Ring Doorbells are a great idea: just install them, then they will send any video to the cloud via simple WiFi. Right? Well, this is true – but it’s also true that wireless signals can be unreliable. And they can be especially unreliable when a simple WiFi jammer is used!
WiFi jammers can cost less than $10 and they can be used to stop your Ring Doorbell communicating wirelessly to your internet router, stopping any video capture (potentially of burglars) from being sent to Ring for you to view.
Let’s give into this topic in more detail, by firstly looking at how jammers work.
What is a Wireless Jammer?
Wireless (also called WiFi) is a great invention, offering the ability to easily access the internet without a physical Ethernet connection. This is used by phones and laptops when out and about, and also by dozens of devices around the home.
However WiFi – which is just radio waves either at 2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz frequencies – relies on a fairly clear path between the device (such as a phone or smart home device) and the receiver (such as an internet router). In normal circumstances, walls and buildings will reduce the signal strength, but you should still be able to use WiFi over 150-300 feet.
But if there’s suddenly a lot of ‘noise’ in a local area, there is no longer a clear path. Now it’s worth clarifying that I mean a lot of radio noise. Since WiFi is just radio waves, if there’s suddenly loads of extra ‘traffic’ on the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands, there will be no way for the wireless signal to effectively get from the device to the receiver.
And that’s exactly what a wireless jamming device is. They basically ‘shout’ loads of (radio) noise out, just like if you stood behind a radio commentator and shouted into their microphone, no-one listening at home would be able to understand anything. A detailed study in January 2021 by Michigan State University found that Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Bluetooth and cellular data can all be jammed fairly easily with various jamming attacks:
Despite the significant advancement of wireless communication and networking technologies in the past decades, realworld wireless communication systems (e.g., Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and GPS) are still vulnerable to malicious jamming attacks.January 2021, Michigan State University
It is worth noting that Wi-Fi jamming attacks are highly illegal and regularly investigated by the FCC, but they are sometimes used by organized crime to help breaking into properties by blocking wireless signals (such as from ‘smart’ WiFi cameras) so their theft won’t be recorded.
As a result, I wanted to write this article to discuss WiFi jammers more. I obviously won’t be talking about specific jamming devices or how you can use/buy them – this article is purely to help you understand the risks and how to avoid them so that your Ring Doorbell install (which is as much as security device as a convenience device) isn’t useless when you most need it.
How Ring Doorbells work
There are currently nine Ring Doorbell models (prices quoted at their full price, but they’re often on sale):
|Ring Doorbell 1||2.4 Ghz WiFi||<$100|
|Ring Doorbell 2||2.4 Ghz WiFi||$150-$200|
|Ring Doorbell Wired||2.4 Ghz WiFi||$60|
|Ring Doorbell Pro||2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz WiFi||$170|
|Ring Doorbell Pro 2||2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz WiFi||$250|
|Ring Doorbell Elite||Ethernet||$350|
|Ring Doorbell 3||2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz WiFi||$179|
|Ring Doorbell 3 Plus||2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz WiFi||$199|
|Ring Doorbell 4||2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz WiFi||$199|
As you can see from the table, all but the relatively expensive ‘Elite’ model (which is Power over Ethernet) use wireless.
This means that the Ring Doorbell captures video when someone walks to your door (motion activated) or clicks your doorbell, and then this video footage is sent over WiFi to your internet router.
From here, the video footage is sent to Ring’s servers ‘in the cloud’. They will then notify you via your mobile phone and/or your Echo devices, and you can answer straight away (e.g. if someone is at the door) or view the footage later (if it’s just some recorded motion footage which has piqued your interest).
Ring doorbells do not have any local storage (unless you have the Alarm Pro and the Ring Protect Pro plan), meaning that all recorded video must be sent straight to Ring’s servers – otherwise it will simply be lost.
Can you guess what the potential problem is yet..?
How WiFi Jammers Can Block Ring Doorbells
The key point in the above section is that Ring doorbells do not have local storage, meaning that the video capture must be sent wirelessly onto Ring’s servers as soon as it is captured.
If there’s any interruption to this process (such as someone using a wireless jammer!), that video footage is lost:
It is a bit like a WhatsApp video call – if you try having a video call with someone and your internet connection isn’t working well, the video call will fail.
This is therefore a clear design flaw with any security system (or security doorbell) which only uses wireless, as c|net agree.
Whilst 41% of burglaries are unplanned, at least 12% are definitely planned whilst 37% are mixed (maybe thought about a little). This means that there’s probably a decent chunk of burglars in your state who have the foresight to go out and buy a wireless jammer.
Therefore if you have a WiFi-only smart doorbell and no other security device at home, a burglar who plans ahead could easily block your doorbell from recording video and then break in – without any way of you being able to identify the burglar.
How to Guard Your Ring Doorbell Against Jammers
Option #1: Have a Non-Wireless Device
As you can guess, running an all-wireless household security system has a fundamental – and scary – flaw: the wireless signal can be jammed. Heck, it also could just drop because WiFi isn’t the most reliable in general.
The Ring Doorbell Elite uses Power over Ethernet for both its power and internet connectivity needs, and hence it’s super reliable. It’s also immune to wireless jamming. Yes it’s very expensive (2-3x the price of the Ring Pro), but if your Ring Doorbell is your number 1 security device at home, you might want to consider the Elite if your budget allows.
Assuming this isn’t an option for you, when companies and the military plan out their security systems, they will always have redundancy in mind when things go wrong:
- Have backups: no, not in the “I copied my presentation to a USB stick” kind of way. A backup device – meaning that if a primary security device fails, there’s another security device available.
- Have fallbacks: a pro-grade device which mainly uses WiFi could have Bluetooth, if the WiFi ever failed.
How’s this helpful in our case? Well obviously a Ring Doorbell only supports one form of internet connection (either wireless, or ethernet) so ‘having a fallback’ is not really an option.
But having a backup device is an option. You should ideally have a separate, hardwired smart/CCTV camera at home to complement your Ring doorbell:
Then if a burglar jams your Ring doorbell, they will still be recorded – and hopefully caught – due to your CCTV camera.
Of course, this other camera should be professional grade and thus should have an Ethernet (not WiFi) connection – otherwise this could be jammed as well.
The benefit of this approach is that an Ethernet-supporting camera can cost $100-150, meaning that such a camera plus a Ring Doorbell 1/2 will end up costing less than a single Ring Doorbell Elite.
Option #2: Enable 802.11w Protected Management Frames
If your internet router supports 802.11w, you should be able to enable ‘Protected Management Frames’ in your router. This protection can help prevent a wireless device from dropping from your network.
Therefore enabling this protection might help prevent some WiFi jammers. More expensive jamming devices will still (unfortunately) work, but ones that rely on disassociation attacks will no longer succeed in blocking your Ring doorbell footage from being sent to Ring’s servers.
Option #3: Use Ring Local Storage (Ring Edge)
As hinted at earlier, Ring does now sort of offer local storage – i.e. the ability to store recordings on a local SD card, instead of on the Ring Cloud. This is possible for Ring Alarm Pro owners, who also pay the $20/month Ring Protect Pro subscription fee.
You can then enable local storage (which they call Ring Edge) for selected devices within your Ring app. This means that if your internet goes down (or was jammed), you might still have recordings.
I say ‘might’ because you need to think of your network setup. If all your Ring doorbells/cameras still connect to your Ring Alarm Pro box via Wi-Fi, a jamming attack will still stop the recordings from being made.
That’s why I’m not really a fan of using Ring Edge as a ‘defence’ against jamming attacks: it gives a sense of false security, in my opinion.
Option #4: Monitor Your Network With Fingbox or Monitor-IO
Fingbox is an awesome home network monitoring tool that can enhance your network’s security in general, along with monitoring devices which drop off the network. Whilst it can’t block WiFi jamming, it can recognize these attempts and warn you accordingly.
Monitor-IO is another alternative, which offers similar detection and notification features across your Wi-Fi network.
These tools can therefore be a useful tool in your home security arsenal, because if you see that your Ring doorbell has been jammed, you can potentially look outside for any suspicious people or vehicles that might be the culprit.
WiFi jamming is highly illegal and can be reported to the FCC, so a Fingbox or Monitor-IO report of jamming – along with other security footage of any potential culprits – can be key in the fight to protect your home’s security.
Plus ‘knowledge is power’: if your home devices are jammed (or potentially jammed) fairly frequently, knowing this can be crucial and spur you into switching over to more Ethernet-powered security systems.
Otherwise you might just see that your Ring doorbell got disconnected overnight and not think anything more of it – something which won’t protect you if/when your house is targeted by a well-prepared burglar.