We’ve all seen those movies where vital security camera footage has been tampered with. The criminal gets off scot-free because somehow, they were able to alter the images or freeze the recording or even change the time stamp. But is this actually possible or is it just another of Hollywood’s shenanigans?
Unfortunately, the short answer is yes, the footage on your security camera can be tampered with! But how can this happen and are you able to see if your footage has been changed? Let’s take a look at these questions… and a few others too… in more detail.
What is Camera Tampering?
This is when a perpetrator tries to damage, access, vandalize or steal a security device. CCTV cameras can be vulnerable to vandalism as they are often mounted on outside walls. It is important to mount your cameras in places that are difficult to see or difficult to get to – high up on walls or in places that are slightly concealed or in shadow. This might not stop tampering entirely but it will dissuade those who are simply out to randomly cause damage to property or act opportunistically.
How Can Someone Change My Camera Footage?
Cameras form the basis of any video surveillance security system. You need to know that the footage recorded is safe and accurate. Unfortunately, with the advanced technology and software of today, anything can be changed. The physical safety of your surveillance system as well as the data security must be made a priority.
Physical Safety of Your Equipment
Strategies like Tamper Detection and Vandal Resistance can help in preventing vandalism especially if your cameras are located outside.
The most basic way that your cameras can be tampered with is by simply disconnecting them. An unplugged camera cannot record. Make it a priority to check all your power cables to ensure none have been pulled out or cut.
A camera that has been disconnected produces an alarm. So instead of pulling out power cables, the perpetrators can simply move the cameras – either taking them off the walls or changing the viewing angles. Lenses can also be blocked. Check your cameras regularly to make sure nothing has been changed.
Some CCTV cameras use a key switch or a timer that arms or disarms the system. This is a greater risk when the system is remotely monitored. Check that the RVRC (Remote Video Response Centre) is working correctly and sending through alarms at the times it is supposed to.
Damaged or disconnected alarm sensors will not send alarm triggers at the central monitoring station. If your site is connected to a central monitoring station it could be days before they realize that the alarms are not working. Check that the RVRC is receiving the right number of alarms.
To protect your data there are methods like Firmware Signing and Solid-State Storage. Securing your data correctly means that your video footage is secure too. Securing access to the data will also prevent tampering.
The time or date can be adjusted on the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and this could be used to cover up a criminal act. Make sure that the date and time are correct. It is a cause for concern if even a time discrepancy of only a few minutes is found.
Many systems use a watermark on their footage. If the footage is tampered with this watermark gets broken. A line running through the footage will appear when the camera footage is replayed. This makes it easy to see if the footage has been tampered with.
How To Prevent Tampering
In order to come up with an effective solution to prevent tampering, you need to ask yourself the following type of questions: “How durable is the device”, “How is the camera mounted”, “Where is the best place to mount my security cameras” and “Who has access to the cameras and to the footage”.
We previously touched on some of the answers to these questions. Mount your cameras in high places and places that are not easily visible while still having a clear viewing range. Make sure your cables are protected and checked regularly. If your camera is mounted outside, make sure that it is durable and weatherproof.
Only allow a few people access to the camera footage. Make sure they are people you can trust. However, even if you do trust them, check up on them regularly.
Make sure that you keep backups of all your footage and store the backups securely.
Is It a Lot of Hard Work to See if My System Has Been Tampered With?
Yes, it can be! Sadly, it can take a large number of resources to do these tests. However, there is software out there that can help you.
CheckMyCCTV is one such software solution. It monitors your security system all day, every day, from your smartphone. CheckMyCCTV performs remote maintenance checks. It will provide you with a list of the faults it finds, allowing you to decide if and when you want to fix the issue.
This software can pick up connection problems, camera failure, the integrity of the images, hard drive failure, problems with recordings, and the accuracy of the date and time stamps.
You can purchase this software on various sites online.
There is no easy way to find out whether a video has been tampered with or not. Especially if the editing has been done well. However, there are subtle things that might give an edit away.
- Technical giveaways
These are artifacts of the editing technique. For instance, mathematical formulae are used by editing software to blur images so that they do not match reality. By analyzing the blurred edge, you could possibly determine whether the blur is natural or a created one. You would need mathematical analysis to assist you with this. Blurring can also be done on still images. Video editing is harder to detect than that done to still images.
Another giveaway on video editing is fake motion. It is not an easy thing to fake motion. There is great difficulty in matching the motion so closely that it is hard to detect. Keep an eye out for anything that looks like a glitch in terms of movement on your video footage.
- Visual Analysis
This is simply looking closely at the footage to see that there is nothing inconsistent in the recording. For instance, objects casting the correct shadow, or the angle of shadow, might show that something has been edited.
To be good at forensic image analysis one must study and practice considerably so that one become competent. Even analysts that are highly skilled have difficulty determining with absolute certainty that videos have been edited. Such are the skills of the perpetrators!
There are plugins to aid you with your forensic analysis, but they are not always conclusive. One such plugin is called InVid. You can find it online on the InVid website.
So, your security camera footage is tampered with, but it is preventable. You need to have the correct equipment and software installed and you need to make sure you are vigilant with checking up both on the hardware of the system as well as the footage recorded. Limit access to the footage and make regular backups.
Just as an added peace of mind, if you are using security cameras at your home, chances are the average thief out there will not have the skills to tamper with your camera footage and will only tamper with your physical camera. Providing you follow our tips as pertains to the placement of your cameras and visually inspect them regularly, you should be perfectly fine.