Archive for August, 2009

Was Grandpa a Hacker?

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Ah, Grandpa! Friendly, wise, stern when he needed to be and a Hacker (??!!?). Maybe.

Back in Grandpa’s days, a hacker was some one who enjoyed ‘tinkering’ with stuff. Some one who was never really happy with the performance of some house hold item or tool. Someone who could fix a broken item, and somehow leave it working just a bit better than when it came from the factory.

Of course, all of this hacking was primarily concerned with hardware. Electronics where just coming to the fore, and there were certain types of people who’s curiosity would not allow them to keep their hands off. They had to know how it worked, and they needed to see if they could improve performance or even  make it perform tasks it was never intended to do.

According to Wikipedia, in the 1950’s, amateur radio enthusiasts defined the term hackingas creatively tinkering to improve the performance of their radio sets. These Hackers where also known as hobbyist. My childhood best friend’s father had a HAM radio station in his basement. He was the first hacker I ever met!

When computers became available to the next generation of hobbyists, or Hackers, the same type of things occurred. Curious people began thinking with computers to see if they could improve  the performance of their machines. Then hackers noticed that other people like corporations, universities and Governments also had computers and networks that could be gotten into, or hacked, and explored. Much angst ensued.

I read ‘Hacker” literature and visit their websites to learn about new exploits. It is important for me to know what is going on in the computer world, and Hackers often have their fingers right on it’s pulse.  Hackers often discover security holes that software manufacturers then need to repair. In a way, Hackers force positive change on the computer industry. Then again, there are malicious people who just like to cause mayhem and watch things burn.

One thing all Hacker have in common; curiosity. Your Grandpa and Kevin Mitnick where somewhat the same in that respect. You know who Kevin Mitnick is, right?

A word to the wise, curiosity killed the cat.

The Hidden Hardware of The Virtual World

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Virtual representations of almost any aspect of our lives can be found if you look hard enough. Some are right in front of you. Second Life? World of Warcraft? Virtual worlds. Some day all of our daily business will conducted by our agents, or avatars as most people refer to their non-corporeal selves.

A far away day dream? I don’t think so. Many companies encourage video conferencing instead of travel. Your on screen image is dangerously close to being replaced completely by an avatar of your self meeting with other avatars in virtual meeting rooms. Trust me, as soon as the technology reaches the cost/benefit critical point, you will be there.

In the security business I use access control software (WinPak) that uses virtual representations within the graphical user interface of the actual hardware devices installed. Why? Because a system can become so complex that it would be almost impossible to administer it without some sort of GUI between you and it. By using virtual representations of the system components, the system becomes ‘user friendly’. These days, customers take it for granted that this will in fact be the case.

One of the newest emerging technologies is the virtual CCTV system. In fact, we are already installing it. The technology just gets better and better. No more VCRs or DVRs, now cameras are actually ‘data gathering devices’ and our job is to manage the information database that these devices grow by the second. Video Management Systems (VMS) are data management software platforms that get this job done. And guess what? Virtual representations of system components are rampant! Why? Because when you you have 16 remote CCTV systems and 256- 512 cameras, you need that GUI to make the system understandable and user friendly. Heck, you need the GUI just to make sure the system network structure is intact and humming along.

As much as I enjoy playing with the virtual, my true calling is the specifying and configuring of the systems that make it APPEAR virtual. If the system is intuitive, user friendly and has a shallow learning curve, you have done the right thing. There is no need for users to know about all those servers, switches, routers, VPN concentrators, service providers and armies of highly paid and trained technicians that are hiding just beyond their peripheral vision. Just as long as the symbols are green, and when they turn red, we make them go back to green.

See you in Second Life.

British ‘Sin bins’?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Here is a disturbing thought:

What if a government entity decided that you were a poor parent, had a dysfunctional family, unstable family conditions, etc..? What if they ordered you to shape up? What if they placed CAMERAS inside your home and subjected you to 24 hour no notice, no warrant ‘inspections’ to ‘encourage’ compliance?

According to an article in the British government is already doing this. Britain already has more cameras per capita than any other country. A British citizen can be expected to be imaged an average of every 10 – 15 minutes!

In my opinion, public cameras used by the police to help monitor trouble spots or out of the way spots like parks etc. is a good idea, for the most part.

Here’s the problem when you start installing large numbers of cameras; there is no way that the police can look at all of the camera images. Even with video analytics to help out, the are just not enough people to monitor all of the activity being recorded.

Most recorded video is used to investigate crimes that have already happened, not prevent them. Sure, there is some deterrent factor, but most people are aware of the cameras and simply carry out their business away from the cameras prying eyes. There have been some cases of in Britain where recorded video was used to prosecute people engaging in self defense during assaults because they hurt thier attackers!

Public cameras- yes or no? On the street? In our homes? Where would you draw the line?

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ISC East Security Show

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I just received my invitation to register for this years ISC East (I did in fact register my self and my lead technician). ISC stands for International Security Conference & Exposition. There are actually two conferences, ISC East, and ISC West. Each conference is held annually, with the ISC West show being the larger and better attended of the two.

The ISC East and West are in fact security industry trade shows, with conferences and training opportunities offered by exhibitors and industry trade organizations running concurrently.

Besides the excellent opportunities to attend industry meetings and training (I will be attending some myself), the ISC offers security dealers, end users and manufacturers an opportunity to look at new products, old products and some silly ideas that always seem to make it to the show, but not to the market. One of the best aspects of the ISC is that when the entire exposition offerings are viewed from a macro perspective, you can Divine the trends that the security industry is moving towards. I remember one year when 3 or 4 manufactures had a new item on display, the digital video recorder. Sure enough, the following year almost every CCTV manufacturer had some sort of digital video recorder at the show, some only in the beta stage.

I remember my first ISC show. It was pretty exciting for me as a young technician to suddenly be surrounded by all of the finest electronic gear the industry had to offer. I spent almost 8 hours that day, carefully looking at, and evaluating (in my own opinion of course) the suitability of each and every item on display. Of course, the small premiums the vendor were handing out helped (mostly pens and small screwrivers with thier logo on it)!

The ISC is not the grand event it once was. The advent of the internet and instant communications have made the shows less of a nesessity and more of a networking event. The exhibitors are still there, but in smaller numbers. In fact, Rapid Response Monitoring Services (well known by my monitoring customers) will not be displaying at either show any more. After considering the costs and benifits of displaying, RRMS has decided to hold their own symposium targeted directly at thier own dealer base. I think more vendors are starting to follow this trend.

I don’t think the ISC is going away any time soon, and I do look foward to it each year, hoping to glimpse some new technology. This is where I saw advanced Honeywell equipment that caused me to become a Honeywell CSS Dealer. I saw those products, I knew those products were the future, and I wanted to sell those poducts. Follow the link to my website in the right side column and I’ll tell you about them!

The ISC East exhibit runs on October 28 & 29, 2009 at the NYC Jacob Javits Center. See you there.

Security and Herd Immunity

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

When we perform a security installation (residential or commercial), part of our installation is to put up warning stickers on the doors and windows and to install a lawn sign warning that a security system is installed and active. We then advisethe customer that we will be sending the surrounding businesses and homes a mailer explaining that we have installed a security system in the neighborhood. It is actually a solicitation from us, but with a higher function that is harder to see. Of course no personal information, addresses or names are mentioned in the flier,  just the fact that we have installed a system nearby.

We often get some objections from our customers about the mailing, feeling that we are exploiting the good fortune of having installed an alarm system in the area.

Here is my take on the subject, it is based on the prey versus predator relationship.

Generally (there are always exceptions to every rule), when thieves (predators) are casing  neighborhood homes (prey, as in a herd of cattle), the predators are looking for the weakest member of the herd (the least protected, most vulnerable home) or the biggest meal (most expensive looking home).

Alarm system owners who put up window and door stickers and lawn signs are telling the predators that this house is not an easy target, go try another.

Now lets takes this idea down to the microbial level (where viruses live). When a population is vaccinated against a virus (have an alarm system installed), it is best when all members get vaccinated. But there are some parents who choose not to have their children participate in the vaccination program. This turns out to actually be OK, as long as the number of un-vaccinated does not exceed a critical point. It turns out that the larger numbers that have been vaccinated will actually reduce the transmission vector paths the virus can follow to the un-vaccinated people.

This is a well know phenomenon know as “Herd Immunity”.

When we send out our mailers after an installation, we are attempting to increase the number of ‘vaccinated’ businesses and homes to increase herd immunity. This sort of activity, along with posted “Neighborhood Watch Program” signs can make an entire neighborhood look unattractive to the predator, I mean thieves.

Customer Intramural Team Work

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I visited a customer today and was surprised by the level of team work that the management showed.

In the past (I mean way back!) most of my dealings concerning plant security where handled through the facility/ plant manager. After all, he or she knew what the plant needed, right? Mostly yes. I usually started off working with the plant manager but wound up finalizing many details with the plant supervisor, the manager was just too darn busy!

When access control became more popular, suddenly personal information was being handled by all sorts of people who really had no business seeing it. Human Resources was horrified and immediately made a case for control of security. After all, security involved people, right? Mostly yes, but HR soon found itself drowning under the details that go into administering a truly integrated security system.

The next group to make a bid for the control of security was usually the IT department. After all, security equipment was electronics and computers wired together somehow, right? Mostly yes, but soon the IT department discovered the human element that goes hand in hand with security management. People, unlike machines, are often illogical and well, human.

So, today during my site visit I met with the plant manager. Just as I was formulating my strategy of how I would politely get to meet with all of the above mentioned departments (who after all, do play important roles in system management), the plant manager told me that it was a pleasure to meet me today and that he would make sure that all the parties that I needed access would be made available to me.

I tried not to let my shock show as it dawned on me that this plant manager had been in his game as long as I had been in mine, and he knew that getting his work done meant helping me get mine done. This man was a professional.

As I was leaving my meeting, I thought about the plant manager and the fact that he had seen the same whole scenario play out over the years that I have described above.

I felt like we were veterans of the electronic front.

Welcome! I hope you enjoy this information

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

This is my initial foray into the land of the blog. Unlike my newsletter which is restricted to my customers, this is for the consumption of all. Feel free to register and comment!