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HOWTO: Top 5 reasons why keeping your NVR or VMS up-to-date is important

November 24th, 2017 by Kevin Bowyer

In the world of IP-based security, we capture surveillance recordings largely either via NVRs or software-based video management systems (VMS). We procure a system, have it installed and (hopefully) properly commissioned based upon our real requirements and needs, and the system is handed over for operational use. Often, that’s where things start to go wrong.

In our experience, few integrators either make the necessity clear or offer ongoing update support in order to keep a system current and working at its best.

Most surveillance systems are left fallow

It’s a sad fact that once systems are installed, most are left as they were (we first spoke about this in 2009). Why touch something that isn’t broken right? Wrong. To ensure you get the best from your system and its cameras, as well as achieving the highest return on investment from both the hardware and operational benefits it can bring, you should keep the surveillance system up-to-date.

It takes time, with resources and ‘clear ownership-of and responsibility for the system’ both required to do this. Systems which lack even one of these will often lie fallow outside of their general ongoing usage. It does take time to keep a system current, but the benefits of doing so are huge. Updates will often bring in new features that can make a difference and contribute towards cost-savings within your organisation. The ownership aspect is also a key one. Someone needs to ‘own’ the system and ‘take the lead’ on its use and progression over time. If that person is you and you don’t have a plan to keep your system current, you should put one in place.

That said, you should take a cautious approach to applying updates. Make sure that the software or firmware version you’re currently running can be upgraded directly to the latest version. In some cases there may be an intermediate step, especially if you are a few versions behind.

Why, then, is it important to keep your security system – be it an NVR or VMS – patched and up-to-date?

1. Updating for cyber security reasons

Vulnerabilities in software and firmware are being discovered all the time. There is a whole industry of cyber security criminals dedicated to breaking into common software and hardware with remote access components. Once these vulnerabilities are found, many manufacturers (some are quicker than others and some are downright poor) immediately fix their systems and release patches or new firmware to resolve the issue. If you don’t then apply those patches, your system becomes vulnerable to both the manual and automated exploits which often quickly follow when vulnerabilities are made public.

Those vulnerabilities can be exploited both remotely (if your system is set up for remote access) or locally (perhaps from an infected computer) – so a good firewall policy is not enough to mitigate the risks. Under EU GDPR the problems involved in allowing cyber security risks are great; this alone is enough of a reason to keep your system up-to-date.

2. Updating for bug fixes

Bugs can exist in a system and not be immediately obvious. We know of one VMS manufacturer who had a hidden bug which would delete all footage when a certain criteria was met. Needless to say, the manufacturer patched the bug quickly when it was discovered – but we still see sites running that compromised version and hear of the issue cropping up. Code is written by humans and can be as fallible as we all are, so to be on the safe side keep your system patched with the latest versions.

3. Updating for performance improvements

As operating systems evolve and are themselves updated, things change frequently. The VMS or NVR running on top of the operating system (typically Linux on an NVR or Windows for a VMS) also has to be continually developed to work around these updates and to take advantage of the improvements that updates to the OS often bring.

Performance improvements are a big deal with video. Video is hard to process, store and manage. Therefore, any small performance improvement or enhancement is welcome and some can make a huge difference to the performance of a system. Those benefits could result in fewer dropped frames, less storage use, less RAM or CPU use, faster access to the system and a lot more. Why would you not want that?

4. Updating for new camera support

Rarely can you add new devices to an old system and expect them to work immediately these days. Often, a range of cameras are supported ‘out-of-the-box’ and more models are added to the supported devices list over time. This extra support usually comes in the form of drivers, device packs, camera packs, system patches or firmware updates. Even the standards are evolving, so one device using ONVIF (for instance) may work on day 1, and won’t work fully with a later version of the ONVIF standard. These drivers often come with bug fixes for older cameras, so are worth installing when they come out and not just when you’ve found that you can’t add that new shiny new 4K camera you’ve just invested in.

5. Updating for camera bug fixes and new features

As with NVRs and video management software, cameras themselves can be updated. Manufacturers will release new firmware frequently, sometimes containing critical security and bug fixes, but also with handy new features that may well make a huge difference to your surveillance operation. New firmware updates can resolve known issues, plug security holes, incorporate new detection analytics and may even open up additional features in the VMS or NVR. Some manufacturers have tools (such as the Axis Camera Management tool) you can download which make the process of keeping large estates of IP cameras up-to-date very easy. Your camera is just as important as your central recording system, so should be updated in the same way and for the same reasons.

Should you pay for support?

There are two types of software on the market. Software that you get free and software that you pay for. Paid software usually comes with support for a period of time. Once that time runs out, you will often no longer gain access to patches, bug fixes, drivers or other improvements. Paid software often comes with an extendable support contract of some kind (for instance CarePlus with Milestone XProtect) allowing you to take full advantage of not only software support, but also those security patches, bug fixes, performance improvements and new features I have discussed above.

Free software comes with none of this and, I believe, represents a danger to your surveillance system for many of the reasons set out here. Support is expensive, so free software usually comes without support of any kind. It is not in a manufacturer’s interest to respond rapidly to new security vulnerabilities or fix bugs as it makes them no money. Free is a fallacy. Don’t rely on it.

Your surveillance system will hopefully be serving you well. Neglect it and it may not be working as you expect just when you come to need it most.

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