Using IP Cameras Safely

Network or internet cameras — usually marketed as IP cameras — are popular for keeping an eye on your property, your family, and your pets. These cameras provide live video and audio feeds that you can access remotely using an internet browser. But many IP cameras on the market are vulnerable to digital snooping, making security features key when you shop for and use these devices.

Before Buying an IP Camera

An internet protocol (IP) camera lets you monitor your home or business using software that connects it directly to the internet. Unlike a webcam, it doesn’t need a computer to transmit video online. But if the IP camera you buy doesn’t encrypt the information it sends, other people could access and view your feed. Put simply, you could be hosting the world’s biggest open house! When you’re shopping for an IP camera, you’ll want to put security features at the top of your list of priorities.  

Secure Wireless Transmission

An IP camera in your home sends its feed to your home wireless router. A good wireless security protocol helps secure your video feed as it travels to the router. Look for a camera that supports current wireless security protocols, like WPA2.

Secure Internet Transmission

If you access your camera’s video feed remotely, your camera will send information beyond your home wireless router via the internet. Not all cameras provide the same levels of security for this. Look for one that encrypts your information, including your username, your password, and the live feeds. Check the label on the box or read online, or contact the manufacturer directly to see if the camera uses SSL/TLS, or some other industry standard, to protect your information in transit. If your camera uses SSL/TLS to protect your login credentials, the URL for the camera’s login page should begin with https (the “s” is for secure).

Multiple Users 

If you plan to allow several users to access feeds from the camera, consider a camera that allows for different levels of access. For example, some cameras offer separate settings for administrators, who can make remote changes to settings like creating new accounts, setting passwords, and changing the direction the camera faces or the camera’s zoom function. Other cameras allow you to restrict when certain users can access the camera: You may want a friend to check on your home when you’re away, but not be able to access the camera when you’re in town.

Using Security Features

Once you’ve bought your IP camera, set it up with security in mind. Here’s how:

Keep the software up-to-date. 

The software that comes with your camera needs occasional updates. Register your camera or sign up to get updates to keep the software current. Before you install your new camera, visit the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s a new version of the software available for download. And after you’ve installed the camera, download the updates as soon as you get notice.

Check your camera’s password settings. 

Some IP cameras allow you to turn off the camera’s password requirement. But unless you want to share the feeds from your camera publicly, don’t do it. Set up your IP camera to require a password. Check the camera’s user guide for directions.   

Use a strong password.

Choose a strong password that would be difficult for a stranger to guess rather than using the camera’s default username and password. Those default choices can be public knowledge.     

Enable your camera’s security features.

If you bought a camera that encrypts data transmitted via the internet, turn this feature on. The log in page for your camera should have a URL that begins with https. If it doesn’t, the username and password you enter won’t be encrypted, and other people may be able to access them. Once you’ve logged in to your camera’s webpage, the URL still should indicate https. If it doesn’t, your feed isn’t encrypted, and other people may be able to view it. 

Accessing the Camera from a Mobile Device

Before you access your camera from a phone or mobile device, be sure that the security features are in place for mobile access.

Confirm that your app is up-to-date.  

Check the app developer’s website, or use your mobile app marketplace to check for updates.

Practice secure access.

Use a strong password, and consider logging out of the app when you’re not using it. That way, no one else can access the app if your phone is lost or stolen.  

Password-protect your phone or mobile device. 

Even if your app has a strong password, it’s best to protect your phone with one, too.

Use a secure Wi-Fi connection. 

A camera’s mobile app might not provide the same level of security as its website. So, even if your camera uses https on its website, that doesn’t guarantee that the camera’s mobile app will use encryption, too.

If the mobile app doesn’t encrypt your information, and you use the mobile app on an unsecured Wi-Fi network, troublemakers could intercept your video feed or your password. To protect your privacy, resist using the mobile app from a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Instead, use your phone’s internet browser and go to your camera’s login page. Look for https at the beginning of the URL so you know your information is encrypted.

It’s also a good idea to change the settings on your mobile device so that it doesn’t automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi.