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Cloud Cameras and IP Cameras - Same or Different?

I am an early adopter of security cameras. I had one that required advanced port forwarding and network configuration and recently I've been using a camera that took about 10 minutes to setup. I've seen the words cloud camera and IP camera used interchangeably and I guess that's okay but I feel that there needs to be a line drawn between the two terms because they are technically different.

Cloud vs IP Cameras – Can They Both Stand the Heat?

Round 1- Installation

IP cameras are the first to enter the ring today. IP stands for internet protocol; however, these cameras also go by many different names. In some contexts you may hear them being referred to as “internet”, “network” or “webcam” cameras. Whatever name you give it, an IP camera is simply a camera that can send and receive information over the internet or a local area network (LAN).

To setup an IP camera you can plug it directly into your home router using an Ethernet cable and securely view information over the network at a remote location. You will need a computer to view data on the network; however, the beauty of this camera is that it can work independently without the computer – sounds good? Well let’s not jump the gun until we get to cloud cameras.

In some instances the two are cousins, nevertheless we’ve all heard that family can be your biggest contender at times. When it comes to setting up the camera, it’s safe to say that Cloud cameras make the best ‘takedown” move.

Take D-Link’s range of cloud cameras for example; these simplify the setup process so that even our grandparents can take on the job. Setting up an IP camera can be a chore and may require network intelligence – definitely not a job for someone from the silent generation. IP cameras are designed for us younger folks who don’t mind dealing with 3rd party compatibility and integration – those of us who prefer to get our hands dirty, configuring things manually and interacting with network ports. If you plan to link several devices to your system, an IP camera may be perfect for you.

Simply put, cloud based-cameras are secure and user friendly. Unlike IP cameras, the data can only be accessed using an app of a website with a login and not via a local IP address, which makes it perfect for individuals who don’t want to deal with network maintenance. Generally, you will connect the camera to a network router using an Ethernet cable, similarly to an IP camera. Next, you generally download a free app or access a website to complete the installation. It's seriously that easy and takes around 10 minutes.

Round 2 – Affordability

In any technology battle, affordability is a key component in deciding who to crown champion. In this round IP cameras are the champion. In most cases, they are sold at a cheaper price than their cloud-based counterparts; mainly because there are no additional fees to maintain a cloud video platform. Always consider the complete cost of ownership before you purchase a camera for your home or business. This should include the time that you will invest setting up the camera and the cost of storage and maintenance.

Round 3 – Security

We’re at round 3! So far, IP cameras have had one “takedown” and the other went to cloud cameras. I can’t think of a better tiebreaker than SECURITY – and by extension storage. I think this battles might get heated as different experts and camera users have strong but different opinions when it comes to IP camera versus cloud camera security.

Storage and security tend to go hand in hand. In the event that you are not certain about what kind of camera is best for you, consider where you would like your videos to be stored. For example, a local computer, a NAS drive, or an SD card. Based on where your videos are stored you will be able to determine whether an outsider will be able to steal, corrupt, or overwrite your videos.

For cloud cameras, videos are stored in the cloud assuming that the camera maker offers cloud storage. If they do, users can access videos conveniently at any location. You can check footage from your home, work, or even while on vacation. Videos from IP cameras can be stored in a number of ways but the most common methods are cloud storage, Network Video Recorder (NVR), your phone's gallery, and SD cards.

IP cameras have garnered a lot of attention in the media recently for security reasons. In some cases homeowners have had their surveillance camera turned against them and used as a tool to automate attacks. According to Qulays, a top security firm, many IP cameras that are connected to the internet have weaknesses that allow outsiders to carry out malicious acts on the users. Most vendors provide their buyers with tutorials on how to make the camera accessible from the internet without proper security, setting up a pathway for outsiders to gain access to their camera. Qulays advises that IP cameras should not be exposed to outside networks. Access to the camera should be permitted from a limited amount of trusted IP address to avoid a breach of privacy.

Cloud cameras also have their fair share of vulnerabilities. For example, some cloud cameras like Dropcam are said to be prone to false positives for motion detection. While this may not be a major security issue, for some people it can be very time consuming and frustrating, not to mention that it’s also a clear reminder of the tale, “A Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Some cloud cameras will interpret the activity of a lamp in the room as motion and set off an alarm. If this happens consistently, you may find yourself ignoring these alarms and may miss the opportunity to catch a culprit in the act. Nonetheless, the beauty of cloud cameras is that with cloud storage, even if someone steals your camera, all your video recordings will still be accessible via the Cloud.

Others will argue that a camera is never truly safe unless you hold the encryption key. While I understand the argument, I would argue that it depends upon the type and level of encryption employed by the cameras's cloud servers. I would also argue that there are simple things you can do like change your password, protect your network, and not share access with too many friends. Some cameras use 256-bit bank level encryption where each camera has a unique key. That is safe in my book. Most camera hackers are looking for low hanging fruit like un-secure IP cameras. They are not looking to hack bank level security so that they can watch you eat pop tarts in you underwear.

Final Round – Adding Features

IP cameras do not have cloud server intelligence so users cannot add other smart features like personal alerts nor do they have access to automated firmware updates. Instead, if you own an IP camera, you will have check to ensure that your IP camera software is always up to date, as new security fixes can protect your firmware. Cloud-based cameras are a bit different; they can be improved at all times. As soon as firmware updates for the camera are available, you will receive an alert. Depending on the camera, firmware updates are either approved by you manually once an alert is received or sent automatically. These are usually important to enhance the security and functionality of your camera.

The Champion

There is a time and a place for both types of cameras but for the average homeowner we suggest a cloud camera.