Two common home security systems can be disabled in seconds!

Today many people are drawn to simple solutions for a number of reasons.  Some avoid unnecessary complexity, while others are perhaps more elegant.  A more dangerous reason is to avoid the additional time and effort required to do things the right way.

What to avoid:  Many of the mass-marketed $99 systems, tout the benefits of being all wireless and rapid installations.  While neither of these characteristics are bad, many of the systems that are marketed in this way, are.  The problem occurs when the key pad and control panel are integrated into a single unit that is placed near a main entrance of the home.  Since the entire security system is then in the keypad, destroying the keypad also destroys the security system.

The Problem is that the security system doesn’t know if the person who came in is authorized or not.  Currently its only way of determining that is to wait for the timer to expire without a valid code being input.  During that waiting period is when the integrated systems are most vulnerable.

The right way:  Whether wireless or not, the main control panel should be placed in a location where it will be difficult for an intruder to find.  This could be in the basement, in a closet, or someplace else that is concealed and unexpected.  Keypads are then placed at the main entrance(s).  If a keypad is destroyed, the control panel will continue to operate and can still alert authorities and sound the siren.   

Keypads are wired to the control panel, but some are wireless to provide more flexibility in mounting location.  Keypads have come a long way, both in ease of use and in design. 

LED keypads were the earliest keypads and communicated everything with a few status lights and 6 or 8 zone lights.  You obviously got very little information from the keypad and had to use a guide to determine what the different light combinations meant.  I don’t even want to get into the nightmare of programming a whole security system through one of those things.  You can still find some companies installing these today. 

LCD keypads have the ability to communicate much more information.  There are two types: fixed and custom.  A fixed keypad can show status with complete words such as armed, trouble, open, chime, on, off, etc.  This was a big improvement over the LEDs, but you still needed a sheet to tell you what zone 1 actually was. 

Custom Alpha-numeric keypads solved that problem by adding a custom description to each zone such as “Living Room Motion” or “Garage Entry Door”.  These premium keypads also provide several different style options to match the aesthetics of the mounting location.  They even went one step further to introduce voice as an additional option to simplify the interface even further by speaking the zone status.

Graphic Touch Screen Displays are vivid displays that provide a very intuitive interface for controlling the security system, but that is just the beginning.  These displays also can control lights, thermostats, unlock doors and show local weather forecasts.  While not in use they can display a slide show of family photos.

Smart Phone and Tablet interfaces are the latest step in the evolution.  These can communicate over Wi-Fi when in the home or can be used over the 3G/4G mobile network to control and check on your home from across town or across the country.  Free apps can be downloaded for many of the most popular platforms.

Future Hope for Integrated Systems: The manufacturers have been aware of this vulnerability since the beginning but are now starting to introduce features to reduce the risk.  These techniques will drastically reduce the vulnerabilities and may allow me to endorse the systems for the many nice features that they will continue to have.

In the meantime, if you want one of the integrated systems, you should put the integrated keypad in a more remote area and add another wireless keypad near the main entry door.

Tony Thurman

SHIELD Security Systems | 7111 W. 151st Street, Suite 30 | Overland Park, KS 66223 | (913) 667-7500