Cabin Security with IP Cameras: Remote Monitoring Setups

Cabin Security, what is My Aim?

My cabin is 5 miles from the nearest village on a lake with only a handful of year round residents. The isolation is a protection but also a weakness when it comes to cabin security: Two winters ago half a dozen cabins were broken into and then we had the Dannemora prison break in the region. The two escapee used unoccupied cabins to shelter and resupply.

IP cameras offer another level of cabin security, supporting deterrence and documentation, after you’ve done the basics of securing doors and windows. It is not realistic to use a security company for cabin remote monitoring at my vacation home, the reaction time would be days!

Having at least one obvious camera outside and maybe ‘CCTV security’ decals on doors and windows are deterrents against theft. Frankly though, I don’t expect cameras to stop someone who really wants to break into a dark vacation home. I think documentation might be a better goal, giving the State Troopers (here in rural NY) something more useful than just a list of stolen items.

Choosing IP Camera types for Cabin Security: What is Best?

Cabin security false alerts: Snow and rain trigger IP cameras in the dark

Snow & rain, especially in the dark, trigger the camera motion detection software and create false alarms.

How do I choose surveillance cameras? I suggest mainly working with inside IP cameras for a building or space, such as a vacation home, that is frequently unoccupied. This may be a surprise, but it is based on my experience with remote cabin monitoring. The indoor cameras can be cheaper and the rate of false alarms is way lower out of the weather and without assorted critters passing by. The outside cameras are mostly triggered by snow and rain at night: Falling precip reflects back the camera IR illumination (video clip). One good thing about snow if you have outside cameras: You can easily watch out for tracks (footprints) on cameras anytime and then start searching back through recordings for bodies.

I have pages that talk about the cameras I use: Inside I have the C1 units that point in one direction, and the one camera at home with remote PTZ pan and tilt control (my model was superseded by this). The motorized control of direction in the pan and tilt model is useful in setting up cameras to point in a particular direction but I don’t think the extra $50 is a worthwhile expense. I’d rather get two C1 units. All of my cameras can see in the dark as they have IR LED illumination built in.

I have the one Foscam C1 camera indoors at my camp solely for cabin security. It is sometimes triggered by sunlight and shadows beyond the door, other times there are noise triggers (the camera has a microphone) that may be from wind gusts. At home the C1 camera in my dark garage is set off by moths or other bugs fluttering around during the warmer months. The one at my cabin points at the door and I pull the USB power feed as soon as I arrive so it does not watch me!

Locating cameras for Cabin Security

 camera for cabin remote monitoring covers the entrance

I picked an obvious focus for my interior camera. Foscam C1 camera still image cut from video. Camera drops to gray scale at low light levels

Where do I put security cameras? Most choices for locating cameras are intuitive for both remote cabin monitoring and at home. Outside I cover the cabin driveway which leads to the one entrance door. I have cameras inside my cabin and in my home basement garage pointing at doors, in my home basement a camera covers the stairway up to the main level. I don’t have any French windows but they might be a point of focus from inside or out. While I am at home (not visiting camp) I keep one camera behind the main TV, ready to tape anyone who tries to move or unplug it while I’m at work. I don’t have overlapping camera views (cameras watching cameras) so I do think about where I am locating power and internet cables: I want pretty pictures of anyone reaching to disconnect a camera.

The Foscam C1 cameras can be set to give an audible alarm when triggered. I have a copy of the Blue Iris camera management program running on the PC in the cabin and that can also be set to give an audible alarm whenever it senses movement. Its your choice as to whether you mostly want to scare off perps or want to document them.

Setting up Cameras for Remote Cabin Monitoring: My approach

How do I set up security cameras? When I tell folk about how I set up cameras they often find it complicated and lose interest: in that event skip to the subsequent sections with some alternative approaches.

I’m running my camera feeds for remote monitoring into a program called Blue Iris. The Blue Iris package is comprehensive but maybe a bit intimidating. However the most intimidating thing about camera set up is getting acquainted with Ports and IP addresses. By default most cameras are likely on Port 80 out of the box. You can only run one camera or data-stream through one Port so you would need to make changes if adding more than one camera. More important it is bad security to be using port 80 cos that is the first ‘place’ anyone would scan looking for unsecured cameras. I chat about setting up cameras and a supporting PC in other pages. What confused me initially was the difference between the IP address you use when attached to the same router as the camera (LAN), and the IP address you use when logging in away from the site (WAN). That is after fighting to open ports and before things went dead for remote viewing because the router rebooted and I now had an new external IP address (you need an DNS forwarding system to handle that, either integrated in the device by the camera vendor, or by using a local PC to Ping a service like NoIP.com)

Setting up cameras: A simpler starter approach?

CamCloud simple motion sensing option

Screen shots from a CamCloud recording and the email alert that it triggered. Click image for bigger picture.

I tried some of the alternative ways to access cameras for vacation home monitoring after I started writing this page. The kind of set up described below could be a way to start security monitoring with baby steps.

Foscam (and other vendors) are using hookups by P2P for easy access. These circumvent the problems with Ports and IP addresses, if everything configures itself cleanly. You can do this with my C1 units. I’m not going to judge how secure those services are versus what I do (*). More importantly you’d have to decide if the tools in the cloud service and camera are good enough for your purposes (issues like: does motion trigger the camera? can you fast forward? can you download?). I did the Foscam P2P setup for a Foscam C1 camera, running the Foscam setup tool on a connected PC. It was easy and the web utility worked as a viewer. However, I couldn’t buy the cloud service with recording tools. I’m not sure if that was a camera model issue or if I set things up badly.

I then set up an account with CamCloud.com which again was straightforward. I had to read the UI code off the back of the camera (I think is essentially same hookup process as Foscam used). Two lines of small letters for the UI code that need checking closely. Using CamCloud I could see a feed from the camera and trigger a recording by walking in/out of the basement. You can see my back in the screen shot of the saved video file. The free test option did not let me download clips. I didn’t see any sensitivity controls (for what it takes to trigger a recording).

* I am not going to buy any more used or open box cameras. Trying out alternative setup methods I found someone had likely already run the P2P config tool on the C1 unit in my garage which I bought open box. I can’t overwrite their access, though I doubt they are watching my garage wall. Its a security problem for SECOND owners, not the original buyers.

Using Camera Email for basic Vacation Home Monitoring

Remote Cabin monitoring: IP camera internal software triggers on motion and sends email

Today my DrivewayCam snapped a shot of a Mink or Marten and emailed me. That camera is sending out a lot of false alarms right now as the sensitivity is set high.

You can set up most IP-cameras to email you images and possibly a video clip. This does not give you a live stream, its going to be motion triggered or at fixed times. Today one outside camera emailed a picture of something Weasely that triggered the camera.

You don’t have to mess with IP code and port setting inside the router to configure the email on a single camera, but the camera does still have to be connected to a router/Modem on a cable line or DSL. It involves settings on two pages for Foscams: one for email and one for the triggering condition (see screen shot where I

Cabin security: email motion detection pictures

For email alerts you need to enable and choose options in the Motion Detection page, and fill out the details in the Mail Settings tab for Foscam Cameras. Click image for bigger picture.

set it up for Gmail, you are sending a message to your own account).

This is a simple aid for cabin security and vacation home monitoring but it can be frustrating to not have live access. Also, you have limited options to tweak motion sensitivity inside the camera software. I was relying on this approach my first winter with cameras when I didn’t understand the stuff about LAN/WAN IP addresses and the changing external (WAN) IP addresses.

Cabin Security and Remote Monitoring: What is the cost?

What will a camera security system cost? The expense of setting up a cabin or vacation home monitoring system depends on what you already have to hand. You need an internet line to the cabin. My Frontier DSL service costs $30 a month but I also use it for VOIP phone service and to feed shows to the TV. The basic router modem is part of the DSL package. Cameras cost $50 to $120 for the kinds I use. A 50ft Ethernet cable for each camera is maybe $10 a pop. A copy of Blue Iris would be $45 at Amazon while the cloud services seem to start at about $6/month. Blue Iris is a bigger upfront cost but works out cheaper than a monthly cloud subscription after a year, once you have configured your system but you do need a PC at home running all the time to record with Blue Iris.

I first used an obsolete Netbook to send out the ping that lets NoIP.com track your IP address. Now I use a small refurbished Dell desktop that cost me $110 for the box (without a monitor).You don’t need that for the Cloud option. You at least need a laptop with you to do the initial set up at camp. Its going to cost less to add a second or third camera, but if you run out of RJ45 Ethernet sockets then you might need a plug and play switch for $25 assuming you don’t use wireless hookups. My total outlay for cabin security items is probably about $450 with 3 cameras, plus $380/year for DSL internet and the IP tracking service.