One of the joys of blogging is that I get great questions from readers on alarm technology, alarm system design, and other topics. I reply individually to each of them, but it recently occurred to me that these questions and answers would make good reading for those who are getting up to speed on home security. After all, Frontpoint is all about education and transparency – that’s part of the reason we have such great reviews. So here’s an excellent question from a reader, in two parts, along with my response. And yes, I have replied directly to the person who asked!
What is Frontpoint and Alarm.com doing to circumvent the use of jammers by burglars? While it is a bit more difficult and expensive to obtain a jammer (as opposed to a pair of wire cutters), one can be had with a little work and a couple hundred dollars. A burglar could enable a jammer prior to entering the premise and prevent: 1. Wireless transmissions between the sensors and the alarm panel, and 2. Cellular (GPRS) transmissions between the alarm panel and alarm.com. The Simon XT apparently has the ability to detect RF jamming from the sensors to the Panel (although I am not exactly sure what it does if it detects such jamming).
Part Two of the Question
The cellular connection from the panel to alarm.com seems especially vulnerable. I do not believe Frontpoint and Alarm.com require “heartbeat” messages of short enough time intervals to detect that a panel has been “jammed” or disabled until potentially hours after the event. Ideally the interval would need to be quite short, ex: less than 5 minutes. Please advise where we are with this technology today, where it is expected to be in the near future, and what we can do in the meantime to minimize exposure. Some suggest the best way to protect against this potential shortcoming is to bury phone lines and have phone interface devices moved inside the home. Thanks.
Let’s deal with the issues one by one. On the case of the Interlogix/GE Security sensor frequency, it uses 319.5 mhz. This is a former military frequency, used in all the sensors made by the company since the 80’s. There are literally millions of these sensors in use, each with a unique transmitter ID. The fact is that in all those years, there has not been one instance of someone successfully jamming a sensor’s communication with the control panel. That does not make it impossible, just extremely unlikely. In addition, the panels are equipped with jam detection, so that any effort to jam the frequency would be interpreted as an alarm and sent as such to the central monitoring station. As you can imagine, with millions of sensors in use and no documented jammings having occurred, this has not been a significant concern to date. When you consider that most burglaries are random, opportunistic acts that are increasingly committed to feed a drug habit, you can see why most alarm companies are much more worried about a $3 pair of wire cutters than a jammer. Of course, FrontPoint is 100% cellular, so the wire cutters don’t worry us one bit.
Second Question Answered
That brings us to the second issue: cell jamming. You are right, these devices (though illegal) are not so hard to come by. However, the inexpensive ones have relatively short range, so customers following our instructions on panel placement should have little to worry about. I’m not sure how the average burglar would know that the home has a cellular system to begin with – it’s not as if the average meth user spends much time on our web site, or those of our competitors. Much more likely is that the burglar will have the wire cutters mentioned above, which will still take out most alarm systems in use today. The smart guy in the black outfit that we see in the movies or on TV is targeting specific items and much higher value properties that invariably have special security systems.
Let’s Work with the Facts
While it’s important to discuss what could happen, it’s equally important to discuss what has happen, and what is happening today. Jamming is not occurring. In fact, after more than 20 years in this industry, I have never heard of a cellular jamming resulting in a burglary that was not detected. But I have heard of many cut phone lines – and more all the time. And when it comes to phone lines, they are going away at a remarkable rate. The major carriers (including AT&T) have even petitioned the FCC for a “sunset” provision that will allow the carriers to stop supporting these “hard copper” lines. Internet alarm communication is not sufficiently reliable, as is generally agreed by the alarm industry: even ADT does not use it. And the companies who use Internet monitoring (such as Comcast) as the primary channel don’t report the loss of Internet connectivity outside the home, either through interactive monitoring or to the central station, since it happens all too frequently.
That leaves cellular monitoring as the safest and most reliable method. The exposure is minimal, as proven by actual experience, and is expected to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
We like questions. We want people to know more, because a more educated consumer makes better choices. That’s why we work so hard to be transparent in how we present the Frontpoint equipment and services, and why our Sales Consultants are famous in the industry for being just that: consultants; not pushy people at your door who just want you to sign that monitoring contract.
People are looking for the best way to protect their homes and families, and the best alarm systems use safer cellular monitoring, in addition to offering smarter interactive services. Frontpoint specializes in both. If you have a question, please feel free to use the comment section below.