The Future of Video Surveillance: Cloud-Based Systems

November 2, 2023By Daniel Collins

Today, a regular part of police detective work involves combing through security camera footage trying to catch a glimpse of a suspect. Indeed, security cameras generate a great deal of data, especially today as cameras proliferate and video resolution grows higher. Output of surveillance video systems clogs expensive on-premises storage repositories.  

Cloud-based video surveillance emerges as a solution. Storage capacity in the cloud is flexible and essentially infinite. Although it requires no capital investment (CapEx), making the move to cloud storage for surveillance is not as easy as it looks. The practice raises a number of technical challenges, along with some new security and compliance requirements. The economics are also not as clean-cut as some might imagine. This article explores these issues, offering explanations and insights about the present and future of cloud-based video surveillance. 

Setting the dcene: Tracing the legacy of video surveillance 

Video monitoring solutions have been around for a good half century now. They have grown increasingly sophisticated and prevalent as advances in camera technology and information technology (IT) enabled smaller, cheaper solutions with ever-better output.  

From CCTV to the advent of cloud innovations 

When Philo Farnsworth invented electronic television in the 1920s, it was not originally a broadcast medium. Rather, it was closed-circuit, with a camera in one room transferring an image to a screen in another room over a wire. This closed-circuit television (CCTV) model comprises the foundation of video surveillance.  

Early models of CCTV video surveillance involved one or two cameras, each producing a video feed captured on magnetic tape. The tapes were either stored or overwritten for reuse. About 20 years ago, digital recording of surveillance videos become the norm. Digital surveillance cameras fed video files onto hard disk drives. This is still the predominant mode of video surveillance. 

How technological progress rewrote security protocols 

As technology advanced, surveillance system architecture became more capable of handing complex deployments. Instead of a camera feeding video onto a hard drive, surveillance video systems became able to deploy hundreds or even thousands of cameras across multiple locations. The output of these cameras fed into a video management system (VMS) that tracked the camera’s location as well as the time/date of capture. The VMS oversaw the process of storing and cataloguing this video material for later review. In parallel, most VMS storage infrastructure is backed up on a separate video data backup system. 

The alpha of cloud-based video surveillance: A primer 

As cloud computing became affordable and pervasive, VMS operators started to look at ways to incorporate the advantages of cloud storage into their advanced monitoring systems. How do cloud-based video surveillance systems work? At a high level, they port cameras’ video output to cloud storage rather than storing it locally, or they utilize the cloud as a video data backup system.  

Crafting a seamless mesh of cloud and surveillance 

Cloud-based surveillance is distinguished from traditional systems by the presence of cloud infrastructure. This may mean use of cloud storage, but cloud-based surveillance can be about a lot more than that. If it often a seamless mesh of cloud and surveillance that leverage cloud-based video storage management software and purpose-built surveillance backup and restore technology in the cloud.  

Dissecting the underlying tech that powers cloud systems 

Cloud storage for surveillance is the main underlying tech that powers cloud surveillance systems. The important thing to appreciate here is that cloud storage for surveillance is more than just cloud storage that houses video files. Rather, it is specifically architected for this use case. Cloud storage for video is designed to handle a steady stream of large files. It indexes the video data for later review, (e.g., the camera/time/date/location) needed by stakeholders such as law enforcement, insurance companies, corporate security teams, and ensures the video is stored for an appropriate length of time in accordance with industry standards. 

In some cases, the VMS is becoming part of a broader Internet of Things (IoT) architecture. From the perspective of IoT in surveillance, a camera is simply another digital sensor in an extended network of sensors. They may function in tandem with other IoT elements of a security system, such as passkey readers and alarm systems.  

Decoding the boons: Inherent advantages of cloud surveillance 

There are a host of advantages to deploying cloud-based video surveillance. These run the gamut from the financial to the practical.  

Scaling heights: exploring scalability and flexibility

With the cloud, storage capacity is infinite and instantly available. This is a huge improvement over the traditional model of buying and standing up on-premises storage hardware. For one thing, system owners have no CapEx. Nor do they have a lengthy budgeting and procurement cycle, which can lead to over-provisioning of storage in the short term. Operationally, fewer people are needed to manage the system, because the infrastructure is handled externally. Operating expense (OpEx) may be lower, but the value of cloud video surveillance is not usually cost-driven.  

Other advantages include: 

  • Scalable video monitoring—cloud storage allows for near-infinite scalability without concern for CapEx costs 

  • Unparalleled Accessibility—Users can access surveillance footage anytime, anywhere, breaking free from the constraints of traditional on-premises systems that may be cumbersome to access from off site 

  • Reliability—Cloud-based surveillance overcomes the limitations of physical storage systems, which can suffer from outages and cyberattacks. Cloud-hosted video data is securely stored, backed up, and easily retrievable 

  • Analytics—With intelligent analytical tools, it is possible to sift through mountains of footage quickly and efficiently, identifying areas of interest to provide actionable insights  

  • Third-party management—Cloud-based video surveillance storage does not require specialized skillsets to operate and features intuitive interfaces 

Anywhere, anytime: Demystifying remote surveillance capabilities 

Cloud-based video surveillance offers an easier path to remote video monitoring than is available through traditional on-premises VMSs. Real-time video monitoring is possible from virtually anywhere with the cloud. With integrated surveillance solutions, which combine cloud and on-premises systems, users gain an easy remote access option while continuing to operate the system they use day-to-day.  

The obstacle course: Addressing challenges in cloud surveillance 

Adding cloud capabilities to a video surveillance solution comes with its share of challenges. Issues related to data security and compliance, in particular, need to be addressed.  

Ensuring data security in the nebulous cloud 

Once you’ve captured video data and stored it in the cloud, you need to protect it. This is the case with any data you put in the cloud, but surveillance data security is about mitigating distinctive risks. For example, if a malicious actor can access video surveillance data, they can spy on physical locations that are off limits to them, or they can delete footage that shows a crime being committed. Cloud surveillance data needs to be encrypted at rest, and subject to strict access controls.   

Navigating through diverse compliance landscapes 

A number of regulations cover the ways that video surveillance functions. Compliance varies by state and country, but in general video surveillance is subject to compliance in a variety of ways. For example, laws govern where cameras can be placed. If a company places a camera in a restroom and captures video of undressed employees, that’s a violation of most state privacy laws.  

Regarding cloud-based storage systems ensuring compliance with data protection regulations, companies have some regulatory duties to preserve video data. For example, the owner of a chemical plant will need to maintain video records of plant operations for a set period of time in order to comply with the law. If there is an accident at the plant, state officials will want to review the videos. If the videos are not available, that will create a compliance problem, with penalties. 

Cloud systems for surveillance video storage must enable controls for compliance. This might include functions for enforced preservation of data for a set period of time. Access controls may also factor into compliance, with security teams needing to show auditors that only permitted individuals can see the files. Functions like immutability are becoming increasingly important to regulatory bodies looking for proof of secure storage.  

Cybersecurity and cloud surveillance: A symbiotic affair 

Security and surveillance technologies can be a thorny topic. Not only is the security of the video data at risk, the video surveillance system itself can be an attack surface for hackers. The cloud video storage infrastructure can also present an attack path for malicious actors if it is not well defended. 

The efficacy of cloud systems in thwarting cyber threats 

Cloud security is a complicated topic, but there are some basic concepts that will inform a discussion about the role of cloud surveillance systems in mitigating cyber threats. First, cloud security works on a shared security model. The cloud provider is responsible for securing its hardware and networks, along with operating system software and the like. The customer, meaning the operator of the video surveillance system, is responsible for its own data security.  

Protecting video data is about protecting a broader security perimeter, and understanding the tools cloud storage providers provide is crucial in this regard.

  • Immutability — this object storage feature prevents data from being altered or deleted until the end of a set retention period. This protects data from hackers looking to encrypt or delete surveillance footage for their own gain, and is sometimes a requirement for regulatory compliance 

  • Multi-Factor Authentication — Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is an essential piece of cloud storage account security. It adds an extra layer of security to account logins in the event a username and password becomes compromised. 

  • Multi-User AuthenticationMulti-User Authentication (MUA) is a protocol to prevent any single administrator from deleting a storage account. Up to three users must approve account deletion. Currently, Wasabi is the only storage provider with this feature.  

A safe haven? Evaluating the security of data in the cloud 

It is a best practice to integrate cloud-based surveillance systems with existing security infrastructure. The specifics will vary by organization, but in general, it is wise to link systems for identity and access management (IAM) with video surveillance systems in order to prevent unauthorized access to video data. It may also make sense to allow a security information and event management (SIEM) solution to ingest logs from cloud video systems so the security operations (SecOps) teams can detect anomalies that reveal the presence of threats. 

Automated alerts can be part of this picture, too. SecOps teams should receive notifications of suspicious activities affecting cloud surveillance systems. This will enable rapid, effective incident responses.  

Dollars and cents: Dissecting the economic aspects 

Migrating some or all of your video surveillance to the cloud is a financial decision as much as its about security or technology. Cloud economics can be a bit complicated to sort out. Many variables affect the overall financial picture.  

Financial implications of shifting to cloud surveillance 

Some of the economic impacts of shifting to cloud surveillance are easy to spot. The more challenging issues have to do with the pricing of those cloud services, the scope of the service orders—e.g., how much, and for how long—and the nature of the cloud infrastructure in use. Not all cloud storage is optimal for long term video storage, from a financial perspective.  

Be sure to factor in data retrieval costs when selecting a cloud storage provider, as well. A restoration should not be a costly or timely endeavor for any organization, especially those with regulations pertaining to the rapid retrieval of data at any moment.  

ROI chronicles: Analyzing return on investment 

Determining return on investment (ROI) from a move to cloud surveillance should involve as complete an analysis as possible. For instance, it makes sense to do a through review of the amount of data ingested monthly, how long it is kept, and how much it would cost to store on a given cloud for that time. It is also important to factor in the potential costs of storing more data on a current system would be. Would it necessitate the purchase of new devices? Would they draw more electricity, or require a dedicated staff member to manage them?  

Through the lens of law: Legal nuances of cloud surveillance 

Cloud surveillance raises potential legal issues. These are similar to those that arise in compliance, but distinct in that data privacy in surveillance, for example, can be a source of legal liability.  

Evidence retention is an extremely important area where law enforcement and video surveillance storage meet. It involves a judge ordering a defendant to preserve surveillance videos for later use in the lawsuit. If the defendant deletes that video by mistake or it is otherwise lost, there will be serious legal consequences. The video surveillance system should enable ironclad preservation of evidence.  

Adhering to the legal tapestry of diverse geographies

Differing legalities complicate the legal aspects of video surveillance. Each country has its own laws related to video privacy. Video surveillance footage may be subject to data sovereignty laws which restrict where that data can be stored. Laws may also impact minimum retention periods and other surveillance storage attributes depending on industry and location. Your cloud-based video surveillance system should not run afoul of any of these laws and be flexible enough to adapt to any new ones that may arise.  

The last frame: Concluding insights and forward glance 

Reflecting on the progressive journey of video surveillance 

Video surveillance has come a long way since Farnsworth’s early experiments with closed-circuit television. Now, video surveillance is present nearly everywhere we go, and that data it generates is growing by the day. The explosion of data is spurred not only by the proliferation of cameras but their ever-increasing resolution. This data has helped solve crimes and industrial conundrums alike, and we see no signs of a slowdown in its use coming in the near future.

Envisioning the path ahead amidst technological advancements 

The future of video surveillance will no doubt be shaped by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Computer vision technology has already produced highly attuned face tracking and identification, and we certainly expect this trend to continue. Above all, however, we expect a clear adoption of cloud storage technology in the surveillance arena. More cameras capturing more footage at higher resolutions means a mountain of data. Coming trends like AI will likely mean that that data will stay relevant for longer, making it all the more essential to keep for longer periods of time.  

The days of self-managed storage devices are near to an end. Even today, on-premises surveillance storage systems often include an off-site cloud-based backup repository. The amount of surveillance data generated can only be contained by the power and scale of the cloud. There’s no avoiding the inevitable: the cloud is here to stay for video surveillance storage.  

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