Why Police Need to Hack Into CCTV Systems in Paris and Elsewhere

A body is wheeled away from a kosher grocery store which was the scene of a hostage taking in Paris, Friday, Jan. 9, 2015.

A body is wheeled away from a kosher grocery store which was the scene of a hostage taking in Paris, Friday, Jan. 9, 2015. Francois Mori/AP

What good are surveillance cameras populating private and public property worldwide, if emergency responders can’t immediately obtain real-time footage?

French authorities apparently initially were restricted Friday from accessing a closed-circuit surveillance system at the besieged Paris kosher supermarket. They reportedly had to “hack” the CCTV to monitor the behavior of suspected terrorist Amedy Coulibaly, who took 15 hostages and killed four people before being shot by police.

This scenario raises the question: What good are the millions of surveillance cameras populating private and public property worldwide, if emergency responders can’t immediately obtain real-time footage?

“It’s kind of surprising that they did not have some other means to get into it," said Jerry Irvine, a member of the National Cyber Security Partnership, a joint government-industry organization.

Intercepting video during a crisis situation should take minutes, at maximum, security experts say. But that's not always the case. 

In the United States, locating the network and tracking down a judge to obtain a warrant are the biggest holdups, law enforcement researchers say.

Many systems are wireless, meaning technical experts merely need to crack passwords or intercept cellular data to see imagery. With older coax-cable systems, some on-the-ground tinkering could be required to get in, technologists say. 

If a tenant does not provide access to the video, authorities do have to obtain a court order, but there are emergency provisions that permit them to start the interception as quickly as physically possible -- and then get the warrant over the phone.

In Paris, “obviously, there was no shortage of probable cause in this situation," said Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program and a former FBI agent. 

Tom Bush, former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division, said: "When I had kidnapping cases, and I had to get cell phone information in real-time, you would get it, you would call up and say, 'I need it now, the paper’s coming,' and they would take care of it. When you have a life and death situation, they generally react very, very quickly.” 

How to Intercept Surveillance Video

When authorities do need to break into devices, there typically are three ways of doing so, said Irvine, who also is a private consultant to state and local agencies.

With wireless surveillance systems, authorities can use a tool that mimics a telecommunications company's cell tower to trick the system into feeding footage to the cops. 

When the camera is wired onsite, authorities must gain access to the physical network. It could take a few minutes to tap a connection on a different floor or plug into a switch. 

For password-protected systems, the hacking could be really easy or, in very rare cases, impossible. This fall, video camera owners who neglected to change the manufacturer’s default password got a rude awakening when they saw their private feeds on the public Web. A website traced to Russia was streaming thousands of live video feeds from U.S. camera systems that lacked strong passwords. 

Secure, older Wi-Fi technologies "can be hacked within 5 to 10 seconds," but "newer encrypted technologies may be uncompromisable," such as those at military facilities or banks, Irvine said. 

How Not to Intercept Surveillance Video

During the 2013 Navy Yard shooting incident, where a gunman took a dozen lives before ending his own, D.C. metropolitan cops stumbled because they weren't granted access to all CCTV cameras there, according to a postmortem report.

Some of the cameras were only reachable from a room inside the facility a guard locked without telling anyone. The available video and witness statements left authorities with the false impression there might be a second shooter. The report recommended security personnel in the future regularly coordinate with one another to ensure everyone knows information-sharing procedures. 

Video surveillance information-sharing, in fact, could become a significant holdup in a crisis one day, some researchers say. 

"We’re paying the price for the past sins of the lack of interoperability -- the data and voice and now the same thing is true on the video," said Tom O’Reilly, executive director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University and a former Justice Department official. Police stations don't want to "have 14 or 25 different technologies to interface with 25 different standards from 25 different vendors. If they use a common standard, that is certainly more cost effective." 

Government, specifically the National Institute of Standards and Technology, should step in with technical specifications to make sure all consumer systems can talk to each other in the same language, he said. 

"So it’s a not tax or penalize type of thing, but it’s initially a set of common standards and then hopefully, you get the insurance industry to incentivize it," O'Reilly added.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.