Everything Home Security: Truth about Cell Jammers

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A few weeks ago, a customer on Facebook presented us with this question:

“My area has had several burglaries, and police report the thieves are using GSM/Cellular Jammers to prevent alarm systems from accessing a cellular signal while they burglarize the houses. Is my FrontPoint system susceptible to this type of device?”

Questions about cellular monitoring and its reliability in the presence of a cell jammer have popped up more often in recent years, as the home alarm industry continues to shift towards cellular monitoring. We’ve talked about cell jammers before, but this customer’s concern presented the perfect opportunity to provide further clarity.

A Cell Jammer’s Use

Cell jammers are devices used to prevent and block cellular signals, primarily in mobile phones. They’re often used to disrupt signals in locations where silence is expected or where using a phone would be impolite or rude.

Commercial use of cell jammers is illegal in the U.S., but this has not stopped people from using them; a quick Google search will unveil many sites selling the device.

The Effect on Cellular Alarm Systems

We know cell jammers can work on mobile phones, but can they also block the signal in your home security system with cellular monitoring?

The answer is yes, cell jammers can disrupt the signals of cellular radios because they use the same frequencies as mobile devices. Sensors will not be affected, as they operate on a separate military-grade frequency, but are limited in range.

This probably is not the answer you wanted to hear, but be reassured, you can still trust your cellular alarm system.

There’s a reason both new and old home alarm companies are choosing cellular technology: cellular monitoring is still the safest – and most reliable – form of monitoring available. And here’s why.

Real Burglaries v. Hollywood

It comes down to the true nature of burglaries. They’re often portrayed in movies and television as pre-determined, meticulously planned and skillfully executed events. This is very inaccurate.

Burglaries are rarely pre-determined or carefully orchestrated. Instead, they’re random and opportunistic acts.

Wire Cutters are the Tool of Choice

Burglars are much more likely to be carrying wire cutters than a cell jammer.

This is because wired security systems make up the majority of the home alarm market, and they’re still being sold by the majority of alarm companies – despite their obvious flaws. As a burglar, the likelihood of running into a wired system is much greater than a cellular system.

There’s also the issue of obtaining a cell jammer. As we mentioned, cell jammers are illegal for commercial use in the U.S.

Although burglars have a disregard for the law, taking a step further by obtaining a cell jammer is likely not worth the risk. Whereas, wire cutters are legal and easy to purchase.

The Burglar Mindset

A burglar’s motives is another reason why a cell jammer is not a realistic option.

As we mentioned, burglaries are often random, opportunistic acts. Burglars are not George Clooney or the rest of the Ocean’s Eleven looking to pull off an elaborate heist.

Burglars are looking for low-effort, low-risk opportunities. And since most homes equipped with a security system are wired, cell jammers are not worth it for burglars. They’ll be carrying wire cutters instead.

Another factor to consider is the cost: wire cutters are extremely cheap and cell jammers are much more expensive. Since there’s no guarantee that a home will be protected by a cellular security system, why would a burglar opt for a more expensive tool that may be unnecessary?

Cell Jammers are Not Effective

Worst case scenario, a burglar chooses to use a cell jammer instead of wire cutters. There is no guarantee it will work.

The cellular radios found in alarm systems vary from system to system. Some belong to different carriers, while others feature newer technology. And technology is constantly changing.

The mobile industry is in the forefront of innovation, and security companies are quick to adopt technologies that are introduced.

The most affordable cell jammers have a limited range. If a customer places their panel in a recommended location, away from doors and windows, a burglar will have a hard time knowing if they’re in range.

Cellular Home Security is Safe

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why a burglar simply wouldn’t put forth the effort to lug a cell jammer around the neighborhood. The combination of unreliability, high price and high risk make it extremely difficult to justify, especially when wire cutters are (unfortunately) a proven tool.

We understand that our customers, and discerning home security shoppers, are concerned with cell jammers. And we hear you! We do everything we can to give you with peace of mind, not only by providing the best and safest home security, but also by providing you information and knowledge you need. Please tell us, what other questions do you have about home security?

Comments (41)

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  1. Steve

    Hello,

    I have seen a lot of comments about communication from the pad to the company; however, I have not seen anything addressing communication from peripheral equipment to the control pad.

    It can be fairly easy to build a jammer at home with readily available parts that can disrupt the communication from wireless peripherals to the main pad; does your equipment have a ping-type system to door and/or window sensors to know if communication has been interrupted?

    Thank you.

    • Valerie Saponara

      Steve, great question. The control panel will alarm if there is an attempt to jam the signal. Disrupting the signal from the sensors to the control panel will also cause an alarm, and the sensors communicate to the control panel via their personal wireless signals. Hopefully this helps answer your question!

  2. Lou

    You said in an earlier comment, “Since there’s no guarantee that a home will be protected by a cellular security system, why would a burglar opt for a more expensive tool that may be unnecessary?

    I would think that placing your Frontpoint sign in front of the house would clearly indicate, if not guarantee, that the house is using a cellular system. That’s why I have a regular wired system company sign in front of my house–not your Frontpoint sign. It’s what us Jarheads call camouflage.

  3. Lou

    You said in an earlier comment, “Since there’s no guarantee that a home will be protected by a cellular security system, why would a burglar opt for a more expensive tool that may be unnecessary?

    I would think that placing your Frontpoint sign in front of the house would clearly indicate, if not guarantee, that the house is using a cellular system. That’s why I have a regular wired system company sign in front of my house–not your Frontpoint sign. It’s what us Jarheads call camouflage.

  4. Jim

    First, I think home alarm systems are like car alarms: deterrents, not fool-proof preventative measures. There are now devices out there that will read your car key fob signal, garage door opener signal, etc.

    More importantly, how secure is FrontPoint’s comptuer network? Are customer codes stored on that network? Customer information like back account numbers? Is all the info encrypted/hashed? The breach at Target should have opened a lot of eyes. (I’m an IT security engineer.)

    • Gilbert Cho

      Hi Jim!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! You’re completely correct, today’s technological advances are amazing, but they also make it more difficult to keep your personal information and security systems safe. To combat this, we make sure all of our data is highly encrypted to make a data breach nearly impossible. To explain how we do this in fuller detail we are going to have one of our Support Specialists reach out you and answer any other questions you may have.

      Thank you again for the great question and we look forward to speaking with you shortly.

  5. Amber

    What happens when the system loses its connection? Does the alarm sound or do I get a call? If not, how would I know if it happened for any reason? Could the system be disconnected from the cellular signal for weeks without me knowing it?

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Amber, these are great questions. I want to make sure that I answer them completely, so I am checking with our Customer Support team. I will get back to you soon!

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Amber, I’m hoping these explanations will help. Like Peter mentioned in previous responses, we are periodically “pinging” your control panel throughout the day to make sure everything is communicating properly. The number of times we ping the panel varies depending on how often we are receiving signals from your panel — such as a door opening or you arming the system as those signals indicate we are properly receiving communication. In the event that communication stops with your control panel, your panel would go into what we call a “Not Responding” state. In the “Not Responding” state, your system still works locally (the siren would still sound). As soon as communication is restored, all signals would resume normal function.

      There are two ways we have to prevent your system from being disconnected for a long period of time without you knowing. First, you can set up notifications (if you haven’t already) on your MyFrontPoint.com account by text message/email/push notification to know when your panel goes into a “Not Responding” state. These can be set up in the “System Event Notification” section on your online account, and are the quickest way to be notified! Additionally, we have a Support Team that is dedicated to proactively researching every customer whose control panel is not responding. They contact these customers directly by phone and email regarding the lack of communication and help determine what might be the cause. The majority of these involve customers who are moving, and have unplugged their control panel to bring it to the new location.

      I hope this helps ease your mind. Please do not hesitate to contact us directly if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Graeme T

    In the event that a burglar does have & use a jammer, would cameras still record as they are connected via wi-fi? And if they did record, would I get notified?

    • Gilbert Cho

      Hi Graeme! Great question.

      If a burglar were to use a cell jammer on your system, your cameras will continue to work as normal because they run on AC power and are connected via WiFi. If they did record a video clip during that time, you would still be notified of the new video based on your current video clip notification settings.

      Thanks for reaching out and I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to contact us if need anything else!

      • Russ

        Yeah, that’s IF the cameras record a video clip. If they jam the system, the triggers won’t “trigger” to record the clip. Please tell me I’m wrong.

        • Jamie Botzer

          Hi Russ, this is a great point. The cameras with your FrontPoint system have the capability to record based on a system triggered event (such as an alarm or a door opening), and they are also all equipped with Video Motion Detection (VMD), which will start recording if motion is detected in a room by the camera itself. This can be set up through your MyFrontPoint.com account. I’m going to have one of our Customer Support representatives contact you to make sure this feature is activated on your account, as well as answer any other questions you may have. Thank you!

  7. Brett

    The other reason I feel more secure with FrontPoint (yes, I’m a customer) is that cellular systems are actually third on the list for potential thieves. They are going to target houses without alarms, then wired, and only then would it make sense for them to target or try to jam a cellular alarm. So w/ cellular, you likely have two levels of insulation between you and potential thieves, really. If the thieves are sophisticated enough to have a cell jammer, I suspect they are targeting richer environs or businesses than my home. Also, if cell jamming were rampant, we’d be hearing a lot more about it.

  8. TS

    I assume you have some sort of heart-beat keep alive messages between the station at a home and your central system. If a thief uses a jammer (and trying to be like a controller can be prevented by appropriate mutual authentication with central system) then the act of jamming should cease heart-beat messages which should be discernible for you to raise an alarm. I do not understand the full scope of cell jammers and their capabilities but it will be nice to know if by some protocol of monitoring you can sense and alarm. That will be a better answer.

    Also please include monitoring of alternative generators to your list of items you monitor

    • Peter M. Rogers

      TS – there was a “heart beat” methodology similar to what you describe, that was offered by some of the telephone companies going all the way back to the 80’s, and was called “Derived Channel” (among other names) to offer high levels of security with alarm systems. It was rarely used in the home (too expensive). Of course, that was in the days before the Internet, and today’s broadband connections would make the constant monitoring of the connection easier. That being said, it would be unwise to assume that a loss of a broadband connection meant there was an alarm situation, since ISP’s themselves will be the first to tell you that they would prefer that you not utilize their services for alarm monitoring. In fact, all the “new entrants” to home security (think Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, AT&T) use a cellular connection as the way to communicate an alarm signal, since that this is the most reliable and robust methodology – even though they use the broadband connection for all their interactive features. FrontPoint uses the Alarm.com platform, which utilizes the cellular connection for everything except video – and we feel it is the right way to go for our customers. Pretty much any system can be hacked, so we like to focus on what actually occurs in real life: the incidence of jamming is virtually non-existent (I am not aware of it having been done successfully, and I have been at this for 25 years) – and there is much greater probability that an intruder will have a $3 pair of wire cutters, to take out a phone line or an Internet connection. I am not aware of any generally available residential security system that has the “heart beat” you describe.

  9. Anthony

    Great article and thanks for the information! Even though our alarm system is only part of our overall home security plan, it’s good to know FrontPoint has a number of fail-safes, such as the Crash and Smash. Thanks again!

  10. Mark David

    As a customer,
    Your answer to the cell jammer is not 100 or personally even 65 % encouraging.
    If the cell jammer is only focused on the key pad,
    Is there something we can put around the key pad to protect it from the cell blocker.
    I work out of country,
    I do have people that watch my place but I would like to feel comfortable when I leave for a few weeks.

    Thank You,
    Mark

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Mark, I understand your concern. We do not recommend that you put anything around the control panel to “protect it” from a cell jammer. We do recommend that if at all possible you place your control panel away from the main door/entrance to your home — like in the master bedroom — as the most affordable cell jammers have a limited range.

      It is also very unlikely that a burglar will purchase a cell jammer to defeat your home security system. Peter Rogers, who has worked in the home security industry for more than 20 years, has never heard of this happening. To quote his response to another comment: “Happily, we know from what is reported in the industry that the odds of this happening are demonstrably so low as to be negligible. And for those homeowners who find the risk unacceptable regardless, there are other solutions out there – but they are generally cost-prohibitive.”

      Thanks for your question.

  11. Tom E. in NC

    I read the article regarding the cell jammer issue and ended up more confused. I did some research and also contacted your tech dept. and I believe I have the scenario on what really happens. First of all, YES, the cell jammer will work against your control panel. BUT: When you have Crash and Smash = 1. your control panel constantly sends a signal every 30 sec to the main monitoring center. 2. If the signal is interrupted, then it waits for 60 sec to get a “cancellation” of the loss of signal alarm (like entering your house and de-arming the control panel. BUT: If you have “Crash and Smash”, then 1. the signal is “interrupted” and the monitoring center waits for the 60 sec to receive the “de-arming” signal which would never come if the panel is being jammed so the alarm system is triggered. Bottom Line: the cell jammer does work against your control panel but like smashing the control panel, you have no way of sending a “de-arming” signal so the monitoring center is indeed alerted after 60 secs. I hope this explanation is both correct and helpful.

    • Jamie Botzer

      Thanks for providing this great summary, Tom!

      • Dave V

        I don’t think you have provided correct information here and it should be cleared up. Crash and smash does not provide a “heart beat” type protection. Meaning that if your system is armed there is no communication back to the Front Point central system until an “event” happens. That event could be an alarm or a disarm event. Higher end security systems for things like banks provide this type of heart beat protection, meaning the loss of a signal over a period of time is considered an alarm.

        Crash and Smash is a feature which sends an alarm system out as soon as an alarm event happens. Meaning I have the system armed and the door opens. My entry delay doesn’t set off the full alarm so I have a chance to disarm it. However, the panel has sent a signal to the Front Point central system indicating that there is a pending alarm. If the Front Point central system does not get a disarm event back from the panel then it is treated as a full alarm on their system. This means that a burglar cannot come in and in 10 seconds and smash the panel to keep the alarm from going off at the central system. It would defeat the local alarm only. Since the event was sent to the Front Point central system as soon as the event happened the system will treat it as an alarm once the 60 second delay (or whatever it is set to) is up and no disarm is received.

        If a burglar was to be using a cell jammer and COULD stop the signal – crash and smash does not help you. The initial alarm signal would not be sent and therefore smashing the panel would defeat the alarm being sent to the Front Point central system (by jamming the signal) and the local alarm from going off (by smashing it).

        I don’t believe that there is a high probability of this actually happening but it is important to note that Crash and Smash does not protect you against this.

        • Peter M. Rogers

          Dave – Thanks for your comment. Part of the issue (and potential confusion) stems from combining the topics of cell jamming and Crash & Smash, which are essentially unrelated issues. While it’s possible that they could meet up hypothetically, the odds are remarkably small that it will ever happen. That being said, it’s important to that we communicate with sufficient detail (and as accurately as possible) on each topic.

          You are correct that there is no “heart beat” level of communication with our system. There is a “ping” process that occurs several times over the course of a day to make sure the radio is there and working, but it is not a continuous link in any sense. See my response to the comment by TS (above) on this topic. You are also correct that systems that provide constant monitoring of the communication path are high security applications – and I am not aware of any used in residential systems such as ours. For one thing, they are quite expensive. Your description of how Crash & Smash works is spot on – and could actually be a script for how we should be explaining (and generally do), in our Sales and Support departments. If someone did manage to block the signal with a jammer BEFORE opening the door to enter, and then disable the system, then Crash & Smash would not result in an alarm event, a verification by the central station, and a police dispatch. Happily, we know from what is reported in the industry that the odds of this happening are demonstrably so low as to be negligible. And for those homeowners who find the risk unacceptable regardless, there are other solutions out there – but they are generally cost-prohibitive. Thanks again for your comment.

  12. carole

    Just to be clear in what will happen, if a sensor goes off (say glass breakage or window opening), would the panel still sound an alert – but if there’s a cell jammer, the monitoring station may not get notified *unless part of C&S protection? That is, the alarm would still sound?

  13. carole

    Just to be clear in what will happen, if a sensor goes off (say glass breakage or window opening), would the panel still sound an alert – but if there’s a cell jammer, the monitoring station may not get notified *unless part of C&S protection? That is, the alarm would still sound?

  14. TMarie

    Good Information, thank you. However, can a cell jammer interupt the signal only on the Master Control Panel or on accessories as well, such as, the Talking Remote Touchpad or Touchscreen?

    • Jamie Botzer

      TMarie, this is a great question. If a cell jammer is used, it interrupts the signal between the Control Panel and the Monitoring Station. The signals between the other sensors (like the Talking Remote Touchpad or the Touchscreen) operate on a military-grade frequency and cannot be disrupted by a cell jammer. However, these devices do not communicate directly with the Monitoring Station — they only interact with other sensors within your system.

  15. Tom

    Should a cell jammer be used and actually work, wouldn’t the monitoring center detect loss of connection to the alarm panel?

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Tom! If you have Interactive or Ultimate Monitoring, it sure will! It’s part of the patented Crash & Smash protection. Great question.

      • BThom

        Is it me or are the answers to these questions contradicting each other? Crash & Smash should offer no protection against cell jammers as the monitoring station would never receive a pending alarm notification because this signal would never be received in the first place! Home alarm system would siren but no communication with the monitoring station….

        • Jamie Botzer

          Hi BThom, you are correct. Crash & Smash would not offer protection in the unlikely event a cell jammer is used. Peter addressed this in his response to another comment. I am sorry for any confusion this has caused. I have updated any other replies to reflect the correct information.

  16. Yvonne

    Should a cell jammer penetrate your system, would Front point recognize the disconnect
    as a jammer interruption? Would Front Point then react as would be any other alarm action.
    Such as, alerts to customer and or police?
    This article is very good. Thanks for the information.

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Yvonne, great question! In the unlikely event that a jammer is used, we would lose contact with your system during that time. All of the sensors would still function locally, and the siren within your control panel would still go off. We do know from what is reported in the industry that the odds of someone using a cell jammer are very low — Peter often sites that in his 20+ years in the industry, he’s never heard of this happening. He elaborates on this concept in his responses to other customer questions on this feed.

  17. Mark Lunden

    “There’s also the issue of obtaining a cell jammer. As we mentioned, cell jammers are illegal for commercial use in the U.S.

    Although burglars have a disregard for the law, taking a step further by obtaining a cell jammer is likely not worth the risk.”

    Who wrote this, Dudley DoRight? Not worth the risk? Tell that to a guy who’s breaking into homes – he’ll laugh in your face.

  18. Mark Lunden

    “There’s also the issue of obtaining a cell jammer. As we mentioned, cell jammers are illegal for commercial use in the U.S.

    Although burglars have a disregard for the law, taking a step further by obtaining a cell jammer is likely not worth the risk.”

    Who wrote this, Dudley DoRight? Not worth the risk? Tell that to a guy who’s breaking into homes – he’ll laugh in your face.