Last reviewed 14 December 2020

As technology’s ability to monitor, record and analyse becomes more sophisticated, a new report finds people are willing to give up a surprising amount of privacy to ensure good health. Jon Herbert looks at recent findings on using video analytics in the pandemic.

Many of the workplace safety solutions and security changes brought in by the current pandemic are here to stay ― including the use of increasingly powerful technology.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and video analytics have, and will continue to have, a vital role in helping to protect against and contain the present and future viruses.

As a result, security professionals need to know what can be achieved and be aware of factors with the greatest future impact.

A new survey covering the Covid-19 crisis period from IFSEC Global looks at key implications, benefits and risks of surveillance hardware, intelligent software, cyber security, and their effects on staff, businesses and assets.

The resulting report, IFSEC Global Video Surveillance 2020 Report – Analysis, cyber security and Covid-19, draws on some 700 global security industry survey responses to pinpoint contemporary trends. It also looks at key vulnerabilities and protection measures.

More generally, it looks at the effectiveness of surveillance cameras in tracking and identifying individuals, events and actions in a global market worth $45.5 billion. However, it also considers continuous advances in video analytics, AI software and thermal imaging.

These three factors, which are increasingly important in standard best practice safety solutions for industrial sites, retail stores and office hubs, are expected to expand almost six-fold globally by 2025.

And because of the overlap in this year’s report with Covid-19, it considers the technology’s capabilities in not only detecting individual staff members displaying symptoms such as high body temperatures, but also the wider issue of collecting proximity information between workers, machinery and activities with safety implications.

Finally, it considers whether the pandemic has delayed important investments and if businesses will be keen to make up for lost time.

To understand the capabilities, choices and specifications involved in video technology investment decisions, the report looks at end-user views in UK and Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia; 2% of respondents were from North America.

Specifically, it presents feedback from executives, directors, security heads, facilities managers and in-house professionals responsible for day-to-day operations in both large organisations with more than 250 employees and smaller companies employing fewer than 50.

The cross-section included government (13%), manufacturing and engineering (12%), construction (11%), IT and cyber security (9%), education (6%), plus respondents from retail, finance and banking. Installers and integrators figured largely, security and IT played a lesser role.

What has changed in the security sector?

The past year has seen a rapid uptake of video analytics and AI in security systems, plus a growing movement towards cloud-based storage and analytics solutions.

Cyber security also remains a prominent surveillance sector issue. Cybercrime has boomed during the pandemic, with attacks on individuals and businesses that can be increasingly difficult to spot.

Remote working has in many cases increased vulnerability. However, physical security devices are also at risk, with the potential to compromise whole networks and IT systems.

This is especially important where confidential data storage is involved and the sophistication of hackers has increased.

Video analytics

Video analytics is a broad term that covers AI, deep-learning algorithms and facial recognition. Technological innovations have developed exponentially in recent years.

Asked if analytic software can now provide real value for money, 71% of existing users said yes. Only 5% said no. Of 24% who said they were unsure, more than 70% were not using AI or deep learning analytics actively in their surveillance systems. This pattern might change in 2021 after the pandemic experience and while 85% of respondents named cost or concerns about return on investment as a barrier to further investment in analytics, affordability is expected to improve rapidly as technologies mature.

In terms of barriers, GDPR and data law was another significant consideration for 52%, while upskilling employees (46%), storage problems and more trust in humans than machine were also cited.

Meanwhile, the main reasons cited for investment were:

  • a reduction in false alarms (46%) caused, for example, by animal movements— algorithms can now differentiate by age, group, gender and clothing colour

  • detecting loitering

  • customer behaviour analysis and identifying suspicious

  • detecting slips, trips and falls

  • general footfall analysis and directional footfall.

Because it is now possible to understand footfall and revise floor layouts to redirect walking patterns, surveillance systems should not be seen simply as a “necessity to the loss prevention team” but rather as business intelligence tools with the potential to increase profitability, the report suggests.

Facial recognition scored 19%, even though 26% rated it as low because the technology is useful in specific sectors — banking and financial sector, government operations, construction and logistics.

The movement to Cloud storage

While on-premises or hardware video management solutions are traditional storage methods, a third (33%) of those using AI in video surveillance also use cloud-based storage methods. There is growing interest in cloud storage, “VMS in the cloud” (virtual machines) and analytics.

Cloud benefits to security teams include doing away with the need for centralised storage services, which is challenging for vast networks of cameras. Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) is also increasingly popular, with maintenance and updates delivered automatically by external companies.

Cyber security can also be more reliable with cloud storage systems. IP-based network cameras are now relatively standard in security infrastructures and open to attack. The UK has six million CCTV cameras, mostly in networks, which leave them exposed to hacking.

Some 76% of end-users interviewed were “quite” or “very” concerned about this vulnerability. Bringing security and IT departments closer together is seen as important in meeting this threat. The report looks in some detail at the potential for security breaches, including the use of “back-doors”.

How video surveillance can help with Covid-19

Through the pandemic, 32% of those surveyed have delayed system upgrades or projects. A further 4% have cancelled them. However, two-thirds have put improvements into place, recognising the need to keep solutions up to date. Others are expected to follow as good surveillance helps businesses to return to work safely.

A major finding was that 81% of respondents believe video technology plays an important safety role. This is where the pandemic’s impacts become obvious; some 54% think thermal cameras able to detect and record body temperatures are particularly valuable.

Users can specify abnormal body temperatures associated with Covid-19, readings outside these ranges are excluded automatically. Note, however, that the World Health Organization has warned that, while rapid and useful, temperature screening alone is not a totally reliable indicator of coronavirus infection.

Analytical software is also being used to detect mask wearing, a useful feature as governments stipulate mask use in public places.

Other functions can include social distancing detection, people counting and occupancy densities; these can ensure work operations are not overcrowded. Occupancy density has also been used to control customer numbers entering and leaving shops in retail environments. Video technology can even help with contact tracing.

These analytics could allow organisations to issue verbal/electronic warnings of bottlenecks or when areas are becoming overcrowded. Retailers, for example, could display occupancy levels, wait times and instructions to customers.

Privacy issues

If your business uses CCTV, you must register your details with the Information Commissioners office and tell people they may be recorded. This requirement is usually fulfilled by displaying clear, visible signs. You must control who can see the recordings (CCTV footage is subject to the GDPR) and also ensure the system is only used for the purpose intended, eg if it is meant to be analysing footfall, you cannot use it to monitor how many smoking breaks your staff are taking. The GDPR states that you can only store information for as long as is necessary in terms of why it is being collected, so you should have a system to delete footage when it is no longer necessary. Before setting up new systems or amending existing ones, it is worth doing a data protection impact assessment. See the CCTV topic for advice.