The dumb security fail of yesterday

I have a dumb security system. You might be able to hack it, but it’s as basic as can be. Not internet connected. I also have a smart security system / other things, but that’s for a review at some point. So far (10 years?) the dumb security system has never had an unexplained alarm, and I’ve always been able to jump in via phone/internet and track down what happened.

Until yesterday – duh dun daaaaaa!

TL;DR – learn from my home security fail, or don’t. It’s a pretty long story, probably unique to my setup. Just a piece that results in thinking about your setup.

Door alarm? Yup door wasn’t shut. Smoke alarm? Yup pancakes. In every instance it’s gone off and reported what the problem is and I’ve received a call within a minute or two. I can’t remotely arm or disarm, there’s nothing smart about this thing, it works.

Yesterday 10 minutes after every human had left the house, noting a lot of unknown people on the road (red herring,) got a motion alarm. I’ve literally never received a motion alarm. I mean, the motion sensors I know work because I’ve tested them (should you manage to not trigger the window or door sensors the motion will get you.)

I was driving when I got the call. I’m always driving when I get the call from the alarm system company. I’m always a good 3-7 miles from the ability to check (you don’t pull over on the interstates here unless you want to be on the news as the victim of a tragic accident.)

Motion sensor tripped. Alarm going off. Wife in car she pulls up the Nest video and sees nothing. We stay on the line as one by one Kim jumps into the various cameras and sees nothing. There’s a notable blind spot where the FOSCAMs are because they’re old hackable cameras sitting in my basement and firewalled from the outside world.

My dumb security system just reported motion, not which sensor the motion was detected on, so images of a burst water pipe or fire in the basement run through my head. I’m far enough away headed to an errand and then to get the kids that to turn around to get to the house during rush hour is going to be an hour long detour. After verifying there’re no smoke alarms or water I push my paranoia aside.

I compile a list of things that could have happened mostly because I want a checklist to check when I get home. I’m not particularly expecting an intruder because the Nest cameras outside are pretty good at catching humans and none were spotted.

This leaves whatever could possibly go wrong in a 1940’s house. That’s a whole freaking lot. My main worries are a pipe bursting because the company/product FLO (now by Moen,) managed to instill that paranoia in me a long time ago … well that and thousands in water damage from various houses over the past 20+ years.

FLO also doesn’t appear to want to give me a product for review… which is sad.

The neighbor drops by and tells me that other than a little water in the basement (had an incursion yesterday,) there’s nothing visible. I highly suspect he’d have noted the foundation caving in if he caught the water, so that’s off the table.

I don’t generally call on the neighbor for these things because they don’t happen. I can’t stress enough that the total false alarms in 10 years have been maybe 2. I got a non-internet plain Jane system because of this.

Finally get back, tell the kids and wife to stay out for a bit (not because I thought there was an intruder, but because I needed to get to the panel quick,) get to the control panel and take a picture of the code because… dumb system, when it’s gone it’s gone. While standing there taking a picture set the alarm off for a second time and immediately get a call. Like 20 second response – fast. Like advertising level fast.

All good, I set about investigating. I now have the motion sensor that tripped it (living room,) and the exact time, and a ringing head because my alarm is absurdly loud and my head was 2 feet from it when it went off. It’s not internet connected, but loud enough to be heard over the internet. That’s probably what you heard and couldn’t identify yesterday.

Piecing together some video footage I find that a week or two old cable running job I did at the house when I had the bad battery day had slipped. Now what I did was bundle up some cables in cable wrapping and put them up neatly when replacing a UPS.

What I didn’t account for was that the combined weight of these cables was going to suddenly be applied ten minutes after I left to a low weight holding shelf that was mounted on the wall (think one small plant, a sound bar, or 7 packs of Oreos,) or more to the point I did not expect a pound or two of cables neatly attached underneath to shift and somehow change the tilt of the shelf, which is anchored into plaster and should hold 110 pounds without flinching. It was holding less than 5.

Using security through obscurity, the motion sensor was on the shelf (looks nothing like a motion sensor,) and was moved ever so slightly when the cable bundle settled. Its movement registered. Bam.

The lesson here? Trying to make things look good will result in false alarms.

Actually my guess is the lesson here is re-think your home security setup every now and then. I found a glaring hole in my basement monitoring because the cameras there, while they do record to an off site location, I couldn’t access on the go. I also couldn’t access live because they’re hackable old IP cams that will never touch anything other than the one off site server again.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts