Images, operating systems and headaches: The realities of security systems running on PCs

Security project designer and consultant Sean Ahrens examines the hang-ups of PCs that can give you IP video headaches

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article addresses issues which may soon become common place with IP-based camera systems. Accordingly, the potential problems I have presented could allow the reader to take steps to avoid issues with their software-based camera system in the future or recover more quickly after a computer or software issue has occurred. The solutions that I present should be reviewed by your computer administrator or IT department. Keep in mind that not all of these solutions will always be applicable in your operating system, computer or computer network environment.]

It's Monday evening at 6 p.m., Oct. 3, 2009, and I am sitting at my new computer, a thoroughly robust computer loaded with a very fast processor and a great deal of RAM.

My drooling over this new machine is interrupted by the all too frequent occurrence of a spinning hourglass. We have all been there; we could be working on a critical document, and then for some hidden reason, everything stops, and that is happening now to me. My new Ferrari-like computer has become about as useful as my old Ford Pinto-like computer. As the hourglass spins, I review my options, which includes a hard-re-boot, which is like remotely locking up the brakes on a Ferrari that is traveling 80 miles per hour on a slick road with curves in a mountain pass. Alternatively I could go with the "three-finger-salute" or Ctrl-Alt-Delete and end the process of the offending program which has made my machine useless.

Reviewing my options, I hear the computer crunching away at its problem; it's literally like being next to a helicopter. Waiting haplessly, I am stretched for time, and I must make a decision. I go with the lesser of the two evils and select Ctrl-Alt-Delete. I choose the process, which is "not responding", and click the "end-task" button. Essentially, what I have told the computer to do is to "forget it." Forget about this one of the 100 things you are doing. The hourglass vanishes but my temporary relief is instantly replaced with the "Blue Screen of Death" or as we techies call a "BSOD". The characters on the blue screen almost seem alien, "STOP OXXXF......" followed by some senseless language about an IRQ, DMA or worse a "driver that is not equal". BSOD is not a good thing and is usually accompanied by other undesirable affects. Regardless, my problem has become dramatically worse.

It's 6:45 p.m., and now, I have restarted the computer three times and each time I am frustrated with the ever dominating blue luminance glow and alien language of the BSOD. I have all but forgotten about what I was doing and the lost data. I need to get my computer back and running.

As I work tirelessly at undoing what I have done, I am reminded of the transition of analog to IP cameras. The future of camera monitoring will not be based on closed circuit television and solid-state electronics; it will be controlled predominately through software. I have to wonder, could the same thing happen to a camera surveillance system? My mind flashes back to my last trip to the ASIS International Exposition in Anaheim, Calif., where I toured some of the emerging security technologies being pitched by the attending security technology companies. One particular manufacturer -- who will remain nameless -- asked me to demo their IP equipment. The sales rep told me, "Put it through its paces", and I eagerly agreed to do so. As I stood over the manufacturer's camera operator, I felt like I was in the movie "Swordfish" and was simultaneously the captain of the Starship Enterprise. Move over Spock and Captain James T. Kirk!

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