A True Calling

A True Calling

Finding a full purpose in remote video surveillance workflows

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that secure remote access to systems is no longer a “nice to have” feature. With limited staff and some areas of buildings closed completely, most organizations don’t have the same eyes on their business. The security workstation or guard station may be unmanned, so the need to monitor remotely has never been greater. Work environments are different at home, since not everyone has the same set up that they have at work. With all these changes, a mobile app that allows quick and easy access to your video security system can serve as a second screen to easily keep your eyes on things that matter most.

Even before the pandemic, there was a growing trend to deploy lightweight VMS software running on small PCs at remote, sometimes unmanned sites.

The oil and gas market is a perfect example where many unattended sites can be vulnerable, so organizations require real-time alerts when a vehicle shows up at a site when it shouldn’t. Likewise, for retailers, restaurants and other businesses that have almost shut down or are running with a skeleton crew, being able to instantly tap into the security system with a smart phone and see who is at the back door can be the difference between leaving a critical position unattended or not. If you can go a step further and “buzz people in” after they’ve been recognized, even better. Having someone watching the security system full time is a luxury few businesses can afford right now, when keeping the business alive is priority one. Mobile apps can bridge the gap, by enabling security staff to remotely access the video security system simply and safely.

WHAT ABOUT CYBERSECURITY?

The cyber secure part of remote access is critical. In their rush to provide access to employees, many IT departments may have taken shortcuts by forwarding router ports, and relaxing firewalls in places they shouldn’t have. For security professionals working remotely or just wanting to work smarter, being able to remotely access and administer cameras through a VMS is a requirement.

For those not glued to a laptop or workstation, the ability to receive real-time notifications and view and search through video on a mobile device ensures that they don’t sacrifice control and response time when important events take place. Many IT departments have sought to isolate IP-based security systems behind a firewall to wall them off from intruders. While this is a very secure approach, it can be highly inflexible for any type of remote access.

Done correctly, you can maintain a high degree of cybersecurity by utilizing encryption and limiting outside connections to your VMS to a secure cloud provider such as AWS. The goal is to maintain control and monitoring flexibility while not weakening cybersecurity.

USING THE CLOUD TO PROVIDE SECURE REMOTE ACCESS

By using a U.S.-hosted, cloud-based service to facilitate the connection or “handshake” between authorized remote/mobile users and the VMS, you can safely protect your system from unauthorized access.

It is important that the service you choose allows you to create custom roles for different users as not everyone should have the same access rights. The ability to quickly assign access to anyone who needs it is vital. If law enforcement needs instant access, a simple email link containing credentials is all it should take. Anything more complicated, and precious time is wasted.

Once a user is authenticated, you want the actual video to go direct from VMS to the user. A secure video connection between client and server is part of the handshake process that a trusted cloud service provides. For real-time monitoring, sending video in and out of the cloud only delays the process and potentially adds an unnecessary expense. Done correctly, there should be no limit to users and no bandwidth restrictions.

HOW MUCH CAN YOU REALLY DO WITH AN APP?

In addition to viewing video feeds, a well-designed mobile app should allow you to view multiple systems easily. Going from one system to the next and easily cycling through them requires an intuitive UI since screen real estate is limited. Having a universal search feature can help pinpoint a camera instead of scrolling through a large list as well.

Don’t assume that any app will give you full control of your cameras with regards to PTZ, digital and optical zoom, two-way audio, alarm outputs, fisheye camera de-warping, and control of your analytics. By choosing the right combination of VMS, cameras and remote infrastructure for your needs, you will be impressed at how much control you can have in a simple mobile app.

Advanced mobile apps can support “soft triggers” or virtual buttons that can be customized and programed for your organization’s unique needs.

A common scenario is a locked door where deliveries are made. A mobile app can alert staff that someone is at the door and show the video feed from the door camera. Using a soft trigger on the App, you can buzz people in or open a gate directly from the App without having to separately log into the access control system (by which time the delivery person may have given up). Similarly, you could use these virtual buttons to trigger a recording about social distancing or wearing facemasks. Any of these types of tasks can be scripted by an administrator for the particular needs of a business.

AI-based cameras take things further allowing notifications based on rules to define additional parameters such as if a person or a vehicle has just arrived. You might set a rule that allows a truck to loiter by the back door, but not an individual. And, you should be able to specify which user levels or specific users receive these notifications. On the mobile side, users should be able to choose which systems they want notifications from—which notifications wake up their devices and which ones don’t.

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTELLIGENT BANDWIDTH CONTROL

If you get a notification on your phone about an event and all you can see is frozen video, you’re doing it wrong. We all know that Wi-Fi and cell data connectivity varies widely depending on where a person is located.

So, it is important for a system to be able to dynamically change the bitrate based on connectivity type and signal strength. Based on the assumption that any video is better than no video, adaptive bit rate technology is the same as that used by the major video streaming providers to throttle your video quality when your reception is weak.

As signals improve, quality automatically goes back up. If you have high-resolution cameras (4K), that could easily consume all of your available bandwidth and lead to stalled video. Look for system that can dynamically adjust your video stream and transcode the video in real time to minimize viewing problems, no matter where you are. When you need to zoom in and get more detail on an object, being able to manually select resolutions can give even more flexibility to see the whole picture when it counts.

POST-EVENT FORENSIC SEARCH

As important as real-time events are, post-event forensic search is equally important to get the details of what really happened. Having a color-coded calendar view that, at a glance, shows the coverage and duration of video for each camera can save a lot of guesswork.

Just because you have a mobile device doesn’t mean you can’t have a smart search option that allows you to draw a zone on the image and search for motion only inside that area. It’s a very sophisticated feature, but easy to do on a touch screen interface, so don’t forget to ask for it. Fisheye lenses are popular ways to get 360-degree coverage, but if you can’t pan, tilt and zoom the camera from a mobile device, it’s going to be useless on a mobile interface. For that reason, look for the somewhat rare ability to de-warp fisheye lenses directly in the mobile app.

IS A MOBILE APP FOR EVERYONE?

If the cybersecurity stakes are high enough, an organization might decide that it doesn’t want any of its cameras accessibly on the internet regardless of security measures in place. That doesn’t necessarily mean remote access is completely locked.

When staff are onsite, they should still be able to directly connect to an IP address via secure Wi-Fi to get the benefits of mobile app support whenever they are in range of the local network.

At Hanwha Techwin, we have the Wisenet WAVE VMS and our free Wave Sync service to facilitate secure remote and mobile access. The user-friendly Wisenet WAVE mobile app includes a custom developed, low-latency media player that runs on iOS and Android devices allowing users to connect to, view, search and control IP cameras over WiFi or data networks.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2021 issue of Security Today.

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