Imagine sitting at home, watching television, playing with your kids or settling in for a night’s sleep. Seems utterly routine, right? More so if you have a residential security system, which you assume is providing an added layer of protection for you and your loved ones.

Now imagine carrying out those mundane activities while being watched the entire time by a stranger. That was the terrifying realization for a Saskatoon woman who learned that—unbeknownst to her—another client of the home monitoring company she used to protect her house was, in fact, able to view her every movement using the client’s own system login details.

“We could have easily been broken into or harmed if this had been in the wrong hands,” the customer, Shelan Faith, told CBC news.

So, how was Faith’s home security system breached? Not through the efforts of an experienced hacker, it turns out. The U.S.-based security firm that installed the system told Faith that the mishap was the result of “… a human installation error in connecting to the wrong email address.” It turns out another customer was able to access her in-home camera and approached the company to inform them of the mix-up, but to no avail.

 

“I don’t think I stopped shaking for days … just to know that somebody could see into my home or access my home.” – Shelan Faith

 

That customer then proceeded to write a letter to Faith explaining that she had full access to the cameras in her home and provided details of activities she’d witnessed to verify that the letter wasn’t some kind of elaborate hoax. Faith, terrified by the details outlined in the letter, yet relieved that the author wasn’t acting nefariously when trying to inform her of the problem, contacted the security firm who tried to bill her thousands of dollars to cancel her security contract.

After the story broke in the media, the firm agreed to waive those charges and proceeded to cancel Faith’s home monitoring contract free of charge.

The sensational details of this story aside, it’s important to remember that this kind of error is very rare in our industry. But it underscores the vigilance with which customers should vet prospective home monitoring companies, and the threats posed by individuals who do, in fact, attempt to hack security systems.

Buyer beware

When contracting a security firm to protect your home, always research their reputation through word of mouth, online ratings websites or a simple, quick Google search to develop an understanding of its customer service reputation. Once you engage directly with the firm, be prepared to ask tough questions: How sophisticated are their home monitoring systems? Some security camera equipment lacks any type of security software, which can explain why some products cost hundreds of dollars less than other, more reputable systems on the market.

Another major question: Is the security firm reputable, or is it someone who shows up at your door and tells you that they can install a camera or security system in your house? Are their passwords and systems encrypted? How do they ensure that situations such as the one that affected Faith don’t happen to their customers? Do they have an in-house tech team, or do they outsource key functions, such as installation, to a third-party? These are all key queries.

While every customer should search for a great deal on their home security systems, remember the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Companies that offer bargain-basement rates are likely to provide shoddy service—or balk at cancelling service agreements or refuse to address glaring issues when errors (which happen to be their fault!) become obvious. That doesn’t mean you should overpay for home security, but do be aware that not all service providers are created equally.

Changing passwords

Most advanced home security systems nowadays are effectively plug-and-play—that is, once they’re installed, they require very little input from home owners, except to arm and disarm when away from the house.

But as with any encrypted device, it does require one important step: changing the system’s factory password setting, assuming the technician who installs the system hasn’t already made that crucial change themselves. Why? Thieves are extremely clever and resourceful. As we’ve seen in cases where devices such as mobile phones are hacked, professionals have proven adept at gaining access to factory passwords and using them to break into security systems, rob a property and be gone before a property owner knows what’s happened.

The same individuals also have expertise in hacking systems outright, even without passwords. Working with a reputable service provider who uses the most advanced equipment available—e.g., one that ensures its software is regularly or automatically updated—is one way to mitigate this risk. So, too, is being proactive and changing your password on a regular basis, whether or not you’re the victim of a break-in.

Simply pick a day each month and be sure to change those essential login details (and don’t share them with anyone but your spouse or family members) to reduce your risk.

This wouldn’t have helped in Faith’s case, but if nothing else, we can take a lesson from that unfortunate incident and remind ourselves that home security does, indeed, require a high degree of vigilance on the part of residents.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO
Wincon Security

Today’s commercial property managers, face a variety of challenges, not the least of which are security issues.  These can vary from ensuring that contractors’ activities on site, are not disrupting their tenant’s businesses while also following health and safety guidelines, to “slip and fall” incidents, both legitimate and contrived.  A lack of vigilance around such matters can result in heavy liability losses. Property managers of multi-storey office buildings, usually employ a combination of security measures to protect tenants and property, including the use of concierge-guards and the installation of video surveillance equipment.

Surprisingly, some managers of buildings in suburban, commercial/industrial parks, often choose not to employ security services.   When asked why they decide not to protect the premises, it typically comes down to the, return-on-investment, argument. The story goes that it’s a quiet area, with occasional police patrols; the expense of hired security services can’t be justified, when there are so few incidents.

A recent discussion I had with a prospective client, revealed how the result of this policy can cause serious damage to a location’s image and the management company’s brand, ultimately impacting profitability.  The manager, Frank, had been assigned a number of buildings within a large business park, in what was traditionally a desirable suburban area. The residential neighbourhoods surrounding the business park had been quiet and trouble free.  The decision had been made years earlier, not to hire security services, as they were deemed unnecessary. Eventually, there was a change in the area demographics, and the neighbourhoods began to experience a rise in criminal activity. This led to buildings in the business park, also becoming targets for break-and-enter incidents.

Frank advised that while the tenants had begun to take security measures into their own hands, installing cameras etc., (even putting bars on the windows!), the incidents had continued. Eventually, some tenants decided not to renew their leases. This led to several prolonged vacancies. When Frank assumed management, he immediately recognized what was happening and could see where things were headed:  it was apparent to the perpetrators, that the premises were clearly unprotected: no cameras, no security guards and no patrol-cars. They were operating without much fear of being apprehended.  If the situation continued, the result could only be more vacancies. The continuing slide in revenues would soon become difficult to recover from.  Profit was already down and lowered lease rates might soon follow in an effort to fill the vacancies.

Frank understood that an organization’s ability to retain and attract tenants, including prestige names, is directly linked to the property’s image and status. Without his tenant’s confidence in his ability to protect their property, more vacancies would result and things would continue to spiral downward.  The vision of a half empty, run-down, commercial building is a scary thing for any property manager and can only lead to a tarnishing of the management company’s overall image.

Fortunately, this story ends well. By installing surveillance equipment and employing mobile patrol service, the break-in incidents fell off and eventually ceased.  The visual presence of cameras on the buildings and patrol cars and officers on site, was enough alone, to deter the criminals from approaching the buildings. Further, Frank related that the patrol officers discovered that several locations were being used for illegal parking on the weekends; several types of vehicles including a large trailer were trespassing.  A simple warning and the continued random patrols deterred the offenders from returning.

Frank’s story clearly illustrates the need for security services in property management, as a deterrent to criminal activity.  Unprotected properties become prey to a wide variety of illegal activities. The damage to a property’s status and the company’s reputation, is inevitable; profitability is seriously affected by the decline in revenues that result. By simply employing quality security services that are visibly apparent, a management company can protect their tenants’ property, their company brand, and thereby, their financial health.

Police are investigating another string of Break and Enters in Etobicoke. These are unrelated to the break and enters reported earlier. You can

find out more here!

Partial sketch of suspect

Police released this partial sketch of the suspect they believe is responsible for the multiple break-and-enters in Etobicoke. Find out more here.

City of Toronto Last week, many Toronto news outlets reported that Toronto has the lowest crime rate of all the major Canadian cities. This is comforting news. I am sure some of us felt relieved or even re-assured. However, something just doesn’t add up. While this sounds like good news, I’m having trouble reconciling it with the number of home invasions that have been in the news in the past couple of months. The fact is that most of the crimes that make up the “lowest crime rate” stats, do not include smaller scale crimes that directly victimize our communities.  Crimes such as break & enters rarely make the news – especially if there are no assaults or injuries. On a daily basis, there are a significant amount of break and enters that occur in residential neighbourhoods.  All you have to do is Google the news releases for your community’s police force. You’ll be surprised by the number of crimes that are actually occurring in your community and you’ll get a clear sense of why you intuitively take no comfort in the boast that Toronto has the lowest crime rate.

I consider my neighbourhood in Markham to be very safe, but when I Googled the news released for the York Regional Police, I was stunned to see the amount of break-ins that had occurred. Yet I have never seen these occurrences in my local newspaper.  So let us just consider Toronto, with its population of 2,791,140 people (as of July 1, 2013). How many more of these types of incidents are taking place on a daily basis? When I Googled Toronto Police News Releases, I was stunned by the long list of crimes I saw that go unreported by the news media.  The length of the list makes me wonder if our local police have the resources to investigate all these criminals who put my life and yours at risk? I know they’re doing their best, but I also know they don’t have the budgets they need to really do their job.

Criminals who are breaking into our homes are not only more bold than before, they are also a lot smarter. They are not only taking the time to scope out our homes before they attack, they know who the builders are, the model of our homes and the layouts. If we have alarm systems installed, they do their homework on the company who installed your system. This is why you see homes with signs from big security companies still being broken into. For criminals, it is a well-known fact that even the big corporations are still selling “ a basic system” over the phone to anyone who is willing  and they do this without ever seeing your actual home. How does this carelessness protect us and our communities?

We need to take active measures to protect our families! Furthermore, stakeholders in the security industry need to be more responsible. Sure, they’re in business to make a profit, but the business they’re in must be about actually protecting their customers!  They need to care more. They need to make the effort to ensure our security systems actually make us secure. They need to make the effort to educate us on how we can better protect ourselves, our loved ones and our properties. When we work together like this, that’s when we will see a true reduction in the actual crime rate.

My passion for security runs deep. I started Wincon Security 20 years ago as a young man who just graduated from college, because I cared about protecting people. I pride myself on the care we take to protect our customers in the Stouffville and Markham areas. Criminals know that when they see a home with the Wincon Security decal on it, that home is protected by a company that pays attention to detail. If you’re wondering if your home is properly secure, please call us today and request a free Home Vulnerability Assessment.

Let’s not get influenced into a false sense of security when you see or hear news declaring reduction in crime. All it takes is one break and enter or home invasion to ruin our lives. Let’s work together to make our communities safer.

I’m disturbed by the “expert” advice given at 1:36 in this news story, which is to invite your neighbours over and ask them how they would break into your house. The problem with this advice is your neighbours don’t think like criminals. If they do, you probably need to move! Criminals have a keen eye for vulnerabilities that are often overlooked by the average person. In fact, the longer your neighbour has lived in the neighbourhood, the more they become vulnerable to its points of weakness.

At Wincon, we have over 20 years of experience protecting homeowners from the criminal element of society. We know how they think and what they are looking for. That’s why we offer homeowners a free Home Vulnerability Assessment before we secure their home. Every home presents unique security challenges. It’s best to call an expert to assess your home. Ensuring you feel safe is our business. Call us now at 905-415-1112 or request an assessment online.