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D.I.Y. Home Security 377

theodp writes "The NYTimes reports that pre-wired home security installations by alarm companies are on the way out. Thanks to wireless window and door sensors and motion detectors, installing and maintaining one's own security system is becoming a do-it-yourself project, with kits available from companies like InGrid and LaserShield. Time to start cranking out some new iPhone and Android apps, kids?"
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D.I.Y. Home Security

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  • Wireless = a burglar could disable them remotely?

    Either by jamming or by spoofing.

    Or trigger them often enough remotely so that they eventually get disabled ;).
    • by SIR_Taco ( 467460 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:20PM (#25607939) Homepage

      Having used to work installing alarms systems, jamming wouldn't work. A lost communication with a device triggers a fault same as if you were to cut a wire. Spoofing also wouldn't work because if more than one identical ID/Serial#s also create a fault.
      But yes I suppose you could keep randomly jamming them and setting off alarms until they finally give up and disable it.

      • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:35PM (#25608059) Journal
        Sounds like a great way to figure out if the alarm is turned on or not to me... Jam the wireless signal, then wait and see if cops show up. If not, break the window and waltz on in.
      • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:53PM (#25608173) Journal

        Having used to work installing alarms systems, jamming wouldn't work. A lost communication with a device triggers a fault same as if you were to cut a wire.

        1. Find a target house,
        2. Use jamming enough times that the owner turns off the alarm.
        3. Break in.
        4. ???
        5. Profit!

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:31AM (#25608431)

          We did something similar as a prank in high school. A lab had an microphone sensor, so we hid a watch in the casing. The school turned on the alarm at night about 8:30. The watch beeped and the cops showed at 9:00... then 10:00 then 11:00 then did not bother at 12:00. That's when we popped the window open and entered to play our prank in the "high security" lab.

      • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:57PM (#25608211) Homepage

        Could you search for sources of wireless transmissions to find out which doors / windows are armed and which ones aren't?

        • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @01:37AM (#25608713)

          This would take forever. The devices to save battery life only transmit a short packet every half hour or so. It varies to prevent repeated collisions with other sensors. 1 missed packet isn't reported as a fault. A series (varies by brand but usualy 3) of missed reports becomes a fault. This fault generation can take hours, plenty of time to raid and be gone again. Use wired for the perimiter.

      • by shird ( 566377 )

        > Spoofing also wouldn't work because if more than one identical ID/Serial#s also create a fault.

        So just don't use it at the same time, wtf? Why would you want to use an id while the house owner is there anyway? the whole point is to do a replay / spoof attack while the owner (and therefore serial# / id etc) *isn't* there. Lost a bit of credibility there.

        A more believable counter-measure is a challenge-response which can't be spoofed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Creating what seemed to be false alarms was once a common method for defeating car alarms. Eventually, the owner would think that the unit was too sensitive and disarm it.

      • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @01:32AM (#25608685)

        If you really installed them, you would know for a fact to conserve battery life, they have a long check-in interval for monitored sensors. By the time I opened the door and brought in my tool caddy, etc, I would have had plenty of time to find valuables, disconnect the main box, and leave. Do your homework. A missed signal will take a while to become a trouble report. My alarm's wireless has long check-in's and 3 have to be missed to be a trouble report. For this reason the perimiter is WIRED, not wireless. The frequency of operation is well known by brand, so wireless portion is only used on interiour sensors such as the medicine cabinet (foster kids) and shop cabinets.

        The level of security varies by the installed system vunerabilities. Wireless is a weak spot that won't detect short term interferance as an attack. Primary entry points should be wired.

        • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @07:31AM (#25610251) Homepage
          If you really installed them, you would know for a fact to conserve battery life, they have a long check-in interval for monitored sensors. By the time I opened the door and brought in my tool caddy, etc, I would have had plenty of time to find valuables, disconnect the main box, and leave.

          I'm not sure what the state of the art is now, and I suspect that a low-cost system would be pretty poor and you'd be right about the above. However, it need not be the case. In 1987/88 I worked on designing a system that used periodic check-in (or supervisory, which was the term we used) as they all did, but a complete transmission took 110mS including all the preamble and error correction coding in the bitstream. We used 1800 baud MPSK which was considered fast for its time and the bandwidth available to us. The supervisory signal was transmitted every 28 seconds, so duty cycle was 1/256. The quiescent draw of the sensor chip was under 10uA (a very hard figure to achieve, just possible with custom silicon at that time) and I think the transmitter draw was about 40mA when keyed. So the overall current draw was getting on for ~30uA on average. Using a certain 3v lithium cell our battery life was predicted at almost 7 years, though since the project ultimately never saw the light of day, this was never tested in the field. Even requiring several missed supervisories to trigger the alarm (which we did) would mean you still would only have a minute and a half to carry out the burglary - though we used other means to detect deliberate jamming as well which would kick in sooner. It's quite easy to discriminate between a deliberate blocking signal and random short-term interference. Spoofing was also really hard to do because you not only had to spoof a sensor known to the system, but do so with precise timing and correct data format, etc while knocking out the real sensor. Really the purpose of supervisory messages was to detect a sensor going offline for some reason (such as a dead battery, though it would have sent low battery reports for months in advance of that event) rather than detecting jamming. I forget all the details but you could program the response to a missing supervisory anyway - perimeter sensors would trigger an alarm but internal ones typically wouldn't.

          While that particular system didn't make it into production, I know that similar ones did, but since my career went in another direction not long after that, I didn't keep up with the industry. I don't know what is common today. I'll say this though, one reason we developed the system was because of the shockingly poor quality of existing radio technology that we'd initially bought in from the US (we were a British company). These systems used an 11 baud (!) data rate in a transmission taking well over a second, with several repeats "just to make sure" (i.e. the redundancy in the bits sent was accomplished by simply sending the message several times rather than using any form of error correction). The modulation was on-off keying so the transmitters had to have incredibly low power to pass any sort of type approval, at least in the UK. The receiver was also a joke - a bandwidth as wide as a barn door, using a super-regenerative design for low cost. Deaf as a post and jammable with the crudest of techniques. If low cost systems today still use anything like this system, I'd say that any security they provide is purely imaginary. Our receiver was deliberately and carefully designed to be very selective, so any jamming signal had to be dead-on frequency or else very, very powerful to overwhelm the front-end. It was also very sensitive so the low power of the sensors was less of a handicap (we were limited to maximum 10mW ERP by law). There again, careful design of the transmitters for low spurious emissions and an efficient modulation scheme and a proper antenna design meant that we could actually put out close to that power and still not cause interference problems ourselves.

          No doubt ours was a relatively expensive design but on
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      99.9% of people that break into homes are stupid. .1% of them are smart enough to figure out commercial security systems. 0% will bother with a custom system.
      In this case, security through obscurity is real security.

    • by marcop ( 205587 ) <{marcop} {at} {}> on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:13AM (#25608307) Homepage

      There are antijamming measures in good wireless systems. Typically the negatives of a wireless system are cost and limited expandability. I got my system here: []

      And don't have it hooked up to a monitoring service. Instead it calls up to 3 numbers to alert them of a problem. Overall it cost me about $500 for a medium sized home, but I don't have a monthly bill either. I like my setup a lot. However, some other random things to consider:
      - I found out that if you have more than 3 false alarms in a month then the police (NY) will charge you per incident afterward.
      - Without a monitoring service there is no insurance discount.
      - It's generally not the most foolproof.
      - The unit in the link can communicate with X10 devices so you can do some fancy stuff like flashing the house lights when the alarm goes off. I also have the X10 lights controlled to an inexpensive X10 mini-timer that turns the lights on and off during the day to simulate someone being home.
      - The unit above is a PITA to setup and can be a little quirky.

      I use the system for a couple reasons... at home it gives me a peace of mind that I didn't leave a door open accidentally (like the garage), and I will be alerted of an intruder. While traveling the system will alert me of a possible intruder. I then have a friend go to my house a little while later to re-secure the home. I don't want them confronting an intruder, simply re-locking the door or replacing a broken window. A friend once gave me some good advice...
      an intruder will get into your house if they really want to. Simply have your most important stuff with you or better secured (i.e., documents in a bank) and then get replacement cost insurance for the rest.

    • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:14AM (#25608323) Homepage
      Wireless = a burglar could disable them remotely?
      Either by jamming or by spoofing.
      Or trigger them often enough remotely so that they eventually get disabled ;).
      I used to design radio-based alarm systems in the 1980s. These were the first things we'd make sure couldn't easily happen. In those days we only had one narrow-band channel to work with (allowed by law) so anti-jamming was basically a case of a loss of signal from the sensors and/or a blocking signal present at the receiver would trigger an alarm, which meant that (3) was a definite possibility. The 'loss of signal' detection implies that the sensors transmit continuously - they don't, but they do send a brief 'check-in' at periodic intervals. The check-in period was a pseudo-random sequence to prevent different sensors checking-in on top of each other (since they couldn't 'listen out') and as a result the receiver could very quickly determine whether a sensor had missed its checkin. Later spread-spectrum techniques got around most kinds of dumb jamming attempts - it would still be possible to spoof the system in theory but only using relatively sophisticated bogus transmissions. And spoofing is reasonably easy to prevent in the decode software. I assume most modern systems today will use much better techniques than we had at our disposal twenty years ago.

      I'd say this though, as a former alarm engineer - if you really have something to protect, the best security is physical, not an alarm. If you can't secure your own building go to someone who can, e.g. safe deposit boxes. Alarms are pants, whether they use wireless or not.
    • by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:37AM (#25609025) Homepage

      Not easily. But anyway, you're missing the most obvious thing.

      Most burglars are, infact, STUPID.

      You don't need to be secure as in perfectly protected, you just need to be secure as in "more trouble than it's worth", or "more trouble than the house next door".

      If you've got the kind of stuff that would attract the non-stupid burglars, then this changes somewhat. If that's you, you can afford a professional alarm easily enough, though.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheLink ( 130905 )
        "If that's you, you can afford a professional alarm easily enough, though."

        Maybe a bunch of smoke/fog machines might help too.

        If soon after the alarms go off you fill the entire house with dense smoke, they might not be able to see well enough to make it out with your stuff...

        Of course they might try to steal the smoke machines - they're cool after all :).
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @09:00AM (#25610729) Homepage


        The best security system you can buy are surplus ADT signs and stickers off of ebay. install them during the day (take a day off) or if you live in a bad neighborhood, have a buddy come over with a white van and blue coveralls and install them after he comes in to drink beer for 2 hours. Make sure your scumbag neighbors see the service van and some guy installing the signs and stickers.

        Now when casing the joint, they see the sticker and go away.

        Now the drug induced teenager that was mauled pretty bad by my dog in my living room... the signs did not stop him. A German Shepard excited by the sound of a wailing siren did.

        Funny that... if you do a B&E and get mauled by the dog inside, you cant sue and you cant be charged with any crime... but the kids parents did have to pay for all damages including new carpet to get rid of their scumbag kids blood stains.

        You want real security? get a BIG german shepard.

        • by PhilJC ( 928205 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @09:24AM (#25610905) Homepage
          "You want real security? get a BIG german shepard."

          Couldn't agree more. I grew up with two german shepherds as my dad was a police dog handler and one night we found a particularly stupid burglar huddled in our basement with the two dogs padding around the door. He'd obviously managed to get himself in, saw the dogs and ran for the nearest door (our windowless cellar). Given that they weren't small dogs and it was an old house the creak of the floor boards above the guy as they walked around upstairs simply drove the guy crazy and it took about half hour just to coax the guy out so my dad could arrest him.

          Oh and the reason I say he was a stupid burglar? My dad's police dog van was parked on the drive the whole night.
    • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @04:31AM (#25609561)

      Honestly most break ins are by desperate thieves who more than likely have zero technical know-how. My house was broken some years ago and my neighbor saw the guy run away, a skinny looking junkie. Same thing last month when some guy made a laughable attempt to break into my grandmothers house. He was so messed up he couldn't even aim rocks at a window 10 feet away. He also cut five screens and ripped two out but never broke a single window. He was that disoriented. A neighbor chased him away before he could do anymore damage. My aunts house was robbed as well, her cordless phone and jewelery were taken. Simple and fast grabs.

      These people don't give a shit about fancy alarm systems. They will keep trying to break into one home after another until they find one that is empty and unprotected. This isn't Hollywood, there isn't a James Bond trying to steal secrets off your computer. Just junkies and desperate people trying to snatch as many small and expensive items they can find. They then turn them in for quick cash and get high. Sure there are more elaborate schemes but they are far and few between (any examples?). Those stupid shows on cable showing "professional" thieves stealing fucking chandeliers and furniture are over exaggerated nonsense.

      Want to know what I lost when I was robbed? Three SLR cameras, a Playstation and two cable boxes. They are small, easy to carry and will get them enough money to feed their habit. How did the thief get in? He smashed a window and crawled in while we were school and work. Would an alarm have foiled him? Maybe but the cost of the items lost was far less then an alarm system. The less cover a thief has the less likely he is to target your house. Lights that keep vulnerable areas lit at night help allot, so do motion lights. Also keep shrubs trimmed down, don't give them cover. My home is now pretty sucky to break into by taking a few simple steps to keep it less enticing. Also don't leave objects around that act as a ladder allowing them to reach windows. I know this isn't always practical but it can help.

  • by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:15PM (#25607909) Journal

    "Thanks to wireless window and door sensors and motion detectors, installing and maintaining one's own security system is becoming a do-it-yourself project, with kits available from companies like InGrid and LaserShield. "

    Does any of them come with a portal turret?

  • Fail. (Score:2, Funny)

    Wireless? Good thing most criminals are stupid.
    Watch the neighborhood kids set this off with a modded cordless phone...
  • Cellphones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:20PM (#25607941) Journal

    If you could figure out a way to hook an old cellphone into your homebrew security system, you could have it auto-dial 911, since any cellphone, even one without a service plan, has to be able to make that call.

    Add in a pre-recorded message and you have replicated most of what the home security companies do with their monitoring.

    • Asterisk box w/ bluetooth, FTW!
    • by Firehed ( 942385 )

      Can't be too tricky, given that Thinkgeek sells a contraption that sends you messages over Twitter if your plant is over/under-watered.

    • Re:Cellphones (Score:4, Informative)

      by plover ( 150551 ) * on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:38AM (#25608473) Homepage Journal

      AFAIK, in most localities an automated system is not permitted to call 911 directly. You're better off having a cheap prepaid cell phone call your cell phone so you can then call the police / fire.

      But you'd better have a lot of confidence in your alarm system. Most municipalities will charge you for the first few false alarms, and will then either force you to remove the system or charge you with a public nuisance misdemeanor.

  • Honeypot@home (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jedwidz ( 1399015 )

    What I wanna do is set up a honey pot dresser drawer that's wired to a silent alarm, maybe one that sends me an SMS and activates surveillance cameras.

    The contents of the honey pot drawer would of course include something of value with a homing beacon concealed in it.

    (But maybe I won't bother now everyone knows how secure my house is.)

  • Lasershield Hack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by __aajwxe560 ( 779189 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:27PM (#25607997)
    While most home burglars are not necessarily the most sophisticated, I have read a few reports of the ease of use of hacking the LaserShield. This basically involves breaking the communication between the base unit and sensors, such as by just having a two way radio turned to the same frequency and sending some noise over it to break reception. The base unit does not seem to regularly poll the remote sensors from what I can tell, and so is unaware of a break in communication. Engadget has a video demonstrating the hack here [].

    While little security is better than none, I still think its important to understand the risks of poorly designed wireless security system devices versus well designed ones or even more conventional wired security system devices.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kmac06 ( 608921 )
      What are the odds the average burglar will (a) realize you have a hackable home security system, and (b) actually hack it. The point isn't to make your home 100% impregnable, just make it harder/less likely to get hit. If you can stop 19/20 robberies, that's pretty good.
      • I agree that your point is valid, at present; but I don't think that it will remain so if this stuff gets popular. Consider the various credit card skimming machines: those require nontrivial technical skill to design and manufacture; but that doesn't stop fairly low-end crooks from using them because crooks buy stuff from suppliers on the internet just like geeks do.

        If LaserShield, or any other system with similar gaping flaws, becomes popular, you'll be able to buy little handheld LaserShield detector/j
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 )

      If that's true, then LS is run by a bunch of idiots. The default state for any alarm system should be ALARM. If the telephone line is cut, the CO should get an ALARM signal. If the batteries in the base station die, the CO should get an ALARM signal. If there is interference between the sensors and the base station, the BS should send ALARM to the CO.

  • Not work it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by burningcpu ( 1234256 )
    For $10 more a month, an alarm company with hundreds of dispatchers can respond to your alarms for you. Tough for you to respond to the hold up alarm going off at your house, when you're the one that tripped it.
    • Re:Not work it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Wog ( 58146 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:02AM (#25608245)

      Hold up alarm? For less than $100 every four years, you can get a carry permit, which will not only keep you from being held up at home, but equip you to protect yourself away from home!

      Also, from my personal experience and the word of many cops, the authorities will dispatch a unit faster to a homeowner reporting a break-in than an alarm company reporting that an alarm has been tripped.

      So though I'd never rush home to try and stop anything myself (we pay young guys who really want to catch burglars for us), being notified and calling the cops myself probably has a better chance of getting an officer there within 45 minutes.

  • Some time back on my campus, a start-up company offered home security systems based on the broadband and mobile phone networks. You had a series of modules (motion detectors, cameras, mobile/internet communications), that you plugged together. You just set up the IP addresses and an optional web page, and the system took care of the rest (timestamping, E-mail/mobile phone alerts)

    The next thing, the local insurance company (Endsleigh) announces that they are closing many of their offices. I always wondered

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Barny ( 103770 )

      An alarm system from a licensed installer will reduce the cost of your insurance premiums (at least it does here), not worth doing it yourself since your insurance savings will eventually pay for it anyway.

  • Webcam + sw (Score:3, Informative)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:31PM (#25608033)
    If you're not looking for 3rd party monitoring, there are quite a few windows apps that monitor webcams. Currently, I use SupervisionCam. Monitor several cams at once, and perform multiple actions on motion detection. Email, FTP to elsewhere, run an external app, play a sound (BarkBark!). Or, have it capture 1 frame every couple of seconds, and go into high gear on motion detection.

    Just be sure you have your motion sensor set right. Otherwise, you might quickly fill up your email or webserver space.

    2 or 3 cams pointed at various entrances is cheap and easy.
    • If your alarm system is web-enabled, how will you monitor it if the power goes out, or your internet is down. Nevermind the fact that burglars often cut phone lines if they are really trying to get into a joint, and suspect that a monitored alarm may be installed.
      • Never said it was perfect. I live in a low threat area. This is good enough. my location, they can't cut the cable line without being monitored. Yes, there is a cam pointed out the window, encompassing the whole cable line from pole to house. Several frames will be captured and FTP'd before the line is cut. Especially as the outside security light comes on (at night) if they near that part of the house.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by houstonbofh ( 602064 )
      In the spirit of FOSS, [] is a Linux based network camera system with built in motion detection. Works very well, and saves images a jpeg, not a proprietary lossy compressed stream.
  • I for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nathan.fulton ( 1160807 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:32PM (#25608045) Journal
    While I don't do the security camera thing, I do have my laptop send periodic pictures (including 5 seconds of video and audio at login) to my server using the built-in webcam and some OSS products. It only does this when it isn't at home, and it encrypts the files, so it's a great way to ensure that my computer is safe without becoming a privacy threat to myself.

    I did this because I had some equipment stolen a while ago. I don't mind if people break into my house, as long as they leave everything how they found it. So instead of securing my house, I secured my property by having everything of value phone home when it's out and about. It's an alternate (cheaper) approach people might want to think about.
    • Does this assume that the thief has your login password, or does your machine login automatically? I assume the latter, since you don't mind if people break into your house. :-)

      (Although, it sounds like you'd prefer to be broken into by some Boy Scouts, considering your rather curious expectation of benevolence on their part ;-))
    • by shird ( 566377 )

      Yeah ok, do that to a diamond ring. Fat lot of good phoning home does when your laptop is stolen and hocked. Sure you *might* get a photo of the thief, but how does that get your laptop back? Do you plan on tracking him down somehow, then asking who he sold it to, then tracking them down, then convincing them its your latptop etc etc etc ? no. You will need to claim on insurance either way. And you'd have cheaper premiums if you secured your house.

    • by shird ( 566377 )

      How do the thieves know the stuff phones home? They don't, they will steal it anyway. And you won't get it back no matter ho many photos you take. You dumbass. Of course having your stuff stolen is a cheaper alternative to putting locks on your doors, but normal people don't want their stuff stolen.

  • Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:33PM (#25608051)
    The problem is, if the alarm system fails, who do you blame? Its easy to say to the police/insurance agency "I had my alarm installed from *insert major alarm vendor here*, I set it but it failed or they disabled it" and they would believe you and care more about your case. If you said oh I bought my alarm from *insert minor DIY alarm vendor*, set it up myself and can control it from my iPhone, they will think its cool, but would blame the error on you and your case drops from near last priority to dead last.
    • by kmac06 ( 608921 )
      I don't think the police would care one way or the other. And I don't think you insurance would care either, other than a likely (small) discount for having a third-party monitoring system.
  • by fucket ( 1256188 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:48PM (#25608131)
    The shoelace and shotgun seems to be working okay so far.
  • by SpuriousLogic ( 1183411 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:58PM (#25608217)
    My dog barks, I shoot. Pretty simple setup. No electricity, phone lines, cell signals, wireless, or anything else to not work. Plus, if I miss, my dog is none too friendly to strangers (Chow/Shepard mix). The minute someone even gets close to the house, he makes a VERY scary noise.
    • Any chance you're related to this guy? []

      Although I'm a believer in the right to bear arms, it sounds like you're about to make a big mistake. Please try to do a little more investigation before you kill someone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bromskloss ( 750445 )

      My dog barks, I shoot.

      Poor dog.

  • I use one of these. They come if different configurations and can handle a wide variety of situations. []

  • 1. what happens now is a healthy underground trade in wireless frequency blockers (or cloners, however the system works: absence of signal indicating intrusion versus presence of signal indicating intrusion). you can't do that with a wired system. i hardly think some cheap doodads are doing anything complicated with their signal that would defeat a blocker/ cloner

    2. additionally, now don't you have to change tons of little batteries all over the house? people think its a pain to remember changing the fire a

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mnslinky ( 1105103 ) *

      1) Security systems often detect jamming. This would cause a fault, actually a 'jamming' fault on Ademco systems.
      2) That's exactly why I hate wireless alarms. Ugh. If a customer wants wireless (cheaper on labor), fine, but not my recommendation.

  • So instead of having a wired sensor on every external door/window, I now have a wireless setup? How many batteries and how do I maintain them? I'll assume the sensors notify me that the downstairs bathroom window's sensor needs to be replaced.

    Retrofitting a house, go with the wireless solution so you don't have to tear up your walls (unless you've got an attach to run cabling)

    New House? hardwired, as there would be less maintenance.

  • by brundlefly ( 189430 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:28AM (#25608417)

    I'd love to wire my house security system myself. But I have a financial disincentive not to: my homeowners insurance (State Farm) gives me a significant discount for using my local (Bay Alarm) monitoring provider. The insurance discount almost covers the cost of 24/7 monitoring.

    Over time I *would* eventually recoup the costs of DIY. But it would take years to break even. And I have no idea how long it would take for the insurance amortizers to figure out the costs of vigilant DIY alarmers vs. happy outsourcers. I can't even hazard a guess which direction those splits would trend towards.

    Bottom line: tech is cool; business is challenged; limited mainstream appeal.

  • by mnslinky ( 1105103 ) * on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:51AM (#25608533) Homepage


    With Lasers.

    'Nuff Said.

  • by Helix150 ( 177049 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @12:55AM (#25608555)

    Much of this discussion has been about the jammability of RF-based alarm systems.

    I've done it (testing my own system). It's NOT hard.

    All the wireless sensors have a lithium battery that lasts for a few years. The sensors do NOT transmit continually- that would run down the battery in a matter of hours not years.

    Each time they transmit anything, it's in the form of a data packet including headers, the transmitter's unique ID, battery status, what it wants to report (open/closed/etc) and a few checksum bits. Furthermore all the wireless sensors (generally) use the same channel in the 433MHz range. To avoid stepping on each other, each packet is transmitted a few times separated by a pseudorandom delay. The sensors also transmit a 'tamper' signal if the sensor casing is opened or ripped off the wall, and a periodic 'superivision' message once every hour or so to let the system know they're still alive.

    Whenever you open or close a door connected to a wireless sensor, it transmits a burst updating its status. If it transmits an 'open' signal when the alarm is armed, the alarm goes off. If the alarm doesn't hear a supervision packet from a sensor for more than an hour or two, it signals a trouble condition.

    Most importantly- the transmission is ONE WAY- the sensors don't have receivers. The sensor doesn't wait for an acknowledgment from the alarm that its packet was received-- it sends its packet a few times and then considers it sent.

    Since many devices (including non-alarm stuff like wireless thermometers and other brands of alarm gear) use the 433MHz range the alarm uses, wireless alarms are designed to tolerate SOME interference on the channels the alarm uses.

    By SOME i mean less than 60 seconds of continual interference (as per UL standards for wireless alarm systems).
    So any jamming you want to do only has to 1. cover the data packet and 2. last for less than 60 seconds at a time. As you can imagine this isn't too hard if you can switch your jammer on/off easily and have a good idea of where the sensors are.

    So to break into a building equipped with a wireless alarm:
    1. figure out type of alarm and buy portable jammer for alarm's frequency (cheap)
    2. guess where the sensors are
    3. key the jammer when you are about to trip a sensor. When you do, quickly tear it off the wall / smash it.
    4. steal stuff
    5. be out in less than an hour so the alarm doesn't miss any supervision packets. And if it does miss one chances are it'll create a 'trouble' alarm not a 'burglar' alarm; no cops will be called.

    Any security system can be beaten- there is no such thing as perfect security. Wireless sensors can be jammed. Magnetic contacts can often be fooled with bigger magnets. Motion sensors can be beaten by holding up bed sheets (as per Mythbusters test).

    However if a burglar is crafty enough to jam an RF alarm or fake out magnetic contacts, chances are they are pretty smart and there isn't much you can do to keep them out. Most break ins are dumb criminals doing smash n grab jobs, the alarm is there to blast a 120dB siren in their face and hopefully freak them out enough that they run away.

  • Old and Tested (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pi_rules ( 123171 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:50AM (#25609099)

    I'll stick with the dog + firearm approach.

    The dog, at 2 years old, is better than any electronic sensor out there. I live in the country, not ultra-remote but far enough away from me neighbors that I couldn't hit their house with a thrown baseball, but he still alerts on things like the meter reader being next door.

    I have no idea how he does it, but he'll go ape and 5 minutes later there's a meter reader in my yard.

    Criminals aren't generally very smart, but as a rule they tend to pick the easier targets. Stickers on the windows identifying home security systems are just a notice that they need to grab and go. An 80lb. dog staring at them through the window is a signal that maybe the neighbor's place is a better target.

    I suppose I could invest in some cameras, but I'm not really too concerned with catching a burglar, just deterring them. If I'm not home and they go into Full Retard mode and decide they want to wrestle with my dog then have at it.

    If I am home the dog lets me know when we have possible "visitors" far quicker than any electronics would. I can't put motion sensors in my neighbor's driveway, but the dog picks up on that stuff. I work from home about 80% of the time and it happens almost daily. He sees something like the school bus stop out in front of the house, barks, runs over to me and starts nuzzling me. I look at what he's seeing, pet him, and sometimes hand him a treat.

    If it's an unknown person in my driveway I slip a gun onto my belt (if I'm not already wearing one) and I'm usually at the door before they even have a chance to ring the bell. Sure, it isn't typical, but I shoot as a hobby and I'm comfortable keeping loaded firearms handy.

    Security has to be multi-layered. We all know that as computer geeks. The best technology in the world can be defeated through social engineering. "Fancy" wireless security systems can be defeated with RF interference. Heck, you might just forget the turn the darned thing on one night.

    A dog? You can't really turn that thing off. You'd have to work to train that territorial protection mechanism out of them. That's my alarm system.

    Once the alarm goes off, what do you do? Well, you need to identify the threat and deal with it. Manually calling 911 on a cell phone is a good thing to do, as you can describe the nature of the situation far better than any home-brewed security system can.

    Beyond that we've got dealing with the actual threat itself, and nothing's better than an old reliable firearm. Personally I keep a Remington 870 Wingmaster w/ an 18.5" Mossberg manufactured cylinder bore barrel topped with rifle sights and 4 rounds of Federal reduced recoil 00 Buck handy at night. During the day I've usually got a S&W 1911SC, Glock 23C, or CZ-RAMI in .40S&W on my belt or a Kel-Tec P3AT nearby if I'm not actually wearing a "real" gun but want something I can clip to my pants in the event of an unexpected visitor at my door.

    When it comes to keeping me and mine safe and secure I believe simpler is better and like to stick with older technology. While you're farting around with RF systems and sensors I'll be over here feeding my dog peanut butter flavored treats wen he does his job.

    Oh, and for the record my dog is a pet first and foremost. He's here for companionship. Sure, he costs more than an alarm system, but he's worth it. The fact that he's such great asset in security is a side benefit. If there ever comes a day where he's too old to care about that stuff we'll just get another and let this one continue to be a pet.

    • WTF ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 03, 2008 @05:37AM (#25609813)

      If it's an unknown person in my driveway I slip a gun onto my belt

      Christ, where the fuck do you live. Bagdhad or The Congo?
      FWIW, I live in a rural area and have a shotgun for vermin and bagging the odd rabbit. You my friend, have issues.

      Besides, an electronic security system won't shit on the carpet :-)
    • Re:Old and Tested (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mk2mark ( 1144731 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @07:07AM (#25610135) Homepage
      Dogs are great, I agree. We have a boxer that looks tough, and is extremely curious - meaning that a) she's aware of everything around the house, and b) even though she might only lick you to death, a boxer itching to come and see you can be an especially daunting prospect, particularly if you're aware that your goal involves getting past said dog.

      However, I really don't get the gun thing. I'm not anti-guns (we have 3 in the house), but the idea that one will somehow protect you is nonsense. For the 2 parties (you and your burglar) involved there are 4 possibilities, neither party armed, you armed, him armed, both parties armed.

      Where you are armed and he is not, sure you have the advantage. But generally unarmed burglars aren't confrontational, and you have your dog anyway (which also covers you for the neither party armed scenario).

      So basically it's fair to say when you have your gun, it's protection against an armed assailant.

      By their nature armed assailants will be confrontational (why would they risk bringing the gun otherwise?) So you're basically facing a shootout. Your fancy tuned gun with special ammo sounds lovely, but unfortunately your burglar isn't going to be taking time to examine your superior firearm, so despite it your still relying on getting the first shot off, and hoping your nice equipment does its job.

      Finally you have the situation where he's armed and you're not. You stick your hands up and hope he doesn't shoot. But when you think about this, why would he shoot? He wants your VCR not the risk of a second degree murder conviction (although speculatively he might be persuaded if he's caught you off guard and spots your wingmaster hanging out of your belt).

      Basically, (by this reasoning at least) the only thing your gun does is increase the chance of a shootout. And even if you're successful, your vcr is safe, you've showed that guy that broke in, but you've also killed someone, and I'm not sure whether the consequences of that are worth your VCR.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The flaw in your reasoning is the presumption that an intruder is only there for your stuff.

        Most break-ins are junkies looking for something to pawn for drug money. Just someone home tends to deter them.

        However, those that see someone home and continue to break in seem far more dangerous. That indicates a willingness to use force against anyone home... rather different than just a smash and grab. Perhaps you're the wrong color, and they've decided you need a beat down or your head cracked open. Maybe yo

  • by uvajed_ekil ( 914487 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:53AM (#25609119)
    One dog.
    Seriously, if a burglar sees or hears a dog, he'll move on to other houses until he finds one without a dog. If you have secret plans and chests filled with treasure, and everyone in town knows about it, maybe you need something more sophisticated, but a canine deterrent system is more than effective for the average home. And an alarm system won't wag its tail or lick your face when you come home from work. Or, go whole-hog and get four dogs, and a monkey that can dial a phone.
  • by Scot Seese ( 137975 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @10:42AM (#25611759)

      What this article does not address is the actual cost of having an alarm system, crime prevention statistics and technical problems associated with different systems.

      Truthfully, most professionally installed, professionally monitored alarm systems end up being almost free. Free, as in speech, or beer. Most insurance companies will give you discounts on your homeowners policy if you present a certificate from a national brand monitored alarm service. This discount can end up being as high as $30-40/mo., which essentially pays for the monitoring fees charged by your alarm company. Toss in free installation specials (or $99 installation, which ADT runs frequently) and the cost is tough to beat.

      I've seen statistics that show that having the large yard signs from a recognizable, national brand monitored alarm service will roughly reduce the likelihood of a break in at your residence by 80%. Most robbers are poor & dumb. They want to cut a window screen at the back of your house, slip in, smash, grab & ransack through your house for 5 minutes looking for firearms, cash & jewelry and GTFO. That monitored alarm gives them a pretty good chance of egressing just as Johnny Law pulls up, they know it, and they'll pass by your house without trying.

      There are drawbacks. We use Vonage for our primary phone service at our house. ADT will not install on Vonage, as they claim it's unreliable and incompatible with some of the signals they send to the monitoring service, so they like to put a module in the basement with a digital cell phone card in it + battery backup. The problem we have been having is, about once a week, usually around 1-3 AM Monday or Tuesday mornings, the alarm panel starts screaming as though it's about to go off. Repeated calls to ADT tech support produced this finding: The cell companies "reboot" their towers roughly once a week, and the alarm module in the basement is seeing the loss of signal to the tower, it is assuming that tampering is taking place and is causing an immediate alarm - without any way of actually reaching the monitoring service. Will ADT send someone to the house to investigate a possible workaround? Yes, for a $200 truck roll fee + $100/hour labor. And we are prepaid two years ahead.

      Being a good American, I vigorously exercise my second amendment rights, and also own a bionically sensitive 3 year old lab-hound mix. My wife and I aren't concerned about evening break-ins. It's the daylight "house is empty, everyone at work" smash & grab that we worry about, particularly that they will hurt, kill or release our animals and generally just make a mess of things, leaving that charming sense of violation and insecurity behind. I'm sure most of the readers share this concern.

      My problem with homebrew DIY security systems is.. the DIY part. Hours and hours of time spent installing an alarm system that may not get the same quality response from the police as a human being at ADT's monitoring center (we've had 1 false alarm at our house, and I can vouch for the response time being very satisfactory.) ADT has spent millions of dollars on a quality program designed to reduce false alarms, and have blitzed the police with publicity trumpeting this fact - the goal being to impress upon them that ADT customers rarely have false alarms, when we call you, you had better get there quick.

      I'm not sure that user installed security systems are worth the installation time and lack of name recognition with the most important demographic - would be burglars.

  • Security Cameras (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday November 03, 2008 @04:24PM (#25617551)

    If at all possible, include a few security cameras around the house. An alarm system is nice to protect the contents, but we have a bunch of kids with nothing better to to than vandalize stuff. Alarms won't catch this, but cameras will. In addition, they will pick up burglars as they enter or exit and (if you have the proper field of view) license plate numbers.

    The vandal problem in our area seems to be based on an overabundance of the bored kids of rich parents who think they own the world and don't fear the cops. Daddy can pay them off. Having pics is a great way to motivate the local police force in that either they handle the problem, or the kids will show up on YouTube. Or, if you don't want to go that route, having the pics means that their daddy will owe you a favor, which can be much more profitable than seeing Junior spend the weekend in juvenile hall.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.