CCTV and software viruses: what are the risks and what can you do to avoid them?

CCTV and computer viruses

When you need to view CCTV footage on your computer, the first thing you have to do is download the player software. If you’re viewing material from several sources, chances are that each source will need a separate player, the ‘proprietary’ software developed by the CCTV manufacturer. A conservative estimate puts the number of different player variants at several thousand. But every time you download a new programme, you risk exposing your computer to software viruses – including the data it contains, and potentially all the other machines it’s linked with. How can you be sure that downloading CCTV software is safe? 

In this article, we’ll explain the risks of downloading multiple CCTV players, and what you can do to keep your machine safe and protect the sensitive material that you hold. We’ll also show you how using a universal CCTV player can virtually eliminate the risk of software viruses. 

So what’s the problem?

The root of the problem is that, with the huge proliferation of CCTV, there are now thousands of different video formats. A single investigation can easily involve footage from dozens of separate units controlled by numerous owners: these can be locked-off, wall-mounted units, cycle- or dash-cams, and anything in between. 

But identifying and seizing the footage is only part of the battle: once you’ve got it, you need to be able to play it. And this is where IT departments get nervous. Every download of every proprietary player carries the risk of infection from a virus or Trojan, and not just to the individual laptop or desktop, but potentially to the whole network. 

The Big Three: Trojans, viruses, and executable files

Let’s look first at Trojans. In a Trojan, the malicious code is usually disguised as a valid program, and the user is tricked into downloading and running it.  Sometimes this happens without the user realising, such as in the case of a website which automatically downloads and runs executable code without the user's consent, or certain kinds of email attachments.

The other main category, viruses, can be embedded in data files.  The highest risk comes where a data file (your CCTV clip, for example) is run through a system which includes a virtual execution engine, such as Flash or Adobe PDF.  Those systems interpret the file as if it were a computer program, and may therefore perform actions which the user would consider harmful, including downloading and running other programs from the internet. In clever cases, the image will still decode correctly so the user may not even realise there is anything suspicious about it.

An executable is a file that contains a program - that is, a kind of file that is capable of being executed or run as a program in the computer. In a Windows operating system, an executable file usually has a file name extension .exe. When these files are opened, they cause the operating system to run the program. If you open an .exe file, follow these three rules: 

  • always be sure that the file comes from a trusted source
  • configure your systems not to run executable files from external sources (DVD, USB, etc.)
  • make sure Autorun is disabled when a disc is inserted

(Better still: don’t use executable files in the first place. Keep reading and we’ll tell you how.)  

What about exported CCTV video files?

Exported CCTV video files are not executable files, and are unlikely to contain viruses or Trojan code: if your source is safe and trusted, the risk is low. That said, all exported video has been generated by a CCTV system or DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and so could theoretically contain embedded viruses. If the exported video has an embedded virus, then all owners and users of the make and model of the DVR are at risk. 

Are we safe from software viruses using USB sticks? 

Enforcing the use of ‘known-clean’ USB sticks can help to reduce risk of infection. If these devices are known to be virus-free prior to use in the CCTV system, then any risk of infection becomes vanishingly small. But to take that precaution further, it’s advisable to prohibit the activation of executable files from removable devices.

Another point on USB usage: don’t be fooled by encryption. The encryption/decryption layer presents a normal file system to Windows, and while this security measure offers protection against unauthorised data access in the event that the device is lost or stolen, it has no bearing on the vulnerability of a file to virus infection. 

But isn’t this just a matter of running anti-virus software? 

Yes and no. It’s certainly of fundamental importance that all computers should be fully protected with anti-virus software.  This is a class of program that will prevent, detect and remediate many types of malware, including worms, Trojans, rootkits, spyware, key-loggers, ransomware and adware infections on individual computers and IT systems. But it is a common problem that individual users fail to keep their virus scans up-to-date: the software needs to be run regularly to have any chance of preempting infection. 

But also, anti-virus software is always playing catch-up. It can’t protect against a virus it hasn’t yet encountered.

Is there another way?

If you’re reading this and thinking it all sounds pretty risky, you’re right: seeking out and downloading manufacturers’ players is risky. Many sites embed their own ‘value-added’ software in the downloads they host, and it can be very hard to know if the version you’re accessing is a safe, intact, original version. CCTV players are often executable files, leaving you open to the threat of importing Trojan code when trying to playback CCTV.

But there is one major precaution that can be taken, which is to not go down the route of downloading manufacturers players in the first place. 

Siraview is a universal CCTV viewer. It allows users to play and examine thousands of formats of CCTV footage through a single, safe, universally-compatible viewer. 

How is Siraview CCTV software safer from viruses? 

Using Siraview to view all your CCTV, regardless of format variation, effectively eliminates the need to download proprietary CCTV viewers. Not only does this make the viewing, cataloguing and sharing of CCTV infinitely simpler, it also reduces risk of the infections we’ve discussed to a negligible level. 

All released builds of SiraView have been produced on a dedicated build server, running up-to-date anti-virus software, hosted in a secure environment. The SiraView installer (MSI) is cryptographically-signed on the build server when it is created. If the file is tampered with subsequently, the signature will not match and Windows will not install the software.

So, you can be sure that the SiraView installer we deliver to you is virus-free at the point of delivery.

Does SIRAview stay safe once I’ve downloaded it? 

Once SiraView is installed on your system, it is protected by Windows authentication.  Only users with administrative privileges can access the installation folder and make changes. Normal user accounts will have read-only access.  This means that, post-installation, your normal system administration best-practice will protect against subsequent virus infection.

At the time of writing, we have never had a report of virus infection as a result of CCTV viewed on SiraView software. SiraView eliminates the need for risky downloads of proprietary DVRs, and does not activate any executable files. Not only does Siraview make the use of CCTV quicker, cheaper, and easier across your organisation, but used in conjunction with your own rigorous anti-virus software it offers your very best chance of avoiding infection and maintaining the safety IT assets and network.