is also essential to know and have a plan for when technology reaches its end-of-life.

The reality is that most end users do not properly maintain their devices, nor do they have a plan to future-proof their system. In fact, many IT departments are understaffed, and network administrators simply are not aware of all the technologies deployed on their network. So how can security leaders ensure continued, optimal performance of their video surveillance system? Choose wisely and maintain properly.

Choose a system carefully

There is no shortage of camera manufacturers to choose from on the market. What’s important when selecting a video surveillance camera manufacturer is determining if their products will do what they say they will and if the company provides the support necessary to keep the product software up to date and running. Oftentimes, features like 4K Ultra HD or analytics get all the attention when shopping for video surveillance cameras. What good are those capabilities if the camera is down and no one knows it? 

Availability and resiliency are key when choosing video surveillance cameras. Availability means the device is always operating and working when it should be. Resiliency is how quickly a camera that has failed can recover and get back online and operational. 

There are several reasons why a camera might go offline. The equipment itself fails, there is a cybersecurity breach, or it is not up to date with software or firmware. When choosing a manufacturer, it is essential to know what they do to provide protection from all types of threats. There are several questions security leaders should consider when selecting a camera manufacturer.

  • What is the typical software life cycle of the product?
  • How often are upgrades offered?
  • What is the cybersecurity posture of the manufacturer?
  • What are its certifications and compliances?
  • Are there third-party components within the product? 
  • How does the manufacturer respond to software vulnerabilities? 
  • What is the patch schedule?
  • Does the manufacturer offer APIs that allow information to be pulled into the existing toolset? If not, what is recommended?
  • Do they respond to Managed Service Providers (MSP) or to the end user, or both?
  • What is the response time?

It is important to ask if software support is included in the camera warranty. If the camera has a five-year product warranty, for example, does that also include software updates and maintenance? Or are those purchased separately? 

Determine who is responsible for the system

Physical security is often managed by more than one department within a business. Security departments often manage the systems operationally, while IT has the responsibility of monitoring the system from a software perspective — looking out for vulnerabilities, updating certificates and managing hardening requirements for the network. As far as installation of new devices on the network, this part is usually outsourced to an integrator who performs this work on behalf of the security or IT department. 

A business also might contract building security out to an MSP who installs, offers support for the system and monitors it. Regardless of the setup, it is important to ensure there are not silos between departments that block critical communication. Product update or vulnerability notifications might be sent to security, but if they do not act upon them, the device is vulnerable which could result in downtime. When choosing a solution, take the time to develop a communications plan with all business stakeholders to ensure that everyone responsible for uptime, availability and resilience are informed.

Test for failure

When installing or adding to a video system, using backups or applying patches, take the time to test for failure in a small test environment — where security leaders can make any changes if needed before deploying it to the full production environment. Take a couple of cameras, the video management software (VMS) solution and the network equipment and create a test environment. See how it functions, if there are any problems and how long the update or back up process takes. This can give security leaders an opportunity to see how a backup or a patch works before rolling it out to thousands of cameras. 

What to do with old equipment

Life cycle evaluations will include decommissioning cameras from service. It is honorable to want to donate equipment to businesses that might not have a video surveillance solution to help get them started or to add to their existing solution. However, it is not always a good idea. If the video camera no longer has software support for vulnerability updates, donating that camera could be handing someone a big liability by opening them up to cyberthreats. Unfortunately, charities, churches, schools or other beneficiaries are typically under-capitalized, do not have systems in place to support technology and are unable to protect themselves against threats. So, unless appropriate support is in place, then recycling old devices is the better option.

Deploying — or improving — a video surveillance solution can be exciting. Take the time to research video camera manufacturers to ensure that the chosen products will perform as expected and will receive the support they need to function properly. 

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security magazine. Subscribe here.