The Achilles Heel of CCTV Equipment

There’s a huge growth in CCTV equipment in the UK, and a recent study by the BBC claimed that in 2015 there were between some 4 – 5.9 million cameras in the UK. As this article is now over a year old there’s a very high chance that this number has increased.

Whilst there is much public debate that surrounds the ethical and moral use of CCTV cameras and their capture of actions by people unaware they are being filmed, it is of interest to note that there is practically zero debate about how vulnerable to data stored by CCTV actually is. To understand this issue we need to look at the basic hardware components of any CCTV system, or to be more accurate, just one of them: the hard disk drive.

Inside a hard diskVery much like the computer you have at home, the data captured by a CCTV recorder is stored onto a computer hard drive, and it’s here where the Achilles Heel can be found. The hard drive is a fragile device. One knock or blow can cost a user their data. Hard drives should be sold with a “Handle With Care” label. The reason why hard drives are so brittle is because they are based on an old technology that is based around moving parts. Central to a hard drive is a rotating magnetic disk or “platter”. This is coated in a magnetic film which is able to store billions of electronic signals that represent either a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. Images are written to the hard drive as a series of zeros and ones by another moving part: an arm that moves back and forth across the surface of the hard write, writing and reading the data.

It’s these moving parts that are extremely fragile, but there are many other faults a hard disk can suffer from that will also result in the images recorded being lost. Once the hard disk is damaged it requires experts in recovering CCTV images to repair the hard drive and get the images back. Although these companies are highly skilled, it’s not guaranteed that they will be able to rescue the images from a damaged or broken CCTV system. It very much depends on the fault.

So if hard drives have this Achilles’ Heel are so fragile and so prone to breakage, why use them in CCTV recorders? Hard drives do actually have a lot of positives in their favour. They are cheap, they store a lot of data, they don’t use much power and are therefore cheap to run. But most of all in these days of mass surveillance, they are the only option.