Cyber crooks may hack Britain's CCTV network, surveillance chief warns

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter has flagged up the possible risk of intrusion Credit: Clive Gee/PA

Britain's growing CCTV network could be a target for hacking attacks, a security watchdog has warned following a report into defence against cyber crime.

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter flagged up the possible risk of intrusion on the public by "individual and state actors".

He pointed to a major cyber incident in Washington DC in January last year where more than 100 cameras were infected with ransomware.

Mr Porter said: "The risk potential for intrusion on citizens has significantly increased both by lawful operators of surveillance camera systems and those individual or state actors who seek to hack into systems.

"Cyber security has moved to the top of the security agenda." 

If your camera is not suitably protected you are potentially opening up a back door for organisations that choose to hackSurveillance Chief Tony Porter

Publishing his annual report for 2016/17, Mr Porter said surveillance cameras are not always recognised as potential hacking targets.

He said: "If your camera is not suitably protected you are potentially opening up a back door for organisations that choose to hack."

Britain is seen as having one of the most extensive CCTV networks in the world, and the commissioner's report indicates that it continues to grow. Research in 2013 estimated the number of cameras in the UK at up to six million.

Mr Porter also highlighted the "formidable" police Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system should be more transparent and subject to tighter regulations because of the amount of sensitive data it stores. 

"The nature of its capabilities to intrude on privacy by building patterns of travel and the provision of imagery should not be underestimated," he said, adding that it is also widely used by agencies other than the police. 

Edmund King, AA president, said: “Whilst most law abiding citizens will accept the police use of ANPR to target criminals and potential terrorists, many will question the use by local authorities or private parking companies. 

"Parking companies and some local authorities seem to use ANPR as if car number plates were bar codes on groceries, used to harvest fines on an industrial scale without proper targeting or efforts to improve signage or layout.”

Mr Porter also called for number plates to be produced by just a handful of official suppliers like passports, to avoid illegal registrations on British roads.