Why Diy Home Security – A few years ago, my wife and I decided to get a video surveillance system. At that point, we didn’t know much about home security or security cameras. But we wanted to settle into our home while we were gone.
If we weren’t DIY crazy, we’d probably go the DIY route and buy an all-in-one home security kit from Ring or Simplisafe.
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But we felt deep concern about these brands storing our videos in the cloud, especially indoor videos. Cloud-dependent security cameras have been hacked left, right, and center. Some even offered them to cops without a warrant! Additionally, many useful features of these cameras, such as advanced motion detection, were locked behind monthly paid subscription plans. Even basic things like being able to view recorded clips, which you’d expect, is a given.
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So while the initial costs seemed low, the running costs would quickly add up. This is the downside of the subscription-based business model that most security camera companies are turning to these days. Don’t get me wrong, cloud backup is fine and serves as an offsite backup. But to shove it down our throats and pay for it is simply unacceptable.
But being DIY and tech-crazy people, we decided to do it ourselves – the ProDIY way, learning by doing, using excellent stand-alone IP cameras (like the Reolink E1 Pro) and a high-quality but affordable consumer networking equipment (such as Ubiquiti’s Unifi range).
Today we have a DIY home security camera system that we selected and set up ourselves based on months of research. It’s extremely reliable and has extremely useful features like full interoperability with our Home Assistant and HomeSeer HS4 home automation system, but it’s very affordable.
We often get questions about our DIY CCTV setup, such as how we can securely view our home security cameras from anywhere in the world. So we decided to share our journey with you, our readers.
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We will outline our complete security camera setup and how we can safely and securely connect to your home from almost anywhere. We will also look at not only a list of the various devices that make up the system, but also how they all come together to help us achieve our specific security goals.
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Here is a screenshot of us watching our IP cameras live from our laptops and on the TV:
We can also access the cameras from our smartphones using either the tinyCAM Monitor Pro app or QNAP’s VMobile app to access the NVR’s video archives on the NAS (Network Attached Storage).
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Whenever motion is detected by one of the IP cameras, the QNAP NAS informs our Home Assistant home automation system, which can then turn on lights, sound a siren alarm, send me videos, anything I can think of really .
In the past, I only used the HomeSeer HS3, so I connected the QNAP Surveillance Station directly to my Homeseer HS3 system. QNAP QVR Pro has not been released yet.
But since then, I’ve pretty much switched from Homeseer to Home Assistant. I only use Homeseer for some legacy Z-Wave door sensors that don’t work with Home Assistant. In addition, both QNAP QVR Pro and Home Assistant support advanced IP camera motion detection methods. Eventually I plan to write how-to guides to replicate my entire smart home system setup.
Now let’s see what the security camera part of our smart home network looks like (see also how we built our DIY smart home automation system)
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A topology is a representation of how a system is connected together. Network topologies can be physical or logical. The physical network topology shows the actual physical layout and the connections between the various elements. A logical network topology shows how they are functionally interconnected.
Here is a physical map of our entire smart home network. For a reliable and scalable monitoring system, you need to have the right network set up to support it. So let’s start there.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there are many different network components and that the devices are nicely separated into neat compartments (LAN, VLAN1, VLAN2…etc).
Most people just connect a Wi-Fi router to the ISP’s modem and dial it up. If you’re only using a few wireless cameras, this will probably work.
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But for our Pro-DIY system, which is focused on security and privacy, we have to go further. We need to be able to protect our network from hackers and botnets. For this we need a strong and powerful hardware firewall.
We need to be able to isolate security cameras so they can’t “dial home” or leak data outside of our network. Any device on our network that we do not trust (such as most Chinese security cameras) should not be able to access sensitive personal devices such as laptops and mobile phones on their own accord. For this we need the ability to create virtual LANs (VLANs).
Every consumer Wi-Fi router has a built-in firewall that offers basic protection. But they are often not very personalized. For example, in most cases you cannot create your own firewall rules. And most of them cannot create VLAN. So, after fiddling with the expensive ASUS “professional” router for a while and not being able to get what I needed, I switched to enterprise standard networking gear. I chose Ubiquiti’s Unifi range.
We have a large home and getting reliable Wi-Fi everywhere has been a problem. I realized that we need multiple Wi-Fi access points. But the house is already wired for gigabit Ethernet. So that was another reason to skip the consumer grade mesh networks and just go for a trusted established enterprise brand.
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Also, when your network becomes large and you have multiple devices (router, switches, access points), it becomes difficult and time-consuming to configure and manage multiple devices.
The easiest way to understand Unifi’s product line is this: a typical Wi-Fi router like Asus or Netgear is an all-in-one device.
It has a router, firewall and Wi-Fi access point all rolled into one device for convenience. However, this means that if you want advanced features, you have to shell out a lot of money.
Also, if one function (like the wireless radios or the router part) fails, the entire network fails and you have to throw away the entire device. Not great for excess or your wallet.
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Starting at the top left corner of the network card, we have a symmetrical 1 Gbps up/down optical broadband connection. So the first device is the ISP modem which we cannot avoid. However, everything after that point is by our design.
After the ISP modem comes the Unifi Security Gateway (or USG). This is our hardware firewall, serves as a DHCP router for the entire network, and manages all VLANs. The USG has a dual-core 500 MHz processor with 512MB of RAM. It can process up to 1,000,000 packets per second. It can handle our 1 Gbps fiber broadband connection at full speed, but only without additional security features such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) included. If you turn them on, throughput drops to a paltry 85 Mbps. The hardware is getting old, WAN failover is forever broken, and it didn’t get newer features like WIreguard VPN or WAN load balancing that UDM now has.
This is why I no longer recommend the Unifi USG (they are also getting harder to buy!). Unifi has since released the UDM product range consisting of three models:
The UDM range combines USG, a managed network switch and the Unifi OS network management software in a single device. The UDM is the baby of the trio and is a direct replacement for an existing Wi-Fi router as it also includes a Wi-Fi access point.
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The UDM-Pro and SE models are more powerful, rack mountable, and so may be more suitable if you plan to use a server rack or cabinet. But note that they don’t have built-in Wi-Fi.
But what about the Unifi Dream Router (UDR)? I’d say skip it because it’s a scaled-down version of the UDM – a less powerful processor, making it more like a USG than a UDM.
UDM SE/Pro can perform intrusion detection and prevention at line speeds of up to 3.5 Gbps, which is much better than USG’s 85 Mbps or even UDM’s 850 Mbps. But for most home users, UDM will be sufficient.
One key difference between the UDM SE and UDM Pro models is that the SE supports PoE. This eliminates the need to get a separate PoE switch.
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Back to the layout: The ISP modem plugs into the WAN1 port on the USG (WAN port on the UDM SE/Pro). USG has only two physical LAN ports – LAN1 and LAN2 (UDM SE/Pro has 8). Any port
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