When Things Go Right: A View From A different Angle

December 7th, 2015

When things go wrong and terrible things happen, the things that happened correctly can sometimes get lost in the trauma of the event it self and the following anguish. I’m speaking about mass shooting events in this case.

I will be referring to the recent Colorado clinic shooting, but I will be referring to it as ‘The event’, because as horrendous as it was, it needs to be treated in an objective manner in order  to be able to parse it’s lessons while not getting mired in ethics.

While the event itself was unfortunately not unique, the news coverage of the the precautionary measures put into place by the clinic before the event and actions of the staff during the event was. In the past, stories of ‘lucky’ people who got away or the unusual individual who took heroic action were almost always the norm.

News coverage of failed precautions are also common. The publication Charli Hebdo had a full time guard at the front door (which was always locked) and an access control system. The press made sure to let us know that those measures failed. Granted, the two mentioned attacks were carried out by completely different types of individuals/ groups, I’m mainly trying to highlight the medias’ focus.

The federal government regularly runs television spots urging citizens to have a disaster preparedness plan for natural disasters. My home state of NJ also runs televising spots urging citizens ‘If you see something, say something’. Unlike the federal spots, NJ is obviously referring to terrorism even though it is never directly mentioned, but simply alluded to through video footage in the TV spots. These two suggestions are a very good start. Very much like charity, security begins at home.

My last blog post questioned the need for and acceptance of security, including CCTV in a medical environment. I feel that security is needed in any place where professionals come into contact with the public, any where people congregate; like entertainment venues, schools, shopping malls and on city streets. Obviously, soft targets are low hanging fruit for terrorists, and garner the most media attention. There are many other places to consider, but I’m not trying to create a laundry list of possibilities.

Many work places and schools now have emergency training for ‘Active Shooter’ situations and practice for those situations just as they would fire alarm drills. Planned Parenthood (regardless of your feelings about them and their activities) have actual guidelines about clinic protective procedures. Most of their clinics follow those guidelines. The Colorado clinic had many things right: number one is a trained and aware staff. They have the responsibility for the persons under there roof and care. They also had procedures to follow and they practiced them. They had areas of safe refuge with solid doors. They had a security system that included panic buttons and cameras that were viewable from outside of the clinic for police to use.

Planned Parenthood did not just come up with these procedures out of the blue, their clinics have been the targets of violence for many years. Our entire population is now a target for violence and we need to develop security procedures for ourselves, our homes, our work places and our entertainment places.

I don’t want a ‘Police Surveillance State”. I do want individual people and organizations to take the initiative and start planning for those times when things go terribly wrong. The government can protect the forest, but sometimes not the individual trees. That may be up to us, as we are those trees.

Here is a rule of thumb if an attack occurs in your vicinity: Run and leave if you can, help those around you. Shelter in place and help those around you. As a last resort, fight back, helping those around you. You may find your self suddenly in a leadership role if you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, to quote someone famous.

 

 

Medical Facility Security: Balancing Safety and Privacy

November 1st, 2015

I am not a layer or legal expert. The information presented below is not legal advice. When in doubt, consult your legal team and always apply common sense! Never record audio, in some states this violates wire-tapping laws and can land you in big trouble, with both the plaintiff’s lawyer and the prosecutor’s office.

Recently I was talking with a very good friend who works in the medical field. I brought up the subject of security in the medical work place. I’m not just talking about your local doctor or dentist office; although they are also affected by everything that followings to some extent. I was thinking more about walk-in clinics, same day surgery facilities, out patient procedure facilities and even local practitioners. Places that have high patient volume. large staffs with potential high turn-over, high priced and delicately calibrated equipment, controlled substances and most importantly- patient records.

I quickly learned after mentioning this subject to a few other acquaintances that opinions and feelings about security in the medical work place run from freezing to boiling over. Hardly anyone wanted to be on the fence.

By now you should know that I wasn’t simply asking these friends if they thought a doctor could benefit from a simple intrusion alarm system (they can), I wanted to know where they would draw the line on things like; cameras in the exam and operating rooms, waiting areas, record storage; access controlled doors to record rooms, drug storage areas, drug sample (from pharmacy reps) closets, break rooms, admin areas; and of course intrusion alarm systems that even when not armed (like at night) can track doors opening, what time the staff came in and what time they left after close of business.

The most interesting thing I found, was that most people thought that any kind of surveillance was forbidden by law. Not correct. I kept hear the term HIPAA over and over. So I looked into it. More on that later.

The second most interesting thing I learned was that people reacted very differently to my ideas depending on the way it was presented to them. People who were given the impression that George Orwell was invading the sanctity of the exam room reacted most negatively (open hostility). People who were gently introduced to the idea of a management and safety system were much more likely to react positively (even if only tentatively).

There are many good, sound and legal reasons why a medical facility would want security systems. Some clinics and facilities participate in drug trials with pharmaceutical companies. Often the terms of the trial contract mandate security features in place that allow for monitoring of samples, records and compliance with the trial ‘s strict protocols.

Intrusion Alarms-

  • Protect the premise from burglary, theft and vandalism during closed hours
  • Instill accountability, tracking office openings and closings
  • Deter would be thieves- things looked secured
  • Instill a sense of workplace pride- where you work is important enough to be protected

Closed Circuit TV (CCTV)-

  • Cameras can be just about anywhere except-
  • Cameras must not be placed anywhere that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, exam rooms, changing rooms, bathrooms, procedure rooms, directly viewing open patient records or information, looking at desktops where patient information is handled
  • Cameras can watch hallways to see who went where when and took what equipment, watch over the record storage areas and drug storage areas.
  • Cameras are a proven deterrent to crimes of all types, from white collar to grey to blue
  • Cameras should not be hidden. They should be in plain view of all involved

Card Access Control for doors-

  • Possibly the most important security investment a facility can make
  • Secures storage areas containing drugs, equipment, samples and records
  • Keeps the public out of dangerous or secure areas
  • Creates an audit trail for authorizing and licensing agencies to examine if an incident ever occurs.

The website for U.S Department of Health & Human Services has a lot of information about what is not allowed to happen in medical facilities. No where does it state that security systems of various types are forbidden. In some cases they are mandatory.

What ever the reason, security systems are a part of modern living. Again use common sense and consult your lawyer.

Where To Find Ads for T-2 Terminators

April 11th, 2015

Magazines For the Not Faint of Heart (Or What The Government Is Buying These Days)

If you enjoy reading the same trade magazines as the people who are bringing you George Orwell’s 1984, then “Government Technology” is for you. After reading an issue or two, you may feel like SkyNet is just about the corner, with Big Brother keeping an eye on things.

One thing that I really like about this journal, which borders on slightly paranoid, is that it refers to ‘Hackers’ as simply people and contractors with unique software, hardware, or system skills. They are neither good nor bad, much like electricians. But when that hacker or electrician step over a legal line (and there are many, but still the vast minority), they are no longer hackers or electricians, they are ‘Criminals’.

I have over 25 years in the electronic security industry, and my title is ‘Electronic Security System Technician‘. I am also a hacker of sorts. I could compromise security systems for exploitation. Then my title would also be ‘Criminal‘. There are state and federal laws that help to keep us in check, but it is really human ethics that are the greater deterrent.

What’s hard to keep in mind when reading some of this literature (page 46: GovGirl On Social: “How to support a maintainable government social media program”, then on page 8: “Saying No to Social in South Carolina for State Employees”) is that although some of the ideas presented may seem like they are far removed from reality, they are in fact THE reality, just not maybe yours.

The advertisements are my favorite part. Beautiful full page glossy ads of the finest software, systems and equipment ever devised, all asking to be purchased by the target audience of this magazine, government personnel involved in technology purchasing. I get the feeling that absolutely no expense is spared on these ads. Truly eye candy for high end technophiles!

If you would like to subscribe to this faintly surreal journal, try http://www.govtech.com, it is one of my favorites.

Please remember that the target audience of Government Technology are people who are really trying to protect you, our government, our troops, etc. The readers actually believe in “Better Living Through Technology” to ruin a borrowed motto.

Enjoy.

LED Lights That Can See You

April 8th, 2014

Recently I have come across articles in several security trade journals about replacing existing lighting  fixtures in public areas with special LED units that can provide light and surveillance. These are being  called ‘intelligent street lights’, but could also be called ‘intelligent office lights’ or ‘intelligent school lights’. They could be retrofitted anywhere older lights could be replaced with more efficient LED lighting. That is just about everywhere.

Having seen this information several times, which might indicate a new trend in a niche of the security industry, I thought I would bring it out into the light of day for the gratuitous information consumption pleasures of our readers.

This system is not just the pipe dream of some high tech start up looking for capital to it it off the drawing board. It is being installed today. The senors in the lights were designed by Sensity Systems. On its website the company explains: “LED’s aren’t new. Outdoor networks aren’t new. Networked sensors aren’t new. Big data and cloud computing aren’t new. Even the idea of adding networked devices to light poles has been tried before.” A pilot project of 171 lighting units is being installed at Newark’s Liberty National Airport near the ticketing counters to help spot criminal activity.

In a nut shell, the input of surveillance data plus the use of various types of analytical software will give the system user data about trends occurring in the covered area. I.e., car traffic occurring in an area not prone to such events might suggest that an accident has occurred. A fast response can then be dispatched.

Although little mention is made of the resolution of the embedded cameras, all of the literature suggests that ‘area’ coverage is important. However, I highly doubt that low resolution cameras are being used when mega-pixel technology is so inexpensive. There is no doubt in my mind that the analytical software will have, or does in fact already have, enhanced features like facial and behavioral recognition.

It will be interesting to see which kinds of institutions will opt for this type of security. I’m thinkings; jails, schools and street lights in every American city.

2G Sunsets For 4G Traffic

March 20th, 2013

Cell carriers have decided  2G networks must go to make room for 4G networks

This brings back memories of the analog network sunset back in February 2008. Everyone (almost everyone) was affected. Cellular customers had to ditch their old analog cell phones and move to digital units. Soon after followed the explosion of smart phone technology. No coincidence. The advent of the smart phone could not have occurred without the analog sunset. The analog bandwidth was not even fractionally sufficient to carry the smart phone data. There was a cost in terms of money, comfort level and learning curve. Most of us got over it, and found that life was just better in the digital world.

Alarm systems were affected in a HUGE way. Many alarm systems used analog cellular transmitters to increase security and alarm signal transmission reliability. Security dealers had to explain to customers that their cellular units were in need of an upgrade, or they would stop working at the end of that February in 2008. It got ugly at times, but we got over that too, and found that we could leverage that digital cellular technology to provide our customers with remote control and notification services for their alarm systems and CCTV systems.

Now we are looking at another sunset. As of December 31st, 2016, the 2G digital networks will be shut down to make room for the more capable 4G (LTE) network. This will affect the same people the last sunset affected. Cellular 2G telephone unit users will need to upgrade to 4G units. Alarm system users will need to upgrade their communicators to the 4G standard.

What is driving this sort of activity? Simply put, customer demand. The major carriers would like nothing better than to stop pouring investments into improving the cellular network. But their customers would mutiny and jump ship in droves. Cellular users demand more services delivered to their hand, and alarm system users want more remote control and remote video viewing power.

Alarm owners are getting used to an idea that cellular telephone user came to grips with already; you need to change your cellular technology (and all associated equipment) about every 5 years (6 maximum) to stay on the network.

We were all a bit better prepared for this sunset, we have been through it before and heeded the warnings way in advance. Safe-T-Tech has been installing 4G communicators for over a year now. And that’s a good idea, because there is a really huge problem that is not talked about so much. You see, its not like on the sunset date the 2G network will just stop working. It will stop working completely on that date, but right up to that time it will also be steadily degraded, as carriers take down 2G equipment from cell towers to make room for the 4G equipment. We have seen some outage areas already, and we are still about two years from the sunset.

Call your alarm dealer to find out if this sunset will affect you. The sooner you make the switch, the more secure you will be.

I look forward once again to a better life in this new (newer) digital age.

CCTV System Used As Hack Vector

March 16th, 2013

Last post I was ranting on about security dealers possibly, inadvertently, opening their customers to criminal hacks.

Most of these situations might occur because the dealer was negligent (leaving the equipment default password unchanged is classic) or the dealer was simply clueless about computer and network security. Or the dealer did every thing correctly within his/ her power, but the IT department or infrastructure was at fault. Or it was an ‘inside job’.

Two days after my post, a casino in Melbourne Australia was robbed of $33,000,000.00 (33 million dollars) by criminal hackers. The crooks were able to gain access to the casinos extensive CCTV system.

You can read the full article here as reported on 03/15/13 by Wired.com Magazine. The criminals were apparently able to remotely gain access to the high resolution cameras in the high stakes poker room and help a ‘high roller’ player cheat by seeing the other players cards.

It remains to be seen how the hack was actually accomplished, as the investigation is still ongoing. It may have been an inside job, or a savvy criminal hacker may have found an opening in the casino security firewall or equipment and used that as a vector for this exploit (hack).

How would a black hat hacker know about this sort of vulnerability? Hackers of all color hats read manuals (which often have the default log-in information). They also probe the network to find un-patched vulnerabilities. Or some one may have compromised or corrupted an actual employee (called a social engineering hack or pretexting).

U.S. gambling expert Barron Stringfellow was quoted by ABC Melbourne as saying “Accessing a casino’s internal video monitoring system is not as hard as you would think. It’s very easy to intercept a signal from many casinos that don’t take precautions” (and making me cringe). You might think that this kind of attack is common from watching Hollywood movies, but actually, a properly implemented system should be almost impossible to break into. Honeywell has many cameras and DVR’s (digital video recorders) that can tell when they are being tampered with. It is a security system after all and engineered to prevent this sort of thing. The weakest link in the chain almost always comes down to the human element.

It will be very enlightening to find out what actually occurred. Of course, the casino may not want comment on the real events. They (like most financial institutions) that are compromised, would rather lose the money that give their customers the impression that their finances are not safe. The only way to find out what happened may be by paying attention to people (white hats) close to the hacker culture. This can be done by doing things like listening to radio talk shows, listening to pod cats, reading magazines (yes, hackers do all these things and they are available to the general public if you pay attention) and using Google to search for hacking events. Don’t worry, the Fed’s won’t come after you. I was at a hacking conference and the NSA was there openly trying to recruit hackers who were attending. The Director of the NSA made to key note speech at the conference. This is the sort of thing you would notice only if you were looking for this sort of thing.

Security dealers need to be aware of the possibility of an electronic attack as well as a physical intrusion. The line between the two is becoming increasingly thinner.

Security System Dealers & Hackers

March 12th, 2013

Why does your security dealer seem to know more about computer hacker culture and activities than your comfort level finds necessary?

Because they need to be.

The answer to “Why?” can be grasped with some well informed information.

Understanding what a hacker actually is, and the various activities they involve themselves with can help shed some light on the subject.

The word hacker has taken on a meaning for many people, mostly due to mass media, as some one who engages in illegal computer and network activities.

In my mind, the word hacker is synonymous with the word tinkerer. Some one who is curious about technology, exploring it, and often modifying it to better suit their needs. Many hackers write computer code and therefor can look right into the heart of programs and see were the flaws are. Then they can fix them and make them better and more secure, (good guys), or use them for crimes (bad guys).

Ham radio operators are a classic example of the above, they were the first real electronic hackers. Building and modifying their own radios to make them better, more powerful, etc. Then, as our nation developed a public telephone system, people began to explore that (and sometimes exploit it). Then came computers. Then came networks. Then came the Internet. People began acquiring personal computers.

People (hackers) saw this vast landscape of interconnected computer networks, and being curious by nature, just had to explore it!

As hackers began exploring, many ran afoul of the law when they trespassed into other people’s networks. Some learned their lessons and stayed within the law. Many went on to careers in the budding field of computer and network security. They founded companies like Kaspersky, Symantec, Norton, Gibson research, McAfee, etc. Some hackers went on to careers in crime. Some hackers found some middle ground.

Hackers are generally and VERY loosely classified by their activities. White hat hackers are the good guys, black hats are the criminals, grey hats operate in the gray area between legal and questionable. Depending on personal ethics, some hackers change hats as suits the situation.

White hat hackers are often employed by computer security companies to find out what the black hats are doing, and find patches and fix flaws.

When a black hat “hacks” your computer, it is often a exploit (“hack”) that uses a vector (entry point) that was either a recently discovered software or hardware flaw, or a computer that was not updated with the most recent security patches, or a component that is connected to the network but not properly configured for security.

Security dealers not only daily connect security devices to existing home and corporate networks, but these days are in fact installing security systems that are wireless and hard wired networks in themselves.

Some times security dealers are creating the vector for the black hats by installing equipment that requires doing things like opening ports in fire walls. Does the dealer really understand what the consequences of their actions could lead to? They will when it is explained by the prosecution in a court of law.

I believe security dealers owe due diligence to their customers by playing the part of a white hat. Don’t expose your customers to an electronic attack while trying to protect them from a physical attack. That means learning a bit about hacking. And computer and network security in general. If you are not sure, partner with an IT specialist.

Today I am an electronic security system dealer. I design, sell, install and service CCTV systems, access control systems, intrusion detection systems and fire alarm systems, often integrated across corporate networks . Years ago I was in an Army Ranger unit. We were made to study Soviet tactics and doctrines. We actually learned to service and fire Soviet weapons (don’t ask where they came from). We were learning how the enemy operated so we could anticipate their actions.

The same logic applies to the security business. Security dealers should know the tactics of criminals, and that includes criminal hackers.

Security dealers that routinely deal with corporate networks and IT departments are expected to know the basics of computer and network security. If they can’t prove that they know what they are doing, the IT people will consider them a possible vector, and show them the door.

All security dealers should be ready to put on a white hat when needed. I’m not advocating that dealers spend years learning computer security skills, but I am advocating that if you don’t know what you are truly doing, then don’t!

DEFCON ‘After Action Report’

August 23rd, 2011

Well, another DEF CON hacker conference has ended without errant nuclear missile launches or national scale telecoms take downs. We can either breathe a sigh of relief, or try to understand what these types of hacker/ activist gathering are all about.

This year’s conference, DEF CON 19, was held in Las Vegas (as it is each year since 1993) August 4th to August 7th. While not able to personally attend, I did learn a great many things. Incidentally, learning and sharing are central themes at hacker gatherings, great quantities of information are disseminated and voraciously consumed.

This DEF CON there were over 170 speakers talking about everything from computer hacking to picking locks to social engineering. Many of these talks were of a highly technical nature which would have gone over my head during the introductions. But many other talks were in easy to understand terms and readily accessible to people with even just a brief interest of the subject.

Another great feature of DEF CON (and many other hacker gatherings) are the various hacker related contests. Perhaps the best know game is ‘Capture The Flag’, an epic hacking battle by teams of caffeinated enthusiasts. High scorer in these competitions get major bragging rights. This DEF CON there were over 40 contests of different types. Something for everyone!

Hacker

Many lay persons might imagine that many federal officers from many diverse federal agencies might ‘sneak in’ under cover and try to snag wanted hackers. The truth how ever is always stranger than fiction. This DEF CON (and all others) was attended by agents from FBI, DoD, NSA and others. What the heck were they doing there if not arresting hackers? Trying very hard to hire them! Hackers are in great demand. Think of a large job fair. Surreal.

While people in general may frown down on ‘hackers’ or even feel they are all criminals (some are), hackers do serve a real purpose in our world, uncovering vulnerabilities and forcing patches and repairs to software and systems. Associating with the right people can give you insights on how to protect your self and customers, and help you prepare for attacks that seem to come from left field.

While I was in the military (a few years before the end of the cold war) we were made to learn soviet tactics. Knowing something about hacking is the same idea. It must be a good idea too. How do I know? Just ask the Fed’s.

Wireless Alarm Systems Vs. Hard Wired Systems

March 1st, 2011

In The Beginning, There were cables.

From the time that human beings first learned to communicate with each other over distances (using electricity) , there was always that strand of copper wire tying the parties together. The telegraph (around 1836’s), the fax machine (1843 yes it’s true see article in Here), the telephone (around 1876), the Internet (ARPANET 1969; See also Al Gore). In the early days, people were crazy for more cabling, because back then, more cabling equaled more communications. It got to be a jungle out there, with some cities that had the sky blocked out by masses of wiring strung pole to pole.

 

Eventually thing began to get better, some wires moved under ground, people learned to send more than one signal per cable, but the wires still remain today.

We are presently moving into a wireless world where in a decade or two, the only physical communication links might be legacy fiber optic truck cables and under sea cables, which will all disappear when satellites be come so numerous (and cheap) that the cost/ benefit out weighs any sort of physical connection.

I mean, what is so great about hardwired connections, both in the security and the communications world? Some people might raise their hand and shout out “security, reliability and integrity’. Lets take a brief look at these ideas and visit some common mis-conceptions concerning wired vs. wireless systems. We’ll stick to ideas that generally concern the installation of security and fire alarm systems, since this is a security blog.

Commonly held beliefs:

  • Hardwired systems are more durable. FACTS: Hardwired systems are more prone to damage than wireless systems. Why? Well, both types have the controller head-end and both have the protection  (contacts etc.) out in the field. The big difference is that wireless systems do not have cabling that can be damaged! If your hardwired system was installed during construction and a mouse chews a wire or a contractor accidentally breaks a wire inside the wall after the construction is complete and the wall is finished, it is often cheaper to replace that point with a wireless one rather than break open the wall to repair the wire. Another concern in some areas is that all of the wiring in an installation acts like a big antenna that could pick up induced currents from other cabling and spread the energy from a lighting strike the the controller and the protection points. Lightning strikes have been known to ‘weld’ the door and window contacts in the closed position, meaning no signal when the door is opened. I have serviced a few of these situation myself, it’s not a myth.
  • Hardwired systems are less expensive. FACTS: The cost ofa hard-wire door contact may be around $2.50, but the labor to install it costs around $85.00 per hour. If the walls are finished (post construction) the labor cost could be steep. A wireless door contact may cost around $45.00, but it takes minutes to install. Think about the cost savings on a job in a finished home with 40 windows and doors (very common, count the windows and door in your home or business, you may be surprised).
  • Hardwired systems are more secure. FACTS: In some types of installations (UL listed vault and safe complete where the wiring is in metal conduit) this may be true, but these are specialty installations and are very expensive due to the nature of the installation methods mandated by Underwriters Laboratory. In the real world of alarm installations, if all of the protection is installed properly (end of line resistors at the end of the circuit, tamper switched actually connected, the easiest part of the system to compromise is the wiring. When a system is dis-armed, you could take a hardwired contact apart, re-wire it to not show an alarm. With a wireless point, the moment you touch the device in any why that tampers with it, an alert and/or an alarm will go off at the keypads and/or send a signal to the central station whether the system is armed or not.
  • Hardwired systems have better integrity. FACTS: Unless you are using an addressable system, the hardwired system is not giving you any feed back about the health or integrity of the system. Wireless system protection points are always checking in to the controller to say things like, I’m here, My battery needs to be replaced in 30 days, etc. You could actually remove a hardwired contact or motion detector and twist the wires together while the system is dis-armed, the system would them arm normally (seem to, anyway). If you try to remove a wireless point, the system knows that the point is missing and will alert and or sound an alarm, the system knows exactly how many points are enrolled and it knows if one goes missing.
  • Hardwire is better for some situations. FACT: Which situations? Honeywell 5800 series wireless equipment is rated by Underwriters Laboratory as suitable for use as primary protection in banks, jewelry stores, commercial installations, schools, hospitals, etc. Wireless smoke detectors are UL listed for installations in schools, day care, museums and other sensitive spaces.

Savvy security dealers who know how to properly sell and install quality wireless equipment are doing their customers several favours. First, reliable and economical installations (I’m not talking about $99.00specials here, I’m talking about quality equipment and quality installation). Second, from a service stand point, it will cost your customer less to repair a wireless installation. The system will tell you where the trouble is, messing around with metering wires, crawling through attics and crawl spaces etc. could be a thing of the past.

Yes, even though it is called a wireless system, there are still wires connecting at least on keypad (the rest can be wireless) and at leat one sire (the rest can be wireless) and there is a power connection also, so, potentially 3 wires. We have even done away with the telephone line connection (way too unreliable and most times not even a real POTS line). Now we use a GPRS radio to communicate to the central monitoring station and to program the alarm control. The connection is encrypted end to end, something telephone line can’t do.

We are currently using what is generally acknowledged as third generation wireless. The system is mature and well developed, my company has thousands of wireless transmitters out there, and those systems are highly stable and require less TLC than our hardwired installation.

In a few years we can look forward to fourth generation wireless products emerging- better range, more diagnostics, 2 way capability etc.

When I am making a sales presentation for a wireless system, I’m comfortable doing it, because I’ve been sold on quality wireless systems for years. Some day, just like the disappearing telephone land lines, we will look back and wonder where the hardwired systems have gone.

I can’t wait!

AT&T Buys Into LTE & FCC Plays Softball

December 21st, 2010

Warning! Some interesting but perhaps dry reading ahead!

Two recent developments; AT&T buying Qualcomms 700MHz spectrum licenses, and the FCC new net neutrality regulations were recently covered by nytimes.com, both of which directly and indirectly impact the security industry respectively.

AT&T’s purchase of Qualcomms 700MHz (commonly known as G4, or LTE) spectrum licenses for $1.9 Billion is showing that AT&T is willing to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. Many consumers thought that AT&T was way behind other major wireless carriers in rolling out wide scale G4 or LTE service, a fact played up by other carriers with wider existing G4 coverage.

LTE service currently covers over 300 million Americans.  AT&T will use the additional bandwidth to enhance it’s already existing fledgling G4 network to bring faster wireless data speeds to it’s customers and better reliability (less dropped connections) that became a problem when mobile users surpassed the carriers projected consumer wireless data usage. Start looking for G4/ LTE wireless devices from AT&T this coming year, with Android and then Apple leading the way.

The implications for the Security industry: The 700MHz spectrum is a great spectrum form data transmission. It has wide band width (more information carrying ability) and a smaller wavelength, which means that the signal can actually better penetrate buildings and get through narrow openings (like around and through city blocks). This means generally better signal strength and faster data speeds in areas that might have been marginal. Of course, you need a G4 device to take advantage of this, see above paragraph, last sentence.

With the good news (LTE is coming to town) comes a caveat. The security industry went through a major upheaval several years ago when the FCC abolished (FCC sunset law) analog wireless services and mandated only digital wireless services. You see, most security dealers had many radio backup alarm transmitters connected to their customers alarm systems. All of these radios were analog, and there were thousands and thousands of them in the field. I, and most other security dealers, then had to replace every single analog radio unit with digital ones, mostly at our own expense. We replaced the old units with transmitters based on GSM technology.

See the problem? We went from analog to GSM. Now security dealers are looking at a potential (it will happen, give it 3 – 5 years) sunset of GSM.

Fortunately, some security manufacturers (Honeywell for instance) learned their lesson the first time around, and made their radio units easily and inexpensively field upgradable to who knows what standard might come next (most likely LTE). For those consumers that chose Honeywell security equipment, kudos! You have pretty much future proofed your security investment.

Getting back to an article I wrote on 05-07-2010 “When The Going Gets Tough, The FCC Gets Going“, I expressed the opinion that the FCC would not take their defeat in the Supreme Court (FCC vs. Comcast) laying down. Well, I was kind of right, hence the above title, “The FCC Plays Softball”. The FCC has in fact turned to passing a new set of regulations that bypass most of the constraints that are holding them back from regulating the data carrying industry, but in a way I did not anticipate. The FCC has decided on a two pronged approach, one set of regulations covering land line data carriers (fairly strong/ successful regulation for net neutrality) and another set for wireless data carriers (weaker/ less successful for net neutrality).

Of course these new regulations have everyone (most everyone involved) screaming, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time. A thorough reading of the above linked article is needed to really understand who is angry at what.

Net neutrality is a critical ideal to ensure equal access to ALL web sites and to new and developing cutting-edge online services, but the FCC regulations seem to fall short, considering that recent Pew Research data (Pew Research Study) shows that 55% of all Americans have accessed the Internet by wireless devices.

Lets just call it a step in the right direction.