20 Mar 2015

Editor Introduction

“Buyer beware” is always good advice in the security marketplace – or in life for that matter. But the age-old warning is more timely than ever in our age of global commerce and given our fragmented market with thousands of products manufactured all over the world. Complicating the picture: our market is also inching toward commodization and facing downward pricing that shrinks margins for manufacturers. So the question becomes: When is an item merely a good deal or somehow “too good to be true?” Counterfeit products are flooding a wide range of markets, so it seems unlikely the security market would be immune. So we asked our panelists this week: How is counterfeiting of security equipment a problem for the market, and how should it be prevented?

Counterfeiting is always an issue on a commercial level, but it particularly becomes a serious issue when safety equipment is compromised. Genuine equipment rightly has to pass many different testing and regulatory benchmarks to be approved for sale. The price of these items will fairly represent the investment in ensuring the products are safe and reliable. Unfortunately, counterfeit goods cannot guarantee this. Even if they are direct copies, there is no way to prove the quality. At best, these unauthorized copies can unfairly damage the reputation of the manufacturer; at worst, they can have tragic consequences. Everyone in the security industry should be aware and alert to counterfeiting. Manufacturers need to be aware of any illegal operations involving copies of their products, but similarly specifiers and installers need to be aware, too, as their reputations are equally at stake. End users need to be savvy about what they buy.

Like many organizations, ONVIF takes the protection of our trademarks and brand very seriously, and we recognize that the credibility of the ONVIF brand is crucial to the success of the standard and the organization going forward. Other entities in the market share this philosophy in varying degrees, of course, but as a whole the security industry seems relatively sheltered from issues such as counterfeit products or unauthorized resellers. That said, every industry has its fair share of “false claims” being made, whether it’s inflated technical specifications on a product data sheet or false compatibility claims between products. ONVIF’s introduction last year of a new membership level, the Observer Member, allows the specifier and end user communities to be able to independently verify a product’s conformance, much like their ability to field test the true resolution of a camera in low light, for example.

First of all, I think it's important that end users and those investing in technology know where a product is made and whether or not the manufacturer truly manufactured it. It could be that someone else is re-branding another manufacturer's product. That's where doing your homework comes into play. Second of all, if a product is so inexpensive that it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It could be made with counterfeited or inferior parts, which may, in the long run, diminish ROI since the initial investment, combined with subsequent repairs or replacement, can cut into the total cost of the system. Ultimately, it's important to err on the side of caution when dealing with manufacturers that you may be unfamiliar with, foreign manufacturers and others that might be selling a "too good to be true" product.

With the current availability of technology that will print logos convincingly and mold or cast casings and housings to a high standard, even conscientious distributors and retailers can be deceived. Fake PIR-based motion detectors that do not perform satisfactorily in the field under real-life conditions are currently a bane for the industry, and the plethora of manufacturers doesn’t help. The common sense advice is simple: buy a reputable brand from an established distribution channel. A familiar (and exasperating) problem is a hasty purchase of a single unit by a facilities manager under time pressure. In an unwise moment and working to a deadline, it can be an easy mistake to buy a single unit (that turns out to be counterfeit) from the nearest supplier. Put the fake device on your system, and its security flaws may expose your entire network to the outside world.

J. Matthew Ladd The Protection Bureau

Most legitimate integrators deal directly with manufacturers or reputable distributors and, because of this, there should not be any issues relating to counterfeit security equipment. I have not come across this issue with my business.

Editor Summary

Heeding our panelists’ advice to stick with familiar manufacturers and mainstream distributors provides a useful – but not fool-proof – approach to avoiding counterfeit security products. As one panelist points out, technology advances are working against us, making it harder than ever to distinguish the real from the counterfeit. Unlike product categories like fashion accessories or entertainment DVDs, however, use of counterfeit products in the security market could have life-or-death consequences. That’s reason enough to take the possibility seriously and to remain vigilant.