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Home Security Cheat Sheet: Expert Tips and Advice to Keep Your Home Safe

Curious about how to best monitor and secure your home? Start here.

David Anders Senior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
Expertise Broadband providers | Home internet | Security Cameras
David Anders
6 min read
An image depicting a secure home.

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It's never been easier to get a home security system set up: Even for a beginner, DIY home security tools like home security camerasvideo doorbells and sensors are often simple to install and use. And major brands including Arlo, Amazon's Blink and Ring, Google, SimpliSafe, TP-Link, Wyze and others offer high-tech, reasonably priced home security devices to monitor and protect your home inside and out.

Even with a lower barrier to entry than in years past, you're still sure to encounter questions along the way of creating your ideal home security setup. This guide will help answer those questions and point you in the right direction to finding more in-depth information about how to keep your home secure, no matter where you live. (You can also check out our home internet cheat sheet and our solar panel cheat sheet.)

Is DIY or a professional home security system best?

There are pros and cons to each home security option. DIY home security setups are often more affordable, customizable and compatible with other smart home devices, but you'll likely have to do the installing, setup and constant monitoring yourself. A professional home security service, though it's typically a bit more expensive and may require a monthly subscription, can save you the trouble of installing and setting up your equipment, and often comes with the added benefit of 24/7 professional monitoring. Here are some resources to help you decide which system will work best for your home.

What's the best home security system?

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If you're going with a professional home security provider, you'll need to consider different package options that may include an assortment of devices including cameras, alarms, window sensors and motion detectors. (And if you prefer to build your own custom setup, virtually any home security device can be purchased separately.) We've got tested reviews on all of the major players in the security system space: 

What's the best video doorbell?

If you're looking for a video doorbell to monitor your front door (and deter porch pirates from stealing packages), there are tons of options available for under $200. They all function largely the same, so the best one for your home may come down to design, brand preferences and compatibility with any existing smart home devices or hubs you may have. You may also want to compare extra features like free cloud storage, customizable door chimes or color options when selecting the best smart doorbell for your home. Here are our reviews of some of the video doorbells you may be considering:

Arlo video doorbell

The Arlo video doorbell is one of several strong options on the market.

Chris Monroe/CNET

What's the best home security camera?

Like video doorbells, the best home security camera may come down to price and brand preferences, but you'll also want to consider where you'll be placing the camera and the desired field of view. Some cameras have the ability to pan and tilt and can track motion. Others are built to withstand the rain, wind and temperature extremes of being outdoors. If placing a camera outdoors, keep in mind that some cameras have a wired power source, so you may have to run an extension cord to plug it in. Here are our tested reviews of home security cameras for you to consider:

Where should I put a home security camera?

While you'll of course want to put your home security camera in a spot that gives you the view you want, there's actually more to it than that. Corners are often the best spot for indoor cameras as they'll give you a wider view of the room, but if your camera has 360-degree panning, a central location may be best. As for outdoor cameras, try to install it 10 feet or so above the ground and in a spot where it won't take consistent exposure to direct sunlight or rain. Also, avoid installing any camera in a position that may compromise your neighbor's privacy.

Nest cam kept beside a planter

Home security cameras can help you keep an eye on things while you're away.

Molly Price/CNET

How can I give the impression someone is home while I'm away? 

You can use smart plugs and lighting to make possible intruders think twice about whether or not your home is unoccupied. Schedule single light fixtures, such as a lamp, or a whole group of lights to turn on or off at various times while you're away. Plugs and lights won't watch your home the same as a camera or motion sensor will, but they could prevent an intruder from targeting your home in the first place. Also, they're a downright convenient way to turn the lights out at night.

Can I get a home security system without a monthly subscription?

Most DIY home security systems do not require a monthly subscription and come with live feed viewing, push notifications and alerts, local storage options and more at no extra cost. If you want advanced features, such as cloud storage, smart alerts or emergency calling, those will likely come at the cost of a subscription. Fortunately, most service subscriptions are just a couple bucks per month. Still, if you don't want one at all, the home security brands and products listed below, and many others not mentioned here, do not require a subscription.

Can my home security system get hacked?

It can. Unfortunately, basically anything connected to your home Wi-Fi can get hacked, including smart cameras, doorbells, plugs and lighting. Most major home security device manufacturers equip their products with end-to-end encryption and two-step authentication to prevent someone from being able to access your account and view the live feed or stored recordings, but some are better than others when it comes to privacy and security. If privacy is a concern, review the privacy and security terms prior to purchasing a home security device and always keep your Wi-Fi connection password protected and secured. Here are some more resources to help you keep your system safe: 

For more information about home security products and tips for creating and maintaining the best home security setup for your home, check out the CNET Home Security page