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All About Alarms

What is hacking in relation to wireless alarm systems? How easy is it to do, and how susceptible are modern systems to hacking? We’ll answer all these questions below.

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A question I got asked recently about our wireless alarm systems is whether the signal can be hacked.

So, what do I mean by hacking? Well, I actually think that hacking is not quite the right word to use. For me, hacking is someone taking control of a computer system and using it for purposes that the user of the computer system doesn’t want them to do.

I think hacking is probably the wrong word. Certainly there is a scenario where signals can be intercepted and duplicated. There’s a little gizmo called a software defined radio device. Potential burglars sit outside your house in their car, and they use this device to snoop on the radio signals between the remote control, which arms and disarms the system, and the control panel.

It copies and duplicates those signals, and can then transmit the same signal back so that the control panel thinks that there’s a disarm signal coming in from a fob and disarms the system. This can potentially be a problem on older systems, on cheaper systems, but more expensive, more modern, more sophisticated systems can overcome this.

They’ve got two things that they do. They use encryption and they use channel hopping.

Encryption is similar to when you log onto your bank’s website. The signal between your computer and the bank’s computer is encrypted so that anybody snooping in on that communication can’t tell what the data is.

And it’s the same with sophisticated alarm systems. The control panel and device’s radio signals are encrypted, so someone with one of these software defined radios sat outside, although they can intercept the signal, they can’t tell what that signal is. So if they try and transmit, it’s just gobbledygook as far as the control panel is concerned, and it ignores the disarm signal that the potential burger is trying to send.

The other thing they do is channel hopping. The signal is sent using multiple different channels on the frequency. So someone sat outside, using a software defined radio doesn’t actually get the entire signal. Multiple times each second, the device changes which channel it’s transmitting its signal on. Now of course, the control panel is listening on all the channels and is expecting the signal to hop to the next channel and to the next, and to the next, because they’re designed to know that that’s going to happen. However, the software defined radio sat outside in the car doesn’t know that, so it physically doesn’t get the entire signal. Even if they could decrypt the encryption, (and it’s 128 bit AES encryption, which is avery, very high level of security), they’re physically not getting the whole signal, so they can’t decrypt anyway because they haven’t got the whole signal to decrypt.

So, as I say, with modern, sophisticated, more expensive alarm systems, hacking for want of a better word, isn’t really an option.

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