Raising bar on CCTV abilities

Voice of the Valley as published in Malay Mail today

By Pearl Lee

THE effectiveness of surveillance cameras in the country has come under massive scrutiny over the past few weeks.

?First it was the shocking revelation that footage from Internet-Protocol (IP)-based closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were screened illegally on Insecam.com.

?The website showed images from thousands of CCTVs around the globe, including more than 800 locations in Malaysia.

Users were able to view and monitor what transpired in homes, offices, boutiques and even goldsmith shops. Even shocking is the locations of the images, in the form of coordinates, were made available on the website.

The creator of the website wanted to prove a point — tapping into one’s system was easily done, especially so with generic usernames and passwords. It was to serve as a lesson, to understand and appreciate the importance of having an alphanumeric password.

Even streets and government buildings in Putrajaya were not spared as during one occasion, footage from 16 surveillance cameras were broadcast online.

A blame game ensued. Customers rapped their CCTV solution providers for not stressing the importance of changing their login credentials and passwords. Solution providers argued the onus was on the customers to change their usernames and passwords.

Several solution providers admitted generic usernames and passwords will enable them to troubleshoot remotely.

While the rage continued as consumers saw their privacy violated, the authorities seemed clueless over the action of the Russian-based website.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) insisted the matter was not within their jurisdiction. CyberSecurity Malaysia said they could only act upon receiving orders from police or MCMC.

But authorities elsewhere are not taking this matter lightly.

The UK’s Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, had on Thursday, said it was trying to work the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) together with Australian, Canadian and Russian authorities to shut down Insecam.com.

Last year, FTC fined a webcam company for similar security issues.

Insecam.com, however, has stopped streaming live feeds. It remains unclear if it was following a directive from the authorities or done voluntarily.

The episode may soon be forgotten, as many more homes and offices will continue to use generic login credentials. But this has certainly served as a reminder to how easy our privacy can be invaded even in the comfort of our bedroom.

There is another security concern involving surveillance cameras.

Police said blurry images were the main reason to why investigations into the Oct 9 Bukit Bintang grenade attack have yet to be resolved.

Investigators had sourced for images from about 100 cameras belonging to companies and business entities in and around Cherry Blossom pub in Sun Complex, hoping to identify the culprits who had thrown two hand grenades which killed one and injured 13 people.

But police only managed to sketch the face of one suspect while the other remains a mystery.
The episode reveal the ineffectiveness of CCTV cameras which are probably not maintained or how faulty or the non-presence of cameras being operated by local authorities can hamper police investigations.

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall, had in 1966, implemented a CCTV system to monitor traffic but it was not until 2003 that a traffic monitoring system known as the Integrated Transport Information System (ITIS) was implemented on a larger scale in the city.

In June, City Hall announced it was going to roll out 1,200 CCTV cameras by next month to monitor traffic flow and crime in the city. The exercise will cost RM190 million and about 300 from the 1,200 cameras will be monitored by police.

The new cameras will compliment the existing 300 cameras which were installed by City Hall in 2005. The exercise nine years ago cost City Hall RM365 million but was deemed a failure as more than 60 per cent of the cameras were not in working order.

Undoubtedly, CCTV cameras are excellent crime monitoring tools.

Such surveillance devices took a new meaning last year after the authorities managed to locate two suspects linked to the Boston Marathon bombings.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation managed to identify and track down the movements of brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev with the aid of three security cameras in downtown Boston.

The strategic locations of the cameras enabled investigators to track down their movements as they got into position to detonate the bombs.

It is imperative for the authorities to not only install these devices in high traffic areas and crime hot-spots, but they should consider installing the cameras in notorious areas and back lanes.

Otherwise, we would be staring at another blurry image which will not do justice in curbing illegal and criminal activities.

PEARL is roving news editor of Malay Mail. She can be reached at pearl@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @pearllee22


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