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What Are IP Cameras and How Do They Work?

An IP camera, or Internet protocol camera, is a type of digital security camera that receives and sends video footage via an IP network. They are commonly used for surveillance. Unlike analog closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV), IP cameras do not require a local recording device, only a local network. IP cameras connect to a network in the same way that phones and computers do so. 

How do networked IP cameras work?

Analog and analog-over-digital security cameras require a coaxial video cable in order to transmit footage to a digital video recorder (DVR). On the other hand, an IP security camera can transmit footage over a wireless connection. Specifically, IP cameras connect to a network video recorder (NVR) via Wi-Fi, an Ethernet cable, or USB.

An IP camera captures footage in high definition—resolution can be as high as 16 megapixels, depending on the camera model. Each IP camera comes equipped with a processing chip, which compresses the video footage as it is recorded. What’s that mean? Well, the higher the camera resolution, the more data each video recording contains. High-resolution images require more storage space and more bandwidth for data transmission than lower-quality images. To transmit HD images over a network, IP cameras must compress the files, or make the files smaller, to avoid consuming too much bandwidth. Modern compression standards like h.264 and MPEG-4 mean that there is either no drop, or just a small drop in frame rate and resolution when the footage finally reaches your phone or computer. 

Here are some additional benefits of using IP cameras over CCTV cameras:

  • Two-way audio. A camera owner can listen and speak to a subject via a speaker on the camera. Some doorbell cameras offer this function. 
  • Remote access. Authorized users can view live video footage from any smartphone, tablet, or computer.
  • Better resolution. IP cameras have up to 4x the resolution of analog cameras. 
  • Fewer cables and wires. Power over Ethernet supplies power through the Ethernet cable, allowing the camera to operate without a dedicated power supply. 

There are three network options to choose from when setting up an IP camera. 

A wireless network, or Wi-Fi network, sends and receives data to a wireless modem. Phones, computers, some TVs, game consoles, and other security devices are all connected via Wi-Fi, and your IP camera is no different. One way to view an IP camera’s footage is by entering its IP address in a web browser. Keep in mind that the IP address must be static. Some Internet providers supply their customers with dynamic IP addresses that change from time to time. You’ll want to speak with your provider about a static IP address to ensure you can access your IP camera. 

A wired network connects an IP camera to the network via an Ethernet cable. This setup is considered the most secure, as there is little chance for signal interference or unauthorized access. Expect the fastest data transmission speeds with Ethernet, as a wired connection is much more efficient than Wi-Fi. 

A cellular network is perhaps the most convenient of the three, but it is also the slowest. In general, Wi-Fi has faster upload and download speeds. Most IP cameras come equipped with a cellular transmitter out of the box, so set up, installation, and connection are easy.   

You need to make sure that your network is secure, otherwise, IP cameras can fall victim to hackers. 

Before installing an IP security camera system, you or your security camera provider should ask:

  1. Is your IP camera system secured with unique login credentials?
  2. Is your wireless network private?

In 2014, a journalist stumbled onto a website that indexed 73,000 locations with unsecured IP cameras around the world. Creepy, to say the least, but the finding brought up a very important point. Most security cameras come with a default username and password. Though the default login is supposed to be changed, in many cases—at least 73,000 cases, apparently—it was left unchanged as the default login. 

The website pulled security camera footage from a variety of businesses, including malls, warehouses, and parking lots. But far worse, there was also camera footage from inside the living rooms and bedrooms of private residences. 

This ordeal exposes a harsh truth: unsecured IP cameras are surprisingly easy to hack. 

The good news? It’s even easier to secure an IP camera! Really, it is—you just need to check two things. First, make sure that you change your camera’s default login credentials. If you’re not sure how, consult the camera’s instruction manual. A security professional can help you with this, should you hire a company to install your security camera system. The next thing you need to do is double-check that your Wi-Fi is private. If the cameras are connected to public Wi-Fi, anyone with the IP address may be able to gain access. With a private Wi-Fi connection, only users that are logged in to the Wi-Fi can access the camera footage.

Once the security camera and Wi-Fi are secure you will be set. Modern wireless modems use a data encryption system called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Over the years, WPA standards have tightened. WPA3 is considered the most secure, and is equipped on some newer modems. WPA will further protect your security cameras against hacks and other types of unauthorized access. 

Compared to analog cameras, IP security cameras offer convenient features and are suitable for any home or business. Whether you need just one camera or dozens, you can’t go wrong with IP cameras. Want to learn more? Get in touch with one of our security experts—we can answer any questions and get you a free system quote. Contact us today!