Best Home Security System Buying Guide

Due to the complex nature of do-it-yourself home security systems, Consumer Reports test engineers spent a great deal of time refining our testing methodology. We rate each system for security essentials, security add-ons, smart home add-ons, ease of use, ease of setup, and motion detection. Our ratings also note the flexibility of professional monitoring options (where an alarm center dispatcher responds to triggered alarms 24/7 all year round), if systems offer two-factor authentication to prevent access unauthorized, and more.

For safety essentials, our test engineers evaluate each system for the features and functionality that Consumer Reports believes each system should provide. This includes motion detectors, contact sensors for doors and windows, key fobs, keypads, remote sirens and smartphone apps.

Next, our testers evaluate the security add-ons. These are features that provide additional forms of protection, such as panic buttons and pendants, as well as security cameras that trigger the alarm with motion detection.

Since many security systems now double as smart home systems, we are also looking at their additional smart home features, namely their ability to integrate smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, water sensors and compatible temperature, thermostats and lighting.

Our usability test looks at how easily you can interact with systems through apps and keyboards. The assessment includes checking features such as the ability to adjust the sensitivity of motion sensors, as well as the ability to use geofencing (which can tell when you’re leaving and returning home using location data from your phone) to arm and disarm the system automatically. We also judge the difficulty of setting up each system.

Finally, for motion detection, our test engineers test the sensors with different forms of motion, such as crawling or walking slowly in front of them.

In addition to our benchmarks, the digital privacy and security testers at CR Digital laboratory evaluate systems for data privacy, data security, and resistance to two types of hacking vulnerabilities: jamming and replaying disarm signal attacks.

Jamming attacks involve a burglar using a laptop computer and a portable radio frequency (RF) transceiver to block signals from door/window or motion sensors and enter a home without setting off the alarm. (Note: Any wireless device can be blocked, but there are methods and technologies that, once implemented, can make it more difficult to remove.)

Playback disarm signal attacks involve a hacker capturing and recording the disarm signal from a key fob and later broadcasting it to disarm the security system, also using a laptop computer and a transmitter- RF receiver.

Our Digital Lab testers attempt these attacks on all systems to see if they are vulnerable and determine what protections they have in place. These attacks are quite rare, but they are possible, and some systems resist them better than others.

For our privacy and data security testing, we evaluate each brand’s public documentation, such as privacy policies and terms of service, to see what the manufacturer claims about how it treats your data. Testing includes inspecting the user interface and network traffic of each system and its associated smartphone app to ensure it uses encryption, adheres to manufacturer policies, and does not share your data with third parties irrelevant.

Our test engineers take the results of all of these individual tests and use them to calculate an overall score for each system that enters our labs.

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