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Out of time – why time authentication is a critical part of an effective security function

5 minutes read

A break-in has occurred at a popular store. The security footage reveals that the intruder entered the premises at 2:00am. Or did they? We assume that the time on the camera is correct, but what if, it is not?

In our business, accurate time synchronization is essential.

Our customers have significant issues if the time is not accurately synchronized between, for example, multiple cameras and a Video Management System. For this reason, we’re proud to have collaborated with Netnod, a Swedish internet infrastructure organization to add Network Time Security (NTS) to AXIS OS. In this article, we will discuss the importance of NTS and why trusted sources of time are crucial.

What is NTS?

Time might seem like a consistent measurement, as most of the devices that we’re familiar with tend to sync automatically. However, until recently there was no way to ensure that sources of the time were trustworthy. Devices ‘tell’ the time by using the Network Time Protocol (NTP) to set their clocks. NTP is a special set of rules for communicating between computers over the internet, designed to synchronize clocks to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The NTP is universally used but is also roughly 30 years old and vulnerable to cyberattacks, especially ‘man in the middle’ attacks i.e., where bad actors insert themselves into the communication between devices.

Due to the important need to prevent these types of attacks, Netnod developed NTS within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to add a critical layer of security to the NTP, ensuring devices which use this protocol could accurately and securely display the time.

Time authentication improves security and search functionality

So, what happens when there are time discrepancies within the same network camera installation? End users can have significant issues if the time is not accurately synchronized between, for example, multiple cameras and a Video Management System (VMS). If the time stamps used to establish the chronology of events are not reliable, this can cause a variety of problems during investigations of incidents.

Time stamps are only meaningful if devices are properly synchronized with time from a trusted source. Otherwise, when you have inconsistencies, the question becomes: which timestamp can or should you trust? Much like the scenario described with the store owner, elements of doubt could jeopardize investigations.

In addition, video search is much more difficult if the time is not correct. If we know the rough time that an incident occurred, then having synchronized time across devices allows us to pinpoint the footage we need to look into it further. The correct time is also important when we verify validity of certificates. With NTS, you’re able to prove that you get time from a trusted source. This means you can be sure that the time packets have not been manipulated or tampered with by another party. The encrypted authentication means you can rely on NTS time packets even if they are coming over external networks.

Upgrading AXIS OS to the NTS protocol improves trust

Security is a key element in all Axis products and, wherever security is concerned, the correct time is essential. We recognized the importance of time authentication and wanted to offer a more secure solution to our partners and end customers, which is why we have worked with Netnod to add NTS protocol to AXIS OS.

We want to be able to rely on the timestamps and the only way to be certain is if they are provided from a reliable source. This means that even if our product is installed on an unreliable, untrustworthy network it will tell the accurate time.  We decided to upgrade to NTS after a thorough analysis of other ways to secure NTP. NTS was clearly the best solution and implementing this protocol in the AXIS OS was very straightforward. This was in part because we already had certification management in place which made it simpler. As many of our customers are equipped with similar expertise, it will likely be an effortless change to improve their own security.

Security remains a top priority

Even though NTS is still relatively new, we expect the surveillance industry to increasingly become more aware of the importance of trusted time sources. It’s a potentially significant issues as network device deployments become more sophisticated, larger in scale and more complex. Discrepancies in time will introduce doubt into investigations where images are meant to provide unbiased, third-party accounts of incidents. This also decreases the trust in the use of network cameras which may have a negative reputational effect on the industry. By signing up to NTS, we’re committed to ensuring the security and reliability of our products for end users.

To find out more about Network Time Security for AXIS OS
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