A case for security cameras

I little bit of local awesomeness from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department:

A Patterson (NY) man was committed to the Putnam County Jail in lieu of bail in connection with three separate thefts of copper fixtures from cell communications towers in Patterson and Kent.

The rest can be read here: Man charged with stealing copper from cellphone tower sites

I once got into an argument with my boss about transmitter site security cameras.  His attitude was “what difference does it make, nobody will do anything about it anyway.”  Clearly, if the police have something to go on, they will take action.  I know that several E911 sites in Dutchess and Ulster counties have been victims of copper theft as well.

IP security cameras are inexpensive and fairly reliable, provided you keep them out of the direct elements.  We have dozens of old Windows XP computers floating around which, with the addition of a software package like Blue Iris, can be repurposed as a record and save system.  The advantage of Blue Iris is the record on motion. The cameras do not need to be monitored continuously; if something happens, go back and look at the stored video.

The old Windows XP boxes do not need to be connected to the outside world unless one wants to look at the security system from the studio or home.   Alternatively, if one is Linux savvy, something like Zoneminder or Xeoma look like full featured video surveillance software packages.  I have not fooled around with these yet, but perhaps when I have some spare time…

The point is, for not too much money, a full-featured video surveillance system can be installed at remote transmitter sites to keep track of comings and goings.  If enough idiots get busted for stealing copper, perhaps it will stop (or at least slow down).

Network Security, part II

With the spate of ransomware and crypto virus attacks on automation systems, perhaps a quick review of network security is in order:

  1. Isolate the automation system on a separate network from the general office network and do not allow internet access on the automation system’s work stations or servers.
  2. Use a separate switch for all automation network connections.
  3. install a small router between the automation network and the office network.  On the router, the WAN port faces outward toward the office network, make the WAN port non-pingable.  Grant access from the office network for certain users; e.g. traffic, music director, etc via access lists.  Open up a few ports for VNC or RDP on the router so technicians can remotely access machines to do maintenance and troubleshooting.
  4. Use supported and up to date operating systems.
  5. Use separate admin and user accounts, make sure that admin rights are removed from user accounts and keep machines logged in as users.  This ensures that some errant DJ or other person does not install any unauthorized programs.
  6. Install and keep up to date a good antivirus program.
  7. Back up the data and test the backups.

The office network is more vulnerable because of the human element.  Internet access is require, of course.  Click on a pop up, sure!  Hey, that photograph has a funny file extension, lets open it and see what it is.  I never heard of this person before, but look, they sent me an executable!

Much of the office network security will rely on the quality of the router connected to the internet and the antivirus software installed.  Of course, the network users have a good deal of responsibility also.

Security Camera System

The security camera system at WICC has been installed for a month or so. The greatest feature of this system is the Blue Iris monitoring software. Two weeks ago while I was out there, we calibrated the motion detection on all four cameras. The results are astounding; there are least two red foxes, six to seven white tailed deer, and on the weekends, the place is busier than Grand Central station.

The night time images are interesting, people with flash lights walking down the beach at 1 am and a naked guy causally strolling by the front gate at midnight.  I will never go to this site at night without the police.  Never, so don’t even ask.   This is a video of a fence hopper with a can of spray paint in his hand:

Likely he was intending on some site beautification.  His friend is out of the frame to the left when the cameras are spotted. A few seconds later both can be seen running away on the North facing camera. I find that rather funny. This is a still picture:

Blue Iris screen shot
Blue Iris screen shot

On the right hand side of the screen, one can see all of the triggered events from all of the cameras.  The Blue Iris software is great, it can handle up to 64 IP cameras and has all sorts neat features; color coding cameras, record on motion, night time sensitivity settings, ability to NAT the camera interface to the public network, etc.  The Blue Iris also has an iPhone and Android client which will allow remote access to the Blue Iris server and the server can be set up to push events to the mobile device.  At $9.99, the app is a little pricey, but for high security situations, it might be just the ticket.

We also need to get some signage warning of trespassing and video surveillance and post them on the fences and buildings.

Copper prices on the increase

It is a concern for radio and TV stations, that someone will notice all that greenish brown piping coming out of the buildings and attempt to liberate it, for the cash that is in it.  Of course, such things can lead to some pretty spectacular failures and possible harm to the thieves.  AM ground systems are often a target because they can be pulled up without anyone noticing right away.

In the last twelve months, copper has gone from to about $2.90 to $3.82 per pound:

Copper prices through 10/10
Copper prices through 10/10 per 100 lbs

This is approaching the all time high price of $4.34 per pound in early 2008.

Copper TELCO cables, wiring, piping, gutters, downspouts, roofing are all targets for thieves.  On the other side of the Atlantic, British Telecom (BT) has been hit so hard, they are striking back.  Employing something called “Smart Water Bombs,” they can mark any unauthorized person that attempts to open BT equipment. According to PC pro magazine:

The SmartWater liquid carries a DNA fingerprint that links a criminal to the scene of the crime and police units carrying ultra-violet light detectors can use the incriminating stains to make an arrest after the trap has been sprung.

That is a novel approach, but it  may be a little extreme for the average radio station.  There are a few steps that one can take to minimize theft at the transmitter site:

  1. Keep things buttoned up, mow the field, trim the weeds around the building and make regular site checks.  Keep the building in good repair.  If the site looks cared for, drive by thieves may think twice about visiting.
  2. Make sure that all of the buried copper ground system is indeed buried.  Any wires or screen showing is an invitation for a tug.
  3. Copper strap is especially vulnerable.  Get a metal stamp and stamp the station’s call sign into it every twenty feet or so.  Take pictures of this and keep them on hand to show police.
  4. Report any thefts right away.  In NY, scrap yards must keep records of all transactions over $50.00.  At today’s prices, that is about 14 pounds of bare copper wire or strap, which is not much.
  5. Have a neighbor keep and eye on the place.  Once, I traded about 10 CD’s and 5 T-shirts to the next door neighbor and from that day forward, nothing ever happened at that site without me knowing of it.
  6. Put up “Danger, High Voltage,” and/or RFR warning signs.
  7. Keep fences in good condition and locked.
  8. If possible, work with the local police department to up site patrols.  Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t but it never hurts to ask.
  9. If the site warrants it, buy some dual light cameras and a motion triggered DVR.  This is more of a revenge device, but it nets an arrest, it will be effective in stopping repeat occurrences.

If you notice any unusual activity at the transmitter site, especially during a late night visit, have the police come and check it out before you confront a possible thief.