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.

Federal Trade Commission warning! Beware of home alarm sales scams.

It is the time of year when van loads of sales people start roaming the neighborhoods, hoping to pressure you into expensive, long term monitoring contracts by offering, what appear to be low up front costs.  It doesn’t stop there though some of there practices are even illegal.  So when it is time to invest in security, you should chose a company that you trust and check them out with friends, neighbors, and local agencies.

Even among the many legitimate security system companies, there are major differences.  My best advise is to chose a company that takes the time to educate you and doesn’t pressure you for a decision.  Security is about gaining peace of mind, and that sometimes takes reflection and weighing alternatives.  SHIELD Security Systems is one such company, and there are others.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s There?
Want to Buy a Home Security System?
Beware of home alarm sales scams.

Everyone wants to feel safe in their home, so when home security salespeople come knocking, their pitch can be convincing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, and your state Attorney General urge you to use caution when you consider what security system sales agents have to offer.

During the spring and summer months, home security or alarm companies hire traveling sales agents to go door-to-door, making unsolicited “cold calls” on homeowners. In some cases, the salespeople use high-pressure or deceptive sales tactics to get potential customers to buy expensive, and sometimes substandard, systems or equipment they don’t need.

Before you let anyone inside your home, ask for identification. Some state laws require door-to-door salespeople to tell you their name, the name of the business they represent, and the goods or services they wish to sell before asking you any questions or making any statements. Other states require salespeople to show you their “pocket card” license and a photo ID. Take a few minutes to look over their documentation.

Signs of a Security System Scam

Unscrupulous door-to-door sales agents use a variety of approaches and pitches to get you to buy an alarm system and monitoring services. Here’s what to look out for:

  • They may make a time-limited offer, and claim that you need to act now. For example, they may try to get you to sign a contract by telling you that the equipment is “free.” More than likely, strings are attached. For example, to get your “free” alarm, you may have to sign a long-term and expensive system monitoring contract.
  • They may pressure their way into your home and then refuse to leave. It is not impolite or rude to tell a salesperson you’re not interested. It’s much easier — and safer — to say “no” on the doorstep than to try to get the salesperson to leave once they’re inside. If a salesperson continues to pressure you after you’ve asked them to leave, call the police.
  • They may use scare tactics. For example, they may talk about a rash of supposed burglaries in your neighborhood.

Some door-to-door sales agents target homeowners who have signs on their properties for security systems with other companies. In these cases:

  • The sales agents may state or imply that they are from your existing security company and that they’re there to “upgrade” or “replace” your current security system. Once inside your home, however, they may install a new security system and have you sign papers that include a costly contract for the monitoring service.
  • They may claim your security company has gone out of business, that they’ve taken over the accounts, and that you have to buy new equipment and sign new contracts. If this happens, call your current monitoring company to confirm. Normally, you would be notified of a change like this by mail or telephone, not by an unannounced visit by a representative from another company.

Before you do business with anyone selling a home security or alarm system, whether they come to your door or you seek them out, the FTC and your state Attorney General urge you to ask potential contractors for the following information. Use it to check out the alarm company with the appropriate authorities: your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov), Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and state licensing officials (www.nascla.org). If the salesperson is reluctant to give you this information, consider it a red flag and find another company to consider.

  • Contractor’s name
  • Street address (no P.O. Box)
  • Telephone number
  • Contractor’s license number
  • State that issued the license
  • Name under which the license is filed

Buying a Home Security System

Home security systems are designed to protect you, your home, and your valuables. They vary in price and sophistication. Some systems not only can warn you of intruders, but also can notify authorities of a medical emergency, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and water levels or pressures, and include video surveillance. Some systems also are linked into your home’s wiring, heating or lighting systems, and use your mobile phone or computer to control them.

Most home security alarm installers can provide all-inclusive services that include equipment plus the installation and monitoring service.

If you’re thinking about buying a home security system, the FTC and your state Attorney General suggest that you:

Get references from your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and from the company’s current clients, and find out whether the equipment was installed within the given time frame. Were any equipment problems dealt with promptly? Was the system explained to everyone living in the home? If there was an intrusion, were the police contacted immediately?

Check out the companies by entering their names in a search engine online. Read about other people’s experiences with the companies. Try to communicate offline if possible to clarify any details. In addition, contact your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov), and the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if any complaints are on file.

Verify that the contractor’s licenses are current and in good standing. Check with the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (www.nascla.org) for the appropriate agency in your state.

Get written estimates from several companies, and ask plenty of questions. A reputable company will not try to sell you anything before completing a professional assessment of your needs and the layout of your home. Find out:

  • Who will perform the installation and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to a third party.
  • What is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More? Are there penalties for early termination? What happens if you move before the contract term is up?
  • How much does the monitoring cost? How often will you be billed?
  • Does the company call you before notifying the police?
  • How soon after the alarm sounds will you be notified?
  • What happens if the alarm company can’t reach you when the alarm is sounding? Is the alarm reset? Are the police called? Are alternate numbers called?
  • What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
  • What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
  • Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
  • Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications and special apps for smart phones?

Read the fine print. Once you’ve chosen a company, make sure the written contract includes all oral promises made by the salesperson. Your contract package should include:

  • Installation price
  • Monthly or quarterly monitoring fee
  • Contract period
  • Applicable discounts
  • A written warranty
  • The owner’s manual
  • An explanation of your right to cancel the deal
  • Cancellation forms

The contract also must be dated, and show the name and address of the seller.

Contact your police and fire departments. Ask whether you need to register your system, and if there are fines for responding to false alarms.

Understand that you can cancel the deal. The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel the deal if you sign the contract in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. You do not have to give a reason for canceling your purchase. You have a right to change your mind, even if the equipment has already been installed.

The salesperson must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back) and a copy of your contract. The contract must be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. You may have additional consumer protections under state law. Check with your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (http://www.usa.gov/topics/consumer.shtml), or the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org/kansas-city/)

For More Information

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Security System Techniques – Protecting Double Hung Windows

Double hung windows are the ones that slide up and down to open.  There are several ways to gain entry to this type of window.  The first way is to simply pry it open with a crow bar.  When this is done, the two small locks that typically are between the two panes, often pull out, as they are normally only attached with a couple of small screws.  In this case the glass does not break and therefore a window contact is the primary method of detection.  Surface mount contacts are often used with new windows to avoid drilling holes that might otherwise void the window warranty.  An interior motion detector can detect the intrusion, after the intruder has already climbed through the window and started moving within the house.  More information on types of window contacts will be given in another posting.

The second entry method would be to break the glass to get to the latches to open the window.  This is done because the glass is open very sharp and the openings are often a little tight for crawling through.  In this case, either a glass break or window contact would work.  The glass break would go off first, followed by the window contact and as always a motion detector would detect the intrusion after the intruder was inside.  That leaves crawling through the broken window pane as the third option.  In this event, only the glass break detector and motion detector would pick up the intrusion.

From a deterrence point of view, security system stickers might help as well as making sure that the window is well lit and not hidden by tall shrubs.  From a denial perspective, windows with automatic stops help prevent the window from being slid open too wide.  In some cases, people will drill hole and insert a nail to prevent the window from opening too far.

Home Security – 3 Primary Lines of Defense

The 3 D’s of Security – Deterrence, Denial, and Detection

One of the important themes that you’ll see repeated throughout these discussions are the principles of deterrence, denial, and detection.  Our first objective should always be to discourage or deter a would-be intruder from targeting our property in the first place.  It is easy to see how we are the safest if the intruder never targets our home or business in the first place.  The second concept is denial.  In denial, we attempt to make intrusion more difficult in the event that our property is targeted.  The object of detection is to alert you and the authorities of a threat if our avoidance techniques were not successful.

The same principles extend beyond intrusion to other threats such as fire, carbon monoxide, flood, etc.  Again, it is obvious that preventing the fire is far better than just detecting and reporting it in the unfortunate event that one occurs.

Home Intrusion Deterrence

The majority of home intruders are looking for an easy point of entry with a low probability of being seen and caught.  Other postings will discuss protecting against premeditated crimes and employee theft.  Witnesses and Security systems both increase the likelihood of being caught and are therefore usually a deterrent.  To avoid witnesses, intruders will want to target homes that appear vacant and choose an entry point where they won’t draw the attention of neighbors or passers-by.  A security system sign and window stickers indicate to an intruder that a siren will draw additional attention to the property, not to mention the fact that police will be dispatched as well.

There are many things we can do to make our home seem inhabited.  Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to assess the degree to which you are making your home a less attractive target.

While you are away

  • Do you indicate the presence of a security system with clearly visible signs and stickers?
  • Do you have several lights in your home set up on automatic timers?
  • Do you arrange for a friend or neighbor to come by and check on your home when you plan on being away several days or longer?  Do you discontinue mail and newspaper service?
  • Do you avoid messages on your home and business phone announcing that you are traveling or not at home?

Exterior Lighting

  • Is your front entrance lit well enough to enable you to identify visitors at night?
  • Are all other entrances illuminated well?
  • Do floodlights or illumination cover all exterior sections of your home or property?
  • Do motion sensors control your exterior lighting?

Landscaping

  • Is all landscaping trimmed to eliminate areas for a person to hide near doors and windows?
  • Is all landscaping trimmed to prevent obstruction of exterior lighting?
  • Have tree limbs been trimmed to prevent access to upper floor windows or balconies?
  • Have you planted thorny shrubbery near windows to discourage loitering or hiding?
SHIELD Security Systems | 7111 W. 151st Street, Suite 30 | Overland Park, KS 66223 | (913) 667-7500