Momentum has shifted technology to the network

The OSI Model and Physical Security

Momentum has shifted technology to the network

The OSI Model and Physical SecurityWhen the IP camera was introduced to the physical security industry in the mid-1990s, the move from analog to digital was set in motion. Adoption of this technology began slowly but has steadily gained momentum. Security manufacturers with product(s) other than video have recognized the value of IP networks as a platform to allow for the control of and communication with their systems. IP networking is a great choice because it is extremely flexible while also being standard-based, making it highly reliable.

The Open Systems Interconnection Reference (OSI) Model is often mentioned in IP-related discussions. The seven layers in the OSI stack are discussed in order from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom, each of which relates to a different part of the process of network communication.

The Application Layer. At the top of the stack, network-aware applications allow users to interface with other network-based resources. There are many protocols at work within this layer that security systems rely on to either operate properly or offer valuable features. Many network video recorders leverage the following protocols:

  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)—Automatically configures the IP address, subnet mask, gateway and DNS information for enabled devices. Manufacturers may offer this feature in an effort to make their network devices easier to deploy. (I don’t recommend using DHCP for IP video systems. I prefer using a static addressing scheme.)
  • Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP)—Browser-based clients have long been popular for viewing and/or controlling networked video products.
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP)—Supports the transfer of data to and from a server. It is common for video recorders to deliver snapshots or video clips to an FTP server for storage and retrieval.
  • Simple Message Transport Protocol (SMTP)—This protocol provides support for systems that are capable of sending alerts and video attachments via email.
  • Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)—Used for monitoring and reporting on the condition of a supported network device. These messages, SNMP Traps, are sent to a management system for review. Trap information will vary depending on the device and could include system reboot, hard drive health, link down, link up and system temperature.

The Presentation Layer. Moving down the stack, text, graphic and audio information is routinely transmitted over IP networks by security-related devices. The primary function of this layer is to properly format or translate information that will be presented to the user at the application layer or sent to the lower layers for transmission across networks.

ASCII or EBCDIC is used for text while audio may require standards like G.711 or WAV to achieve the desired results. A number of graphics formats are implemented at this layer to provide the visual experience to the user:

  • Bitmap (BMP);
  • Graphics Interchange Format (GIF);
  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG);
  • Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG); and
  • Audio Video Interleave (AVI).

Many IP cameras, NVRs and networked DVRs use JPEG for snapshots and some variant of MPEG for compression. Some applications may rely on this layer for encryption of the data before transmission, as well.

The Session Layer. Responsible for set up and teardown of connections between networked devices, the session layer and transport layer work handin- hand to manage these connections.

In the event that multiple connections exist between a source and destination, the session layer ensures the proper data gets delivered over each connection.

The Transport Layer. The data is broken into segments, and information about the communication protocol being used and the source and destination ports are added. Two key protocols are commonly used to aid with the mechanics of data transport: Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), a reliable protocol, and User Datagram Protocol (UDP), an unreliable protocol.

TCP’s reliability is possible due to features like acknowledgement between the communicating devices, sequencing of data, flow control and error checking. UDP, on the other hand, is considered unreliable because it doesn’t use acknowledgement, flow control or error correction, so it may be better described as “best effort.” Most of the time, UDP is successful while using a lot less overhead—all the extra instructions and processing—than TCP. Less overhead allows for a quicker execution and less latency (delay) related to the processing of the data as it moves through the network. UDP is often chosen for video transmission for this reason.

Source and destination ports are used at the transport layer to make sure the data being sent between devices is properly handled. Protocols commonly used with video security, like HTTP (Port 80), SMTP (Port 25) and FTP (Port 21), are associated with these specific ports.

The Network Layer. Routers and some high-level switches operate here. While routers are used to join networks or network segments together, network layer switches perform switching functions at the presentation layer, and additionally, have routing capabilities. IP addresses, also known as logical addresses, are used by network layer devices to make decisions about whether traffic should be allowed to move from one network to another. The network layer has had a positive impact on the physical security field with regard to remote access.

The ability to communicate bi-directionally with different types of security devices over the Internet is possible because of network layer devices. Being able to view video from just about anywhere there is a network connection on almost any type of smart phone, tablet or computer has transitioned from being a desire to an expectation for end users.

Installers are able to configure networks so they can access devices remotely for troubleshooting or adjustment. Remote monitoring over the Internet and use of the “Cloud” for recording and storing video and other data off-site are capabilities we enjoy because of routing.

This is all great but it doesn’t come without a little pain as well. Anyone who has needed to implement some of the above solutions has likely dealt with configuring a router. The first challenge is to get to the management interface of the routing device. Many end users are completely unaware of the username and password that will allow an installer access to their router. It is not unusual to have to secure this information from the ISP.

Since there are many types of routers, once you have access, you will find that all of the interfaces are different and each manufacturer will approach things in their own way. End users rarely seem to have documentation for their device, and you may find it difficult or too time consuming to work with the ISP. The manufacturer may make their product manuals available online, but if not, there are some sites on the Internet that deal with router configuration and act as a clearinghouse for this type of information.

The first feature commonly used when setting up the router for remote access is dynamic domain name service (DDNS). Frequently, the Internet services being used will use a dynamic IP address for access to their public network. DDNS is required to ensure the end user can reach the router over the Internet regardless of changes to the IP address. DDNS works by replacing the dynamic IP address with a friendly name like “mikesrouter.ddnsservice. com,” that can be used to identify the WAN side interface of the router. A publically available DDNS server keeps track of all IP address changes on that WAN interface so the friendly name can be resolved and users can attach as desired. DDNS is not needed, however, when the router has a statically assigned IP address.

Most LANs use a private IP addressing scheme, but because it is not possible to route to private address port forwarding is used to attach to devices inside these networks. Tables in the router interface allow assignment of port numbers to devices used in conjunction with the WAN IP address or friendly name to identify the destination of inbound traffic. Using a Web browser to request to connect might look like “,” where port 2001 has been assigned to the target device.

It is important to remember not to use port numbers from the group of well-known ports, 0–1023, unless instructed to do so by the manufacturer of the device you wish to attach to because ports in this range have specific usages.

There are other features that are available on many routers: firewalls, DHCP servers and content filters are just a few. Whether or not these services are used is largely dependent on the LAN user’s requirements.

The Data Link Layer. The next to last layer relates to switching in which the switches used in small, medium and large IP video systems are presentation layer devices. There are also session layer switches that have IP routing capabilities in addition to standard switching features.

These high-level devices are often called multilayer switches because they can function at both layers.

When looking at a switch, its apparent use is to physically connect network devices to each other, yet delving a little deeper, they do much more. Switches are “smart,” meaning they learn about the devices that are attached to them via a network adapter, identified with a unique media access control (MAC) address, also known as physical addresses because this identification is permanently assigned to the hardware at the factory.

When a switch discovers a new device, it includes its MAC address and associated port to a list that it maintains. This table of information allows the switch to make decisions about efficiently directing the frames that arrive at its ports.

A frame is a container that holds the data and instructions required to get it to its destination. Before it can be transmitted, the data must be broken into manageable pieces known as payload that is encapsulated with information for proper handling as it travels from the sending to the receiving device. This occurs for the first time at the transport layer, but at the data link layer, added information is about the protocol and ports used, which is combined with the payload and placed in a package called a segment.

At the session layer, the segment and the IP addresses of the sending and receiving devices are encapsulated in a packet that is handed down to the presentation layer where it is combined with the MAC addresses of the sending and receiving devices. The packet and MAC address information is placed inside a frame.

The switch examines each frame as it enters one of its ports. The MAC address information is compared against the information in the switches’ MAC address table.

If the destination MAC address is in the table, the frame is sent out through the corresponding port. If the destination MAC is not in the table, the switch must continue “learning.” To learn it sends a single frame out of every port, expect the originating one. When the destination device receives the frame, it will send a response back to the sending device. When that frame enters the switch, the MAC address is associated with that port and the MAC table is populated with the information. Now, all the remaining frames for communication between these devices will be sent through the validated ports.

The efficiency of switched communication may not be appreciated when traffic on the network is light; however, when higher bit rate devices, like megapixel and HD cameras, are in use on the network, efficiency is a primary concern.

The Physical Layer. At the bottom of the OSI stack is where the data moves in the form of zeroes and ones, and the actual transmission of data between devices occurs. The use of IP devices in physical security applications continues to grow rapidly. The frequency with which these devices need to be placed outside of the 100 meter limitation of UTP and standard switching also has increased.

Fiber optic cable can allow users to extend well beyond that distance limitation, but there are other media types that can, too.

Coaxial cable was used for early networks prior to UTP. There are many manufacturers that have developed transceivers to transmit Ethernet over Coax (EoC). In fact, recent statistics indicate that there are well over 250 million analog cameras attached to coax in North America.

EoC products vary in their capabilities, and many can transmit Ethernet and inject power over hundreds of meters. Installers updating an analog system to IP may choose to reuse the coax cabling infrastructure that is already in place. Keep this solution in mind when upgrading in environments that could be too dangerous, difficult or expensive to re-cable such as prisons, hospitals, casinos or other environments with toxic materials, like asbestos.

There are transceiver products that can be used with shielded twisted pair, UTP and even 18/2 wire. This wire may not provide quite the range of coax, but it still can exceed 100 meters and allow for more flexibility when dealing with existing cable.

Air is used for wireless transmission, an option that is frequently used in applications where running cable is too difficult or costly. It is a solution that is finding its way into many IP projects. Most of us are familiar with Ethernet wireless because Wi-Fi is used with smart phones, tablets and laptops on a daily basis. This same technology can be leveraged for use with wireless security cameras.

When using Wi-Fi, consider installing an access point exclusively for the security cameras so other non-security devices won’t compete for bandwidth and priority. If this is not possible, use an access point that supports Quality of Service (QoS) so the camera can be given priority over non-critical devices. Most outdoor IP cameras are not wireless, so for these devices, wireless clients can be used to transmit their data streams. On the other end, the data stream is received by an access point called a host. There are several licensed and unlicensed frequencies that may be used.

One commonly-used, unlicensed frequency is 5.8GHz. It is attractive due to its ability to support high throughput over long distances at a reasonable cost, but it does require clear line-of-sight between the client and host for best performance. 4.9GHz frequency works in a similar fashion to 5.8GHz, but is licensed and reserved for public safety use, while 2.4GHz frequency is commonly used for Wi-Fi and other wireless devices. (I recommend avoiding this portion of the wireless spectrum due to its heavy use and the interference that can be found there.) A lower, unlicensed frequency is 900MHz, which is used by wireless products, sometimes referred to as near-line-of-sight because it’s able to penetrate some clutter, normally trees or foliage. However, the ability to penetrate obstructions is offset by a sharp decline in throughput, when compared to 5.8 and 4.9GHz products.

UTP is the most cost-efficient and widely-used cable for networking, but it’s nice to know that there are additional options like fiber, coax and wireless available to help solve the environmental and distance challenges many projects can present.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Security Today.


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