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Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping choice du jour, a WiFi-connected Dropcam (now Nest) camera with microphone indicated by the arrow

Eavesdropping choice du jour, a WiFi-connected Dropcam (now Nest) camera with microphone indicated by the arrow

The availability of commercial products such as baby monitors, cordless phones, wireless microphones and TV cameras has expanded the selection of eavesdropping hardware. It is no longer necessary for an eavesdropper to have advanced technical skills.  Stalkers, ex friends, jealous roommates and jerks are the eavesdroppers.  Debugging is hard.

This photo shows the audio wiring inside a commercial camera that sells for $200. The microphone is wired into the system for always-on eavesdropping. In many states, recording or intercepting private conversations is illegal without the consent of all parties. Our advice: don’t do it.

20 years ago the principal bugging threats were wired phones.  They could be altered to allow listening while the phone was hung up.  Phone wires provided a great way for eavesdroppers to get their signals out.  Now wired phones don’t even connect directly to the phone company the go to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) boxes which connect to networks.

Phones are still an issue today, however.  The hidden cellphone in the boardroom which can be turned on remotely is the threat du jour.

Our debugging work employs about $100K worth of equipment. This allows us to detect devices of this sort using various sensors.  Cheap “bug-detectors” really don’t do much good.   They are likely to indicate a problem where there is nothing and to alarm when a real bug is present.   They are a bad investment.

One caution: Most of the Internet search hits from a search on “Seattle eavesdropping detection” give fake results.  They are out of town companies that want to look like locals.  We know about these guys because they call us to do work that they have sold to the client for twice what we cost.  One company based in Florida is run by a felon.  He brags about having contacts with law enforcement (as felons do, of course).