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Two years ago a professional gang broke into the Bureau de Change next door during the night. One of the cameras was a small IP camera which I had advised them to install as I thought an off-site recording would be a good thing. However, they were so professional that they recognized the IP camera and covered their faces before they disabled it; we have seen the entire footage.

They did not touch the main security cameras, but dipped the DVR to which all six cameras were connected into a bucket of water. The police have not managed to recover anything from the HDD.

The whole thing makes me wonder whether it is wiser to try to scare intruders away by means of visible CCTV or using hidden cameras to catch them, as visible cameras only made the job easier for the thieves.

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Overly Simplistic Answer: Both. –  Red_Shadow Aug 14 at 19:24
    
How? it's either visible or hidden!? do you mean to have one visible and one hidden? –  Ulkoma Aug 14 at 19:30
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Yes, a combination can do what either alone cannot. If the ip camera in this case was hidden, it may not have been disabled when the others were, and you may have some evidence. gowenfawr's answer below goes into this in more detail. –  Red_Shadow Aug 14 at 19:36
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The problem here seems to be that two separate security measures became unnecessarily related. The visible camera was easily disabled, and the hidden cameras had no off-site recording. But why was off-site-ness related to visibility in the first place? If the hidden cameras had been recording off-site, then the bucker of water would have had no effect. The cops still might not have identified the thieves of course, but they'd have more chances. Both systems were vulnerable but in different ways. –  Steve Jessop Aug 15 at 10:57
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@Philipp: that's OK though. You put up a sign to say there are cameras, but then you hide some or all of the cameras so they can't be trivially disabled (and maybe you have to ensure that a hidden camera has no view of the public exterior of the shop). If that's illegal too, and each individual camera must be clearly visible to intruders, then you're basically just out of luck and this question doesn't arise. You can also check with the lawyers, is it OK to have hidden cameras that are switched off while the shop is open (available to the public) and on when shut (not available to the public). –  Steve Jessop Aug 15 at 11:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 55 down vote accepted

From security point of view is it better to have camera hidden or visible

Yes.

Hidden and visible cameras emphasize different security values.

Visible cameras provide deterrent value as much or more than recording value:

  • They may cause less prepared or less dedicated criminals to think twice.
  • They may encourage actions or routes which benefit the defender (e.g., walking around the visible camera field may force the attacker into the field of another, hidden, camera).

Visible cameras are more susceptible to avoidance or disabling, though, because they are obvious.

Hidden cameras provide improved recording value, in that they can be more survivable than visible cameras. However, they may have more limited fields of view, and they don't provide any deterrence.

The security decision to go with hidden, visible, or both, should be dictated by the site and the threat.

A convenience store is going to want to emphasize visible cameras, as deterrence is more valuable in that threat environment. A museum might emphasize hidden cameras, partially because deterrence is less of an issue and partially because obvious cameras detract from the atmosphere they want to provide for their customers.

In all cases, the DVR needs to be better protected than it was in this case. It should be protected well enough that legitimate employees can't tamper with it - certainly the attackers in the case you describe probably knew video stayed local to the site, knew it could be disrupted, and possibly even had "inside information" that allowed them to go straight to it.

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Use invisible cameras and an DVR that should be kept outside of the facility (server-upload) for gathering evidence. Use visible cameras or camera dummies for scaring away attackers. As you can see from your example that's not very efficient. You don't have any security in both cases, that would mean having vaults, armed guards, a sophisticated authentication system, ... –  user53863 Aug 14 at 21:04
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In fact I wonder whether the attackers actually planned on the basis their faces were concealed, but also figured if they found a DVR there is no point not dunking it. So as things stand they look like geniuses/insiders for destroying the footage, but if they'd never found the DVR they'd still look like geniuses/insiders for wearing masks since they "apparently knew" they couldn't destroy the footage. In any field, even crime, when a series of basic precautions work you look good. –  Steve Jessop Aug 15 at 11:04
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In addition to the cameras themselves, a tamper alarm could be easily integrated with one or more of the visible cameras, so that if a signal is interrupted or lost, a blaring loud alarm would go off. The alarm could even send information letting you know of an intrusion, but it might not need to. It could let the would be burglars wonder in uncertainty if the alarm was indeed transmitting information or calling the police. –  krb686 Aug 15 at 13:27
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I don't get it, why would you expect any criminal to take off the face mask after he's disabled the visible camera? Not sure what good the hidden camera would do here. –  Mehrdad Aug 16 at 10:33
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@Mehrdad lots of criminals are stupid. maybe the A/C is broke and the thief is uncomfortably hot. perhaps the mask obstructs his vision. perhaps the mask breaks. –  emory Aug 17 at 19:31

Here's an idea...

Make some visible to give the impression that these are the only ones, while others are hidden in the direction someone would walk away after having disabled the camera(s).

But really there is nothing you can do if they are wearing masks.. the bank robbers did wear masks?

Also if it is such a high priority target, then the last few days of data should be stored off-site.

Why were there not more cams?

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Really? I'd rather know "Four men broke in 3:42 AM wearing, 5'8", 6'1", 6'1" and 6'2", all lean builds, split up in these directions, short guy picked lock using..." than simply "?????". –  djechlin Aug 16 at 18:22
    
Then use cameras? –  BAR Aug 17 at 4:08
    
They are not going to wear masks all their lives. They are going to want to put the masks on before and take them off after the crime. (When the police are responding to a report of masked thieves, it is not a good time to be wearing a mask.) If possible the camera system should record all places where the thieves might put on/take off their masks. –  emory Aug 17 at 19:26

There are no situations in which a public facility should not have visible, invisible and partly hidden recordings. The problem you faced was not the fact that the cameras was visible but that the visible cameras were placed in the wrong location. However cameras are not the only means for gathering information about assailants. Desecrate weight and height measurements are simple enough to gather. If you want to be a little more devious you could install a spike pad to penetrate their shoes to draw a dna sample as they flee. Or install radioactive tags and or dyes ect. It all of course depends on your budget.

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protected by Rory Alsop Aug 16 at 10:07

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