People worry that Big Brother and Big Tech are invading their privacy. But a more immediate concern may be the guy next door or a shifty co-worker.
With surveillance gear cheaper than ever, security experts say checking your environment for cameras and microphones is not a crazy idea.– Kate Murphy
A growing array of so-called smart surveillance products have made it easy to secretly livestream or record what other people are saying or doing. Consumer spending on surveillance cameras in the United States will reach $4 billion in 2023, up from $2.1 billion in 2018, according to the technology market research firm Strategy Analytics. Unit sales of consumer surveillance devices are expected to more than double from last year.
The problem is all that gear is not necessarily being used to fight burglars or keep an eye on the dog while shes home alone. Tiny cameras have been found in places where they shouldn’t be, like Airbnb rentals, public bathrooms and gym locker rooms. So often, in fact, that security experts warn that we are in the throes of a “bugging epidemic.”
It is not paranoid to take precautions. A lot of spy gear is detectable if you know what to look for, said Charles Patterson, president of Exec Security, a firm in Tarrytown, New York, that specializes in corporate counterespionage.
Look for anything in your surroundings that appears disturbed, out of place or odd. Surveillance can be done by more than clunky nanny cams. It can be conducted with wireless microdevices, some as small as a postage stamp, that can be stashed in hard-to-spot places like inside clocks, light fixtures and air vents.
Be wary of anything with an inexplicable hole in it, like a hole drilled into a hair-dryer mount in a hotel bathroom. And scrutinize any wires trailing out of something thats not obviously electronic, like a desk, a bookcase or a plant.
“A basic physical inspection is something everybody can do,” Patterson said.
Another low-cost way to spot surveillance equipment is turning off the lights and using a flashlight to scan a room to see if the lens of a camera shines back at you. If you don’t have a flashlight, look around using the front-facing camera on your smartphone (the side you use for video chats), which may allow you to see the otherwise invisible infrared light that spy cameras emit.
A quick way to see if your phones camera detects infrared light is to look at your television remote through the viewfinder. If you can see a light flash on the tip of the remote when you press its buttons, youre good to go.
You can also download the Fing app on your smartphone, which when activated will show you all the devices connected to your Wi-Fi network. Anything that includes the name of a camera manufacturer — like Nest, Arlo or Wyze — or that the app flags as a possible camera is cause for concern. As is anything that you cant readily identify.
More sophisticated voyeurs may use spy gear that has its own hot spot for livestreaming. So its a good idea to check for other Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity that have a strong signal. But that wont help if the device is recording everything onto a tiny memory card for the peeper to retrieve later.
If you want to be more comprehensive in your sweep, several do-it-yourself countersurveillance tools are available. Among the easier-to-use devices are specially designed camera lens detectors. They cost $200 to $400 and emit a circle of superbright red LED strobe lights. When you scan the room looking through the viewfinder, even the tiniest camera lens will appear to blink back at you, giving away its location.
“I used to sell mostly cameras, but in the last few years its more detection devices,” said Jill Johnston, chief executive of KJB Security Products in Nashville, Tennessee. “There are just a lot more things to spy on you with. Its really changing our business model, to be honest.”
Also popular are radio frequency, or RF, detectors that can pick up signals emitted by surveillance devices. While you can get them for as little as $40, the better models start at $300 and can cost as much as $8,000, depending on their ability to analyze and differentiate signals.
Like old-fashioned metal detectors, RF detectors often produce a beep or tone that gets louder the closer you get to a transmitting radio signal. The more expensive versions have digital displays that detail the various radio frequencies detected and where they may be coming from.
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Most environments today are filled with radio signals. Unless you get the most expensive gear and the associated training offered by the manufacturer, youre going to have a hard time knowing whether your place is bugged or youre picking up a signal from your neighbors Wi-Fi or your wireless computer mouse or Bluetooth speaker. To reduce the number of false positives, security experts recommend first turning off or unplugging all your devices before you start your scan.
Browsing Amazon and other online stores like Brickhouse Security and Spygadgets.com can also help. Youll see that cameras and microphones dont always look like cameras and microphones. They can look like smoke detectors, water bottles, air fresheners, cellphone chargers, pens, key chains, coffee makers, space heaters, birdhouses and plush toys.
Of course, you can always get professional help. But a professional sweep of a home or an office can range from $1,500 to more than $10,000, depending on the size of the space, the number of nooks and crannies, and the amount of clutter.
USA Bug Sweeps, a surveillance detection firm in Freehold, New Jersey, specializes in residential bug detection and does as many as three sweeps a day versus maybe one or two a week three years ago. Jimmie Mesis, the companys chief executive, attributes the surge to recent news reports about cameras being hidden in homes by creepy landlords or handymen.
“For every one camera that’s been found, there have probably been a hundred cameras that haven’t been found,” Mesis said.
A Short List of the Surveillance States Toys
All the Insane Surveillance Tools the Government (Maybe) Has— Courtney Linder
Including a tombstone camera.
If you’re ever assembling a surveillance state, you should probably avoid creating a little black book of all of those secrets, considering one of the U.S. government’s own security vendors has a “Black Book” catalog of secret surveillance tools that Vice recently discovered as part of a public records request.
That firm, called Special Services Group, has a pretty bare website. However, it does make clear its security offerings aren’t for everyday people, but instead reserved for law enforcement, military, and government agencies around the globe.
1. Tombstone Cams
If the dead have any secrets, they better keep them underground. The leaked Black Book suggests the government could have purchased actual cameras installed on gravestones, which is equal parts horrifying and fascinating. Just how many top-secret conversations really go down in cemeteries? Apparently, more than we think.
Marketed as, yes, “Tombstone Cam,” Special Services Group says the product includes video, edge recording, optional audio, and full power, all built in. The battery lasts about two days, while the whole unit is completely portable and can be moved from location to location—assuming you’re, well, hunting a criminal that frequently meets in cemeteries.
2. Shop-Vac DVR Recording System
In more industrial settings, this Shop-Vac recording system can conveniently record audio and video through a high-definition camera. For short deployments, a battery is included. For longer jobs, an AC/DC power connecters can be used. The crazy thing is that this camera has 20x optical zoom and impressive low-light functionality. The Shop-Vac comes with a key fob for remote resets and one terabyte of on-board storage on the internal DVR.
3. Alarm Clock Cam and Audio Transmitter
Presumably, this guy is used for more intimate settings. The “FLY Alarm Clock Camera and Audio Transmitter” is a revamped Memorex clock radio that records video and audio and transmits the encrypted files to a nearby secure WiFi connection. The covert alarm clock was specially designed for vice operations, drug purchases, covert home and office deployments, and hotel room stings. Up to 10 investigators are able to watch and listen to the live audio and video through the WiFi network, plus everything that’s recorded is saved to an on-board memory card.
4. Carseat Cams
Known as the “IP Baby Seat Drop Kit,” this children’s carseat is equipped with a secret HD camera with zoom. According to the Black Book, it has front-, rear-, and side-viewing angles since the concealed camera has 360-degree rotation capabilities. One of the apparent selling points is “the system is fully portable,” so different drop cars can be used in different missions. Bet you’ll never look at a carseat the same way again.
5. Streetlight Cameras
Considering the image of a camera on a pole is pretty much the universal symbol of surveillance, it’s not a huge shock that security vendors like Special Services Group offer a full line of pole and streetlight cameras. That includes not only micro-sized cameras with on-board recording capability, but also housings for cable boots that hang mid-line if you want to install a camera there, rather than on the pole itself.
6. Rock and Tree Concealments
These weather-proof silicone rubber rocks and trees conceal cameras for surveillance in pretty much any outdoor space. While the units sort of look like they belong on a putt-putt course, they’re convincing enough that you might not notice them, which is the whole point.
7. In-Mouth Mic Set
In all those spy movies, the thing that every novice seems to worry about is that mess of wires under their shirt to secretly record conversations (or in their ear). This is an in-mouth communication system that inconspicuously records and transmits conversations in real time with Bluetooth connectivity.
8. Cell Phone Surveillance App
This isn’t altogether surprising, but yes, you could be tracked through an app on your phone—and not just your GPS location, but everything that you do on that device, too. The whole thing covertly runs in the background from a black screen, so cell phone users are none the wiser. Special Services Group says its cell phone surveillance app can do any of the following:
* Record audio and video in protected storage for download.
* Set up to 10 geo-fences with email and text alert systems.
* Record incoming and outgoing calls.
9. Through-the-Wall Listening Device
Forget pressing your ear to the wall—Special Services Group offers a through-the-wall listening device called “The Wand II.” With the single push of a button, it provides “exceptional audio performance” while reducing ambient noise.
“Perhaps its time to dumb down our “smart” life. We are being tracked, listened to, data mined, recorded, and so much more without our real knowing or understanding. When are we going to make a stand for our right to privacy? That’s Tremendo Bullship!”― Rosangel Perez
Busted! Mythbusters Not Allowed to Talk About RFID Chips
As Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, stated himself in a show that was to air in 2013:
“We were going to do RFID and on several levels, you know, how hackable, how reliable, how trackable, etc.”
But this idea was met with resistance as the show’s producers began looking into the technology and speaking with companies involved in RFID use and production. Adam stated at The Last Hope Conference that Texas Instruments and the chief legal advisor of almost all major credit card companies was completely opposed to allowing Mythbusters and Discovery do the show. As you will see in the video below, Adam feels rather taken aback by the strength of the alleged decision from TI and others involved.
Where the story gets even more interesting is when Adam decided to retract the statements he initially gave at The Last Hope Conference.
There’s been a lot of talk about this RFID thing, and I have to admit that I got some of my facts wrong, as I wasn’t on that story, and as I said on the video, I wasn’t actually in on the call.”
Texas Instruments’ account of their call with Grant and our producer is factually correct. If I went into the detail of exactly why this story didn’t get filmed, it’s so bizarre and convoluted that no one would believe me, but suffice to say…the decision not to continue on with the RFID story was made by our production company, Beyond Productions, and had nothing to do with Discovery, or their ad sales department.
Of what we know about the surveillance State today, it’s obvious companies using these technologies don’t want you to know how it’s being used & mainstream media is helping to keep the details from you. Which brings us to much more sinister applications: A Voice Only You Can Hear: DARPA’s Sonic Projector as well as the announcement recently made by Elon Musk and his aspirations for Neaurolink and the coming social credit system.
- A paranoid guide to fighting the ‘bugging epidemic’
- All the Insane Surveillance Tools the Government (Maybe) Has
- Busted! Mythbusters Not Allowed to Talk About RFID Chips
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