27 February, 2014

Shop security, and wireless technology.

On one of the woodworking forums, a member recently posted up some concerns with workshop security having to deal with a trivial breach of automatic garage door openers, and the safety release mechanism that can be activated from the outside with a simple coat hanger.

This got me thinking about shop security. We all know we have a ton of money in our shops, even those of us, like me that bargain shop, and go with lower cost branded products. And we want to protect them from thieves as best we can.

That can include adding a security system, and MANY of those security systems are using wireless technology. Which brought the IT professional in me out and said WHOA NELLY! Wireless is NOT the way to go!

Have you ever been talking on your cell phone, or cordless home phone, and lost signal? What about your WiFi? Ever get any drops there?

If you have been anything more than an extremely casual user of these technologies, then you have experienced these problems.

Have you ever been using say a corded circular saw, and accidentally cut the cord? To paraphrase Dr. Phil, how'd that work for you?

The major types of electrical technology are broken down into wired, and wireless technologies. In communications, which includes something as simple as completing a circuit to turn something on, or breaking a circuit to turn it off, the wireless technology isn't as cutting edge as the marketing types would have you believe. Wireless communication technology can be summed up in one single word.


You remember radio right? A transmitter sends oscillations at a given frequency out of an antenna and in turn those oscillations are transmitted over the air, and picked up by an antenna and translated back to whatever useful data was put out there by a receiver, If the receiver and transmitter are combined into one unit they are called a Transciever. If you are old enough to remember before the common implementation of the cell phone, many of us had larger, simpler transcievers in our cars, they were called CB Radios...

Now continuing the stroll down memory lane back to early days of the internet, it actually goes back further than that, but most folks remember dialup internet, and the modem correct? A modem takes a digital stream of data, and modulates it for transmission over a voice line, and then demodulates it at the receiving end. Thus the word modem stood for MOdulate DEModulate.

Wireless digital technology simply take the century plus old technology of transcievers, and combine it with the multi decades old technology of MOdulate DEModulate transmission / reception of digital signals and combines them into a standardized format.

While we all love our mobile devices, and not having to string network cables all over the place, wireless, and for that matter, wired technologies have their security drawbacks.

Drawbacks to wireless security are:

  1. It is a trivial matter to breach the first layer of network data security, the physical layer, and access the data stream being sent, because it is being sent through the air, sniffers are common, and even modern cell phones can with a malicious program EASILY and quickly decrypt poorly encrypted data streams, giving the attacker easy, and full access to data YOU expect to be private. 
  2. It is an even more trivial matter to interfere with the proper transmission / reception of signals, metal, high iron content in the soil, noisy electric motors, whatever, and your signal fails... 
  3. Transceivers get hot, and fail. A LOT...
Drawbacks to wired security are:
  1. Trivial matter to break the physical layer connection, interrupting the system. Simply cut the communication wire. They are super easy to identify versus power carrying wires as they are MUCH lighter gauge, and typically marked on the jacket as communication cable.Exposed unprotected wires can be cut with a pair of scissors. Enclosing the wire in conduit, or even the steel flexibly conduit would prevent all but the most determined efforts, and by that time the attack efforts would be detected, and reported.
  2. Modular connections are vulnerable to corrosion when exposed to the elements for exterior sensors / cameras. Selection of truly "outdoor" rated sensors, cameras, or enclosures would provide ample protection, and insure long life of both the device, and the conection.
  3. Physically running the wiring. This is no joke, this can be hard work, and expensive to accomplish if you are not experienced and need to hire a professional. 
  4. If you rely on your cable internet, or DSL internet connection for your remote monitoring and alerting, it is trivial to knock out either of these services to your block from well outside of the visible area of your cameras, far away from your property.
A more comprehensive approach to security addressing as best as possible with residential grade equipment and services.
  1. Do you have windows in your shop? Make sure that those on the outside cannot see in.. 
  2. Insulate your doors, walls, ceiling etc... as tightly as you can, not only will it make the space MUCH more comfortable to work in, it will also reduce, or eliminate perceptible noise coming from your shop, avoiding alerting people to the fact here is a shop loaded with tools there.
  3. Keep the doors CLOSED. Again the idea here is to keep folks with thievery in mind from even guessing that you have anything of value stashed in there. They are far less likely to target what they can't see. 
  4. If your shop is a shop, and doesn't have to hold your wifes car, get rid of that automatic garage door opener. Those things are an invitation to trouble. Many of them have transmissions that are put out unencrypted, a simple radio sniffer hiding in the bushes can detect the signal code, and save it for the thieves later use. Get it GONE.
  5. Make certain that your doors, windows, and all associated hardware are in proper condition. If you have windows, the extra cost of impact resistant security window replacement might be worth installing, and might just bring you a homeowners insurance discount.
  6. Proper device selection. There are areas where wireless is really the only reasonable choice due to limitations of running cable, but where you can, use wired devices.
  7. Run at least Category 5e cable to any ports that need ethernet. Category 6 is only slightly higher in price with most installers, however some charge a premium for it. It is worthwhile to future proof your installation assuming it's not too expensive to do so...
  8. Any exterior exposed cable should be enclosed in a conduit to insure its security from humans, and even animals. This same conduit can carry the low power connection to the device, however do not use too small of a conduit. Any cable carrying power, and data should not be too close to the other as this can cause interference.
  9. Use a dedicated network for your devices. A good security hub should have a connection for your device switch, your internet connection, and your backup connection, more on that in a second...
  10. You should select a service that has both wired, and cellular monitoring / alerting capabilities. If the cell signal is interfered with the wired connection should work and vise versa, if BOTH are being interfered with, we are under a military style attack and the security of your possessions should be a secondary concern to the well being, security and safety of you and your family.
While I am pulling a blank on what else I am missing, chances are I am missing something here. Please feel free to post up comments letting people know your ideas on this subject. This is an important area that I don't think many people consider.

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