Am I at risk of being ‘bugged’ ?

The information contained here is not a comprehensive guide to counter surveillance, as this would be well beyond the scope of most none professionals. To put it simply, if a surveillance device has been planted by the security services i.e.: MI5 the chances of the untrained person detecting it would be very slim. The term untrained person includes a large proportion of private investigators, who claim to be experts in this field.

Am I at Risk from Being Bugged

A quick answer to this is YES. 

The question is who would want to or stand to gain from going to the trouble and expense of doing it.

  • Political & public figures.
  • People engaged in fringe & extremist groups.
  • Those cheating on their partner.
  • Persons engaged in research & development especially in the IT field.
  • Higher management personnel in competitive companies.
  • High net worth individuals and their families
  • The list is endless….

Do you know

A simple modification to your telephone handset can leave the microphone connected all the time allowing anyone to listen in to all conversations in the room.

A telephone transmitter or recorder which transmits or records all of your telephone conversations may be installed in the phone, the socket or junction box, anywhere on the line, as far back or even inside the exchange.

A bug may be installed without entering your premises.

A wall contact microphone can pick up conversations through up to 30 cm of concrete.

A socket or light switch may be replaced with an identical unit that contains a built-in transmitter or SD card recorder, powered by the mains.

Speech in a room causes a small vibration on the window, which can be detected and converted to audio, by a laser beam, from some distance away.

A computer screen radiates a signal (try putting a radio at the side of it), this radiation leaks out of windows and can be received by a special receiver which could then show you whatever the screen was displaying.

Software is available for phones using the Android operating system that record all room and telephone conversations, the recordings are then sent by the phones internet connection to a server where the person who has installed it can listen to the recordings on their PC. Copies of text messages mails and many other communications are also sent to the server.

Some Indications That You May Be a Victim Of Bugging

  • Confidential information seems to be getting out to competitors.
  • Competitors seem to be just one step ahead all the time.
  • Your home or premises have been broken into and very little or nothing was taken.
  • Sockets or switches show signs of being moved slightly, i.e.: the wallpaper may be disturbed.
  • Suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles parked near to your premises, that appear to be empty.
  • You hear unusual sounds (crackling, clicks, volume changes) on your telephone handset.
  • Indications that your handset may have been exchanged, i.e.: numbers in memory may be lost.
  • Contractors or unknown companies turn up to carry out work when they have not been called.
  • Furniture or items appear to have been disturbed.
  • Interference on your radio or television.
  • An odd texture on small parts of wall, floor or skirting boards, this may indicate the use of conductive paint from a hidden microphone.
  • Unexplained brick or plaster dust on floor, or a small discoloration showing on the wall, this may indicate drilling from the other side of the wall or plaster, paper being lifted to plant a microphone.

If you suspect you are a victim of bugging, the first thing to decide is, do you want to alert the opposition that you suspect this, as sometimes, once you are aware of it you can use the fact to your advantage by a campaign of misinformation. Other things to take into consideration are that once the electronic spy is alerted they may take steps to make detection more difficult. i.e.: temporary removal etc.

The most important part of any check is the visual inspection; when carried out correctly can take many hours, as each room has to be checked inch by inch. Also all socket outlets, light switches, vent grills are to be removed. 

Other items which are commercially available are;

  • fire and intruder alarm units 
  • TV Remote control handsets
  • Clocks
  • Air fresheners
  • Pens, Water Bottles and take out coffee cups to name but a few

When inspecting the outside of the premises be on the lookout for any newly replaced mortar or any signs of drilling etc. the same goes for inside, and a careful examination of plaster work and skirting boards is required, as often a slight discoloration is caused when a microphone is placed just below the surface or a fine layer of conductive paint may have been used to carry power/signals to a hidden device.

The first and foremost thing to check is the telephone system. Probably the easiest and safest way to deal with the handset is to replace it with a new one unless you have the know-how to test it yourself. The socket & junction boxes are best checked by acquiring identical units and comparing the circuits visually. Companies such as BT will carry out a line check for free if you report it as a faulty line (remember to make any calls that may alert the person eavesdropping from another phone, away from the premises), this line test shows up many of the line abnormalities caused by parasitic & line activated telephone transmitters/recorders. A line voltage check with the handset off the hook will often show up series connected devices. Apart from a visual inspection of the line as far back as possible and a check for RF transmissions (see below) with the handset on & off the hook, there is little more the individual can do without seeking professional assistance.

Equipment

There are many devices available, costing thousands of pounds but without expert knowledge, the results can often be worthless and a good near range RF detector with a range up to at least 5 GHZ should suffice for the DIY bug hunter.

The ideal type is the ones that display signal strength and the frequency. Another valuable piece of equipment can be a scanner as when a RF signal is detected the scanner can be locked onto it and you can verify what the transmission is and if you are in the same area as a room bug you will get a loud feedback. Start the sweep on a room by room basis checking with electrical items switched on and then off. Quite often you will come across RF transmissions that are perfectly innocent such as wireless alarm systems and common-sense and painstaking elimination have to be used.

The presence of a transmitter is usually shown by a steady frequency with the signal strength rising as you get closer to the source, what can cause difficulty and confusion is the fact that many RF transmitters emit signals on several frequencies at close range, so be warned and don’t be convinced you have several bugs in one room. When sweeping pay particular attention to vent grills, electrical outlets, switches, light fittings etc. and make sure lights, ceiling cavities, wall surfaces and the external areas of the property are checked. Remember that small battery-powered transmitters can be concealed in almost anything.

The most common form of transmitter now in use utilises the GSM mobile phone network enabling the listener to simply call into the surveillance device from anywhere in the world.

Types of Bugs

There are many types of audio bugs (hard wire, radio frequency, optical and acoustic). Sometimes a combination of these is used to form a hybrid bug.

These can take the form of a device sending sound to a different location via different forms of transmission or a static recording device which is later retrieved.

‘Acoustic’ bugging is the direct listening without any Rf or hardwire transmission system. This type of device could be a stethoscope, wall contact microphones or even a glass on the wall, shotgun microphone or parabolic reflector. Another variation of this is the sound picked up is converted to a frequency outside the human hearing range in the ultrasonic spectrum then amplified. This can be listened to with a suitable ultrasonic listening device from a distance away.

Recorders

This form of bugging is simply the placing of a recording device in a location for later retrieval to make audio recordings, these devices often use a Micro SD card as a recording medium and can record up to 500 hours of conversation on a single card.

GSM Bugs

Perhaps the most recent and powerful addition to the spies arsenal is the GSM bug or sometimes known as the infinity bug. These devices use the GSM mobile telephone system to transmit the conversation from the target area to any telephone in the world. These devices can be built into a wide variety of everyday items. Yet another variation of this is the spy phone when software is loaded onto a target phone turning it into a bugging device.

Radio Frequency Transmitters

Probably the most commonly and widely used in the past of all the devices is the RF transmitter bug. At the lower end of the scale you will find the free oscillating VHF transmitter, transmitting on the commercial FM band 88-108 MHZ or the VHF Air band 108-140MHZ. These devices are inexpensive easy to use and require no specialised receiving equipment. Due to their low-cost, there is very little incentive to recover these once planted. This is the type of bug most often used by private investigators and individuals, and the chance of finding the person who plants it, is low. It was a very similar bug to this which was used in Watergate. Moving further up the scale and very similar in operation is the crystal controlled UHF or VHF transmitter. These devices tend to operate higher up the frequency band than the free oscillating transmitter and are tuned to a fixed frequency. These require a dedicated receiver, or if you prefer a narrow band scanner may be used, the advantages are greater stability and less chance of casual interception of the signal.

Hardwire Bugs

Often referred to as a wiretap, this form of surveillance is the most reliable and gives high quality results. The wiretap can be installed onto existing wiring i.e.: telephone or alarm systems. If you are reading this document on the web then you have got the perfect hard wire bug in your premises i.e.: ‘the telephone’. Many think that telephones are only a security risk when being used but a simple modification to the handset needing only a small capacitor can leave the microphone connected, even when the phone is not in use, enabling the operation to connect a lead with an amplifier and headphones to the line and listen in high quality audio to all activity in the room (BEWARE). The hardwire bug in its simplest form is a microphone (this may be as small as 6mm in diameter) a pair of thin wires or a track of conductive paint leading back to a listening post and connected to a high gain amplifier or recording device. The only drawback to this system is the concealment of the wires and the fact that if they are discovered they can be tracked back to the listening post. Often hardwire bugs are used from outside the premises, either by placing a miniature microphone into an air vent, or any other opening or by just locating the microphone near an opening, as often all the conversation in the room can be overheard if you use a quality audio booster. Other variations of the wiretap are transmitters or recorders being attached to the wiring enabling the listening post to be outside the area, allowing the operator to just recover the recordings.

Optical devices

These normally convert audio signals into transmitted light pulses and this is converted back to audio signals when received. The main use for this system is the laser bounce principle, which relies on the propagation of sound waves, causing vibrations on objects such as windows. The laser beam is projected onto these, and is modulated by the small vibrations which, when received, can be converted back to audio signals by a similar principal to a CD player. These systems are very expensive, awkward to use and easily detected.

Types of Video Surveillance

With evolving technology the use of video surveillance has become increasingly more popular. From a simple miniature camera to a complex microwave transmission systems.

Cameras with integral recorders.

From a covert surveillance point of view these are by far the most popular product. These units are self-contained cameras video/audio recorders that are either battery or mains powered. They can be found in alarm clocks, table lamps air fresheners and dozens of other everyday items. The vast majority of these use a Micro SD card as a recording medium which can give up to 64 hours of recording time, when this is triggered by motion activation it can equate to weeks of operation.

Wireless cameras

This type of camera contains a video audio transmission system that sends the transmitted video and audio via a radio link to a receiver that can be connected to a monitor or recorder or a combination of both. The general range of this type of device is around 100 metres line of sight.

Wired Cameras

This type of camera is more suitable for long-term surveillance consisting of a camera either covert or overt wired back to a recording device/ monitor normally a hard drive video recorder. The installation of these is more time-consuming and involved but once fitted they can be forgot about until such a time as you wish to view the recordings which can be months old depending on the hard drive size. The majority of these hard drive recorders can be connected to the internet allowing you to view the cameras in real-time as well as review the recordings from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, these can be accessed from a PC, laptop or a smart phone.

WiFi IP Cameras

This type of camera connects to a nearby Wi-Fi router using Wi\fi, this type of camera is really limited to installation on your own premises as you need access to the router for configuration purposes. Once set up the camera should be accessible from any internet connected PC or smart phone.

3G Cameras

These 3G cameras are better suited to short-term surveillance as you are making a video call from your mobile phone directly to the unit. A 3G camera unit hidden inside an object can send covert video and audio to you on a 3g phone anywhere in the world. 3G, or ‘3rd Generation’ technology makes mobile surveillance possible using your own mobile phone handset. You can simply make a video call into the 3G security cameras from your mobile phone a view and control the camera.


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