Is My Alarm System Hackable?

The proliferation of wireless technology means that we can charge our mobile phones without having to plug them in, we can control the lights upstairs from our phone downstairs, and we can even use voice commands to operate wireless devices.  If we look back just two decades this kind of technology was something you’d see in sci-fi films but here we are, changing the channel on our TV without even having to press a button, the remotest of remote controls.

With technological advancements there are benefits as well as downsides, and the downside to having a wireless alarm system is that they can be hacked – but wait, this doesn’t mean they’re not safe.  Yes, theoretically a wireless alarm system can be hacked but it takes a very clever and patient criminal to do this and your average burglar is neither of those things.  Wireless alarm systems use a narrowband frequency to communicate, so if the burglar is able to work out the exact frequency used, and is close enough to read the signals they can, in theory, jam the signals and stop the sensors from triggering the alarm system.  This can only be done if the alarm system doesn’t authenticate the signals before triggering the sirens, so this oversight must also exist in order for a thief to jam or fool the signal receiver.

It’s also worth noting that neighbours can both have wireless alarm systems without either interfering with each other.  This is because the wireless signals won’t travel far enough to trigger the wrong system, even if both systems are using exactly the same frequency – we’ve never had any issues with wireless alarm systems getting mixed up with one next door.  In order for a burglar to fool your system they’ll have to be very close to your property, perhaps directly outside a window.  This type of loitering attracts attention, so thieves will avoid making themselves conspicuous by hanging around fiddling with a signal box.

Wired systems are the most secure from a hacking standpoint – the thief would have to be inside your house to tamper with it, but they’d need to be so close, and so clever to tamper with a wireless alarm system that this is not actually a risk in real life.

When you’re choosing between a wireless and a wired alarm system, don’t let the hacking fear sway you if there are good reasons to choose a wireless system.  They typically take less time to install as there’s no need to run and hide cables around the house, and from an aesthetic point of view wireless systems don’t interfere with your home décor.  They’re flexible and adaptable with new sensors and circuits easily added, but the downside is that they run on batteries which need charging every couple of years (this may vary from system to system).  Wired systems don’t need to be charged, giving them another advantage over a wireless system, especially if you’re forgetful and might not realise the battery has run out, leaving you prone to a break in.

It’s good to be aware of the potential weaknesses of any home security system, but keep some perspective on these issues.  Yes, a wireless alarm system has the potential to be hacked, but this needs brains and patience, so it’s only a concern if you’re known to have valuable artworks, antiques or jewellery that could be sold on the black market.  The majority of us don’t have Picassos hanging on the wall, so we aren’t going to be a target for the kind of thieves who would go to extreme lengths like hacking a wireless burglar alarm system.  We should be more concerned about the visual deterrents we can put in place, and the security products that provide an extra line of defence.