Schneier on Security
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August 17, 2012
$200 for a Fake Security System
This is pretty funny:
- Moving red laser beams scare away potential intruders
- Laser beams move along floor and wall 180 degrees
- Easy to install, 110v comes on automatically w/timer
Watch the video. This is not an alarm, and it doesn't do anything other than the laser light show. But, as the product advertisement says, "perception can be an excellent deterrent to crime." Although this only works if the product isn't very successful -- or widely known.
Posted on August 17, 2012 at 6:39 AM
• 66 Comments
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There is another security device that works in a similar manner. It has a number of LED's in it that put out a light show that when seen through curtains and blinds looks like a TV is on in the room.
I guess "fear of the unknown" might be a bit strong to describe this laser device but in films you see "HiTec Laser Alarms" around bank vaults and such like that the criminals have to avoid, so it might have the "CSI Effect" on some criminals.
Isn't $200 into the price range for a real security system? Not necessarily a good one, but a real one nonetheless.
It might be a stronger deterrent if the lasers moved around at eye level
There are (or at least were) similar systems deployed in and near some government facilities. They weren't as cheezy as this laser show, but they were just as effective. And they weren't cheap, either! (Cheaper than the real thing, but still not cheap.)
Call me old-fashion, but I find the good old sticker "This site is protected by " glued to the front door at least as effective as the fake light show and way less expensive.
It's all fun and games until your cat dies of exhaustion.
"... another security device that works in a similar manner. It has a number of LED's in it that put out a light show ..."
I have one of those: it's called a "television".
This might deter some amateurs, but anyone who actually *knows* anything about security (or watches Mythbusters) knows that real security systems use infrared lasers -- there's nothing out there that actually uses visible laser beams. So visible lasers would be like putting a big sign in your yard saying "I've got enough valuables to want some security theater, but I'm too cheap to buy a real security system!"
There are really good security systems developed in Japan which use/activate infrasound when intruders are breaking in and scare them extremely. As result they immediately left and never ever come back to the same location (that is the only long-lasting effect) , but those systems are not allowed in the USA. I have no idea for what real reason (may be they may scare 'authorized' intruders as well), but pretext is probably something related to health issues. Those systems are not expensive and good for small businesses needs of latter are of high 'concern' for politicains mainly during the election.
The best feature is that it will "Prevent break-ins BEFORE they happen". This is so much better than preventing them after they happen, cause then you have to clean up broken glass etc.
Do not look directly at laser with remaining eye.
The laser show, combined with a camera, actually can help pinpoint suspicious movements...
$200 for a business is chump change and is the cost of the window the burglar breaks to set off the real alarm. This certainly is worth it.
Blinking LED with "Satellite Link" and no dish. Lol.
Installing such visual ques without an actual security system quickly degrades the effect and spoils it for everyone.
Similar to what happens when too many persons remove their car radio front and put it in the glove compartment.
Or car alarms that go off all the time. Dunno about you, but I don't pay attention to those. Plenty of homes with a 'beware of the dog' sign but no dog.
But what if they had combined it with a real security system and sold it like that? The visual ques would warn an intruder: "We got infrared laser protection and camera-motion detectors, don't even bother."
It doesn't have to be that much more expensive. Probably the highest cost is the monthly fee you pay to the security alarm company anyway.
Kerckhoff's principle applies here too.
I have no doubt that it is effective, but it does rely on the stupidity of your average burglar. However, very few people in this world have lost when gambling on human stupidity.
Combined with a real security system, this sort of thing could save you some cash on broken windows in the long run.
My favorite fake security system was a thing mounted outside an apartment door in a bad neighborhood. It had a keypad for entering an access code and an LED readout that said "LASER DEFENSE SYSTEM ACTIVATED." It probably cost no more than a few bucks for the parts. Nobody ever tried to break into that apartment.
The best part is the comment... ;)
Richard H: I like this!
Bruce, can we have some scoring tools, please.
Score:-1, Offtopic :-(
OK, which one of you posted that "customer review"? :-)
A friends dad owns a machine shop that got broken into several times. His solution was a light and radio on in the office. No break-ins since.
You have to think of the caliber of criminal you are dealing with sometimes....
@Ben: What, you don't think it is helpful?
Just fair warning that the device has it's limitations. Nothing to detract from the obvious merits :)
Sold cars without anti-theft alarm system have little red blinking diode that looks like an alarm system.
It sounds to be similar.
This might deter some amateurs, but anyone who actually *knows* anything about security (or watches Mythbusters) knows that real security systems use infrared lasers -- there's nothing out there that actually uses visible laser beams.
Yes, but this system seems to be designed specifically to prevent amateurs, which I would suggest constitute a majority of break-ins. Professionals will disregard the fake security and look for any real security (no different than any other target), and people who watch Mythbusters don't count because they are probably at home watching Mythbusters instead of out committing felonies.
So visible lasers would be like putting a big sign in your yard saying "I've got enough valuables to want some security theater, but I'm too cheap to buy a real security system!"
I disagree. Putting such a sign in your yard is far more likely to attract the very amateurs that visible laser beams would deter.
I can't believe that the review has almost twice as many unhelpful as helpful votes. I guess some people have no sense of humor.
Kahomono's comment is hereby awarded "The Best Comment of the Year" award for the entire Internet.
Of course nothing prevents one from also having a real security system. It costs less than a broken window, and since most burglaries are crimes of opportunity it will likely work as long as they're not too common.
Kevin Marks: I hereby wish to be reincarnated as a laser.
My first wish was that the fool would have used a tripod for his video!
They did when interviewing the customers; why not the pitchman?
If only it used a gamma ray laser, then you'd have some serious burglary protection.
You're surprised that a 1 star gimmick review has received unhelpful votes?
The review would have been hilarious, if the reviewer hadn't also crapped on the product by making the review 1 star.
@Stephane: The stickers can be very effective. Back in the mists of time, I came home from school one day to find alarm company stickers on the door at my house. I stood outside in the snow for a good five minutes trying to decide what to do about it ... finally, I went in and immediately called the alarm company number on the sticker to notify them it was a false alarm, I lived in the house and my dad must've had the system installed while I was at school.
They didn't budge or give up any information, just advised I call my father for the disarm code - this was way before cell phones so when I couldn't reach him I expected the police to show any minute.
Turned out, he'd picked up a bunch of stickers at a real estate conference and slapped them on the house at lunch. No alarm, no contract with the company, no police on the way. But the security theatre sure worked on me!
hmmm... interesting.... I might be able to replace the dummy dressed in a red stained black and white striped shirt and black mask and hat that I have hanging over my window sill. Sure would cut down on heating and cooling costs too.
Actually, many homeowner insurance companies will discourage you from putting up fake "deterrants" including stickers/signs because it may actually encourage people to, if not try to break in, then possibly vandalize the property.
It will also make you look like an idiot should you have an incident and the police ask for the alarm company records (or wonder why the alarm company never called them). It also makes post-incident insurance claims/paperwork/premiums that much harder when you have to explain why it looked like you had a security system installed when you really didn't. I trust the actuaries that compile the statistics about such things over anecdotal evidence.
I used to work for a security automation software company. It's a well understood "fact" that the best security for your house is the little "this house is protected by" sign that you stick in your front yard. It's the deterrent, not the alarm that helps.
I always heard the best security for your house is a dog, for pretty much the same reason: a deterrent.
My wife studied veterinary medicine while living in a third-world country. The locals there were terrified of dogs, so lots of students would put "Beware of Dog" signs in their windows to prevent break-ins. Having a dog to back up the sign was definitely better though. It also kept the shifty types at a safe distance when you went on a walk with your dog.
Cars were a different story. Many students found it easier to leave their car doors unlocked so that thieves could break into their cars easier. The idea was that if you locked your door, they'd break windows to get in. If you left valuables in your car, they'd get stolen either way, so rather than also incur repair costs on your car, it was just easier to leave the doors unlocked and avoid leaving anything valuable in the car. I heard that some students even left notes asking potential perpetrators to try to tidy up a bit afterward, as some were known for leaving the contents of the glove-box scattered on the floor rather than putting it all back when they couldn't find any valuables. And I heard some were nice enough to comply.
I guess sometimes security is simply avoiding more costs than the inevitable.
What about breaking in during the day on the weekend? Wear a uniform, carry a clipboard, act like a smart-meter reader; they don't give heads up and walk around your property.
I guess it's not really a smart idea to try and sell a fake security device, huh? If it sells well then people will know of it and if it doesn't you're business is bankrupt.
For private property, powerful floodlights, "garage-door photoelectric auto reverser sensors" set-up around building perimeters, and a civil defense siren all linked together seem like my kind of "non-lethal" deterrents. :)
Businesses could do this (with a lot of fun regulation-maneuvering, maybe not the siren, anything >200 ft. you need FAA approval and blinky red lights), but neighborhood covenants that force others view of beauty and property rights on people prevent people from erecting the kind of towers (to which a nice homebrew CCTV system could be attached as well) I would like for my floodlights and siren; but trees are your friend, they make great antenna-holders too. :) And unless you have power backups, breaking in during a power outage or if someone gets a little "snippy" would bypass all of it.
Of course, animals would occasionally trip the system. It would be annoying and a bit of a hassle at times keeping it working well. Reinforcing windows and doors may be more cost/time effective. And this kind of security is rarely if ever necessary, depending on your area. Those slim odds increase dramatically in your head when you're hit. I have been hit by thieves twice on my property and I've had to yell at some kid in my bushes at night. Both times car doors were left unlocked and one time my relatives on Thanksgiving night were the victims.--The third time will be the "charm".
Speaking of perception, you could get real scary and put a 10-ft barbed wire fence around your property and put signs with skulls & bones that are real blunt like, "If you want to die, please trespass on this private property." That would though turn our country into more of a "military base" in a "war zone".
I have a hand-written sign on the door that says, "Honey, the snakes got loose. DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!!" So far, no break-ins.
Makes perfectly good sense as a *second layer of protection* - I think they mentioned that in the video, too.
On an abstract level, it's the opposite strategy to steganography. Here you want to announce something very clearly. Burglars are a nervous folk, I guess most of them will act on their gut feeling. Even if they suspect it's all just BS, they might want to err on the safe side.
Keeping a light and the radio on during the night might indeed be cheaper - but the burglar might get suspicious and test it by knocking or ringing the door. That's what they usually do before breaking into a common flat or hotel room.
Plus, if you know how to do it, you'll get a good LASIK for just 200 bucks. Good deal.
PS. (the abstract level): Steganography also makes perfectly good sense - as a second layer.
Back when there was a local theft ring stealing Audi HID headlights, I put a sticker on mine:
WARNING: DEFENSIVE SPRAY MAY BE HARMFUL OR FATAL
They never got stolen.
I've often wondered why we don't have home alarm systems simply equipped with high powered very low frequency audio systems. I can assure you that potential burglars loose all interest in your home when their stomach reaches resonance. This security solution might leave you with a mess to clean up, but I guarantee the thieves will leave empty handed.
I agree with Graham.. For $200 you could get a real, although basic one.
Btw our house got robbed a few years ago, I wish I had some kind of security sys :(
I had a system in an apartment years ago set up so that when I was away and the system "armed" anyone breaking in would trigger a tape player hidden in the back bedroom that played the sound of the hammers on a double barrel shotgun being cocked. Never had a break in so I don't know if it worked.
I've often wondered why we don't have home alarm systems simply equipped with high powered very low frequency audio systems.
Having generated infra-sound in the past I can give you a couple of reasons.
The first is simple physics as they apply to the transducer, to being even fractionaly efficient in transslating electrical power to acoustic power at infra-sound frequences you end up with something of very large volume. In efect you need to either use something the size of the end wall of the room or a pipe of reasonable diameter which is about 18 foot in length. I did look at using a "fractal fold up" as used in some mobile phone antennas but the volume still ended up high.
Seondly there is a problem to do with inducing fits and other harmfull effects in people by over stimulating the nervous system. In the same way flashing lights can cause fits and seizures so can infra-sound and from what I've been told much much higher percentages of the population (ie almost all) to certain frequencies.
There are also other problems such as the power required to induce nausea works by "bringing into resonance" various parts of the human body, well quite often there are other physical objects in the room that resonate at these frequencies sometimes destructivly so (think singing voices used to shatter wine glasses only much bigger such as windows, vases, TV screens).
Oh and then there is "wildlife" as I indicated some rooms will be of a size where they will effectivly be either resonators or transmission lines at these frequencies. The net effect is a very large amount of the power will end up in the external environment. Several types of wildlife appear to be sensitive to these frequencies and some scientists have opinioned that infra-sound precedes volcanic eruptions and some earthquakes...
All in all I don't think you would get "product liability insurance" even at LLoyds.
What about the empty threats? Empty threats are even cheaper than this. Isn't it?
There are easy modifications for the fake laser scan product that could be made to counter it's weaknesses.
Weakness: Increased popularity causes this product and it's associated sticker to be known as fake to criminals.
Solution1: Have a variety of different stickers and cases with different logos and appearance available, thus making it more difficult to recognize the fake system.
Solution2: Have a "real" security solution variant of the product available, regardless of how popular, effective and/or expensive.
For example; inexpensively, you could place a couple of laser beam detectors in the scan path that set off the real alarm if they don't get their periodic scan.
Much more expensively, you could build a camera system that would learn the pattern of distorted laser light lines and trigger an alarm on any change. This works even if you just built and publicized a prototype and never actually sold any, as long as you do not release your sales figures for the product.
Criminals would not be able to tell between the expensive and fake systems and it would act as a real deterant.
Heh. I always used a post-it note with:
Be careful opening the door.
The snake got out of its cage again.
@ John Smith
My house was robbed last year. If I had one of those post it notes, it would not have helped. They came in from the back window, and probably could not read English either. Can't assume a specific behavior and defend against it...
I agree with Tomate that burglars are probably fairly paranoid, and even if they're aware of this type of system probably won't feel comfortable going inside with a bunch of lasers and stuff flashing around.
Plus I'm guessing there's a lot of shop owners who never actually get around to installing a proper alarm system, so if I see something like this, even if I know it's fake, my thought process is going to be "ok, this person cared enough about security to put in a fake system, I'm guessing they probably care enough to put in a real system as well."
Well, it could prove effective if, for every 100 (or 1000) light shows, there is one 'light show' that vaporises human flesh on contact. Who really wants to risk it?
(OK, OK, impractical, and probably easy to test by dropping a cat or something in there first, but fun to imagine)
Effectiveness or ineffectiveness can only be proven in practice and strongly depends on the "motivation" of the burglar. While someone wanting to stealing your TV might get scared off, someone going after some diamond worth a million won't be stopped that quickly.
I guess as with every "security system", it can only provide a layer of security. Even when this stuff "seems" hilarious (and costs too much for what it does), it has minor potential to scare of a specific group of security-breaching individuals. So there's a potential effectiveness nevertheless.
It's like the lock you put on your bicycle: it will stop the regular noob, but it won't stop professional thieves.
In the end, let's not forget that "100% secure" is yet to be invented... but you already were aware of that, weren't you? ;)
In Canada, almost all home burgeries are done by repeat offenders. A simple 3 strikes law to put them away forever would almost completely eliminate the problem, and overall is much cheaper then continuously upgrading home security.
I also think that more government money should also be spent on youth programs and social services to help discourage people from getting into crime into the first place. It is much more cost effective to work on prevention of criminals now, then to deal with the criminals later.
Huh, come on think like a clever attacker. An genuine attacker with genuine intention and reason to attack won't be scared with these fake systems.
Before attacking, a professional attacker first gather and check the site of an attack. They have intelligence through their network of professional criminals. They test how a system can be broken. In order to do so, professionals studies FME (Failure Modes and Effects) and TDA (Top Down Analysis). Remember, security experts design a critical system using this formula.
1. Studies required system in detail.
2. Threat analysis.
3. Vulnerabilites analysis.
4. Risk assessment.
8. Apply change.
10. Repeat step 1 to 9 until system performs as required without compromising security.
However, if I as a non-professional know all information then what about professionals???
The method(s) of attack(s) is different, depending upon the expertise of attacker(s). However, they do same as security professional with different motives...
Mr. Schneier, only ameteur attacker(s) runaway with this kind of fake security systems. Professionals work differently. However, I disagree with your own quote which is mentioned in Cambridge University Prof. Ross Anderson's book.
"Only ameteur attacks machine, professional attacks individuals".
I think, professionals attackers not only attack individuals but also critical systems... Some of the attacks can be catched, some are detected but alot went undetected or remains undetected for a long period of time...
Remember, if security professionals think then attackers can also think, and they do so. Its not about who is Alien? or who is Human?, its about who think more and do the job better than their counterpart...
At the end of the day, security professionals and attackers are all humans or machines designed and trained by someone with special purpose... Don't they???
For sweet and kind brain for you and your followers. There are four things to identify attacks...
According to facts, 90% of people on planet earth do not know difference between them. Even ask yourself, do you know difference between them? Be honest...
Let me tell your the brief difference,
1. Data: Something given. It can be junk or raw.
2. Information: Information is meaningful data.
3. Knowledge: Information with a context is knowledge.
4. Wisdom: It is based on knowledge of past, present but not of future. The idea is not to repeat mistake of past and present...
Think about all the four brainy stuff with free mind, you will reach the height or exteme of a possible point i.e. level of attackers. All successful attackers are more or less extremist but not all security designers and professionals are extemists. That may be the reason of every possible security failure... Isn't it???
P.S. BTW, I am not an extemist or have intention to be an extemist but for some good reason I am sharing these comments with you. I may or may not be right to write here or that my comments make any sense or not. The point is,
"I want future Software and Security Engineers to be better Software and Security Engineers".
I take no responsibility, whatsoever, who read these comments around globe, either professionals or attackers. But, I shared it as best of my knowledge and good intentions.
All the best.
Engr. Muhammad Naveed Khurshid
Founder of softeng.org
Working in Canadian law enforcement I can tell you that the vast majority of B&Es are never even solved (usually, there's only a little investigation that can even be done).
A three-strikes law would be vastly over-reacting. Most b&es are committed by males between 16 and 25, and almost never by anyone over 50. People tend to age out of minor property crime (aside from drug addicts). Besides, actual B&E convictions are rare, and are usually made in the context of domestics/assaults, not stranger thefts. Usually, the closest we get to solving thefts is to arrest someone for possession of stolen property.
As far as deterrents go, I have to cast my vote for alarm company signs (alarm optional) and exterior motion lights, combined with a thorough exterior risk assessment (enhance exterior visibility, etc), and solid door frames. Also, keep your valuables concealed, closed your blinds when you're away. Reduce the incentive for someone to get inside.
The moving laser thing is pretty amusing, but if they're actually close enough to see the panel and the pretty coloured lights, they're probably already too close and too comfortable. If they see something they want (TV, etc), a quick smash-and-grab is probably going to happen no matter what you have installed.
The only real upside for the police of a monitored alarm system is not that we'll catch the burglar in the act (this is very rare), but that we might get a chance to investigate before the homeowner manages to move/touch/throw away/spit on/clean up whatever little evidence the burglars leave behind.
So what laser class are these products? I'm not sure I want my customers, my kids or the dog staring up at a Class 3 beam, especially if it the scanning motor fails.
re: Leaving lights and the radio on - We always used to do that and one Christmas they still broke in. It turned out they watched us leave and then rang the doorbell to make sure no one else was home.
As I recal, there are the following existing technologies to apply infrasound or just sound bypassing set of problems Clive pointed out at:
(1)neurophone of Patrick Flanagan - you touch sometning and vibration is going to your brain bypassing standard path - you are not aware of source, but could deliver powerful deterrent message.
(2)direct sound technologies - pointed to the door. The carrying frequency of more that one beam is ultrasound, but at the 'focal' they interfere affecting the subject like ultrasound by the difference of their carrying frequencies.
Unfortunately, both are not cheap, but the idea of using sound/infrasound for security is not dead and development is in progress.
We once rented a vacation home in a bit of an out the way area.
As we were unlocking the door I noticed several small cameras with blinking LEDs inside pointing at the door and windows.
Turns out they were hollow plastic shells containing nothing more than a AAA battery powering an LED.
The deterrent effect would be stronger the more obvious the device - i.e larger camera-like device or brighter flashing light.
This is probably why many outdoor security cameras (even real ones) are still huge even though they could be made virtually invisible. So that anybody considering breaking and entering will notice the cameras and maybe think twice about proceeding (or go somewhere with a less obvious security display).
My first reaction is add a CCTV and have the feed go to a computer that checks the light paths in real time for a "real" security system. You don't need learning algorithms, just a recording of known good paths. This method is also better than movie lasers because getting past them sets the alarm off.
We design security systems and do security consulting for museums worldwide. Every time someone does an art heist movie they call us and ask question about alarm systems and occasionally how to defeat them. Duh! Like I'd really say. So the joke in the office is that we tell them about non-existent red laser systems (that sexy women slink under) and other systems like doors that come crashing down to lockdown museums. While we try to make security invisible and discreet, set designers like obnoxious and in your face. Hey, Bruce. When we retire, I'll bet we can write one hell of a heist screenplay!
I don't think being widely known or not matters.
The product also works if there is a similar product that actually triggers an alarm but is indistinguishable from the fake security system.
Compare that with fake security cameras - it doesn't matter if they are widely known or not. If they can't be distinguished from a real camera by the criminal, they will have an effect.
Not sure if it makes a difference if the device is widely known or not. To the naive criminal it looks like a security device and makes it not worth the effort to break into the establishment. To the sophisticated criminal it is known to be fake to stop naive criminals, but is also almost always used in conjunction with a real alarm system and thus again, not worth the risk. Unfortunately, there is always the foolish criminal who knows the laser is a fake alarm system and believes there to be no alarm whatsoever. Such a fool, might be tempted to linger longer so maybe the laser is doing a public service helping to get the fools off the street.
As another example, in LA you will find many homes with warning signs that trespassers may be shot. How many people are willing to take the chance it's a bluff?
I agree with Frank about Kahomono's comment...which is relevant because...
When I saw the video my first thought was "cool!". My second thought was, "It will never work...the burglars will see our cats running around the room and know there's no security system".
Is it wrong that I remember an episode of Perfect Strangers that featured an over-the-top version of exactly this? When an 1980's TV series has you beat....
Sorta-related: I noticed new PROTECTED BY SECURE_SOUNDING_NAME stickers on the doors at my workplace and asked about it. It turned out that the old security company had been bought out by a regional outfit so new stickers were being issued. As I walk to work I pass two places with the old stickers still visible. One went out of business around the transition and the building is empty, but the other is still active. Since the stickers aren't updated, it's reasonably safe to assume they're not using security anymore and just kept the stickers up.
And I wonder how many people know that every time I walk by.
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