As alarm dealers and DIY homeowners move away from hardwired alarm systems its natural to want to know if today’s wireless security systems are actually secure? The labor to run cabling to hardwired sensors on doors and windows, motion sensors, smoke detectors etc. is intense, or at least is for most homeowners. Wireless sensors are the craze today because the labor time per opening has been cut to 1/4. Yes the equipment cost is higher, but as they say, time is money and most dealers would rather send a 1 or 2 man team to your home for an hour or two rather than 3 to 4 for two days installing an alarm system. A non-techie homeowner can install a wireless system in one or two hours on a Saturday morning. Yes wireless sensors are a great advancement, but what about security?
Traditional Wireless Security Systems
Wireless sensors have been around for more than 20 years and reliable from a maintenance point of view but security was not a design concern. For example Honeywell’s (Ademco) 5800 series wireless has been around since the 90’s and still sold and used heavily. The frequency used (345MHz) does not interfere with other devices such as WIFI in the home but there is a change a sophesicated thief could jam or replay sensor signals. The equipment needed five years ago was a few thousand dollars but now its down to around $30 with Software Defined Radios (SDR) easy to come by that just plug into a USB port on a laptop. With an SDR a thief “could” jam the signal that your door sensor transmits when the door is opened by overpowering (sending a stronger signal) so your alarm panel does not correctly see the door opening and just thinks all is well despite the door being wide open. Replay attacks are just as bad since an intruder could “replay” a door open transmission to the alarm panel triggering a false alarm as they drive by your home. Do this a few times and you will begin to lose faith with your alarm system. SimpliSafe got blasted in the news back in 2016 when their DIY wireless alarm system was shown to be prone to attack on Good Morning America (GMA) and an article in Forbes.
Today’s Secure Wireless Security Systems
Today however Honeywell and others such as Alula, DSC, Qolsys have incorporated encryption into their wireless products. Honeywell for example has changed to spread spectrum technology (SST) to thwart jamming as well as encrypting (scrambling) the transmission. With SST the transmission is broadcast on the 2.4GHz band that is shared with WIFI but rather than impact each other SST “hops” to different frequencies so jamming is extremely difficult without knowing the hopping pattern. Of course with encryption the signal is mathmatically scrambled so only the sensor and panel know the decryption algorithm key. Recording and replaying your sensor’s transmission just won’t work since the algorithm also uses time as part of the equation so replaying at later time just causes the panel to ignore the transmission.
Should I Upgrade to Encrypted Wireless Sensors
That all said however the question is should you upgrade any existing nonencrypted wireless sensors and panel? If buying a brand new alarm you should definitely be chosing a wireless security system that incorporates encryption. Honeywell introduced their SiX series of secure wireless devices when they released the Lyric wireless security panel two years ago. DSC has PowerG for their secure wireless devices in use with iOtega, Alula (Resolution) has Cryptix for their Connect+, and Qolsys has their S-Line of secure wireless with the IQ Panel 2.
But what about any older Honeywell 5800 series wireless you may still have in the mix if you upgraded from a hybrid wired and wireless system or say their older Lynx Touch wireless panels? If you really want to be safe then yes, any 5800 series transmitter should be replaced with a SiX series wireless device, when using Honeywell for instance.
But is the threat/risk due to jamming and spoofing high enough to spend the extra money? We get this question all the time. Most break-ins are quick in and out affairs by kids or young adults looking for quick cash. They are not bringing a laptop with them to jam your sensor signals – once they spent the time to discover what brand and type you actually have in place. If you however have museum quality paintings in the home then the sophistication of thief you attract will be very different and your defenses should be mounted accordingly.
Secure Wireless in 2018
Bottom line is use encrypted sensors when you add transmitters assuming the panel you own can handle encryption. If you have the older Lynx Touch 7000 (which is still sold today) it can only use Honeywell’s 5800 series non-encrypted wireless transmitters. Their Lyric wireless panel however can use both the 5800 series (perfect when upgrading existing alarm systems) as well as the new secure SiX series line of wireless transmitters.
The only downside to what’s on the market today is depth of product line. Each of the industry security leaders such as Honeywell, DSC, Alula have only rolled out out a limited number of sensor choices that are truly secure. The older non-encrypted versions outnumber the secure choices three to one. The sensor options will grow over the next two years for sure but its something to be aware of as you look to secure wireless currently.