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Who's watching you?

Spy gadgets go mainstream

Jul. 17, 2008 - 12:07PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 17, 2008 - 12:07PM  |  
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Wireless spy cameras. Eavesdropping bugs. GPS tracking gadgets. All of these things may have once seemed far-fetched, or Special Forces-only sort of gear. But now they not only exist, they're also becoming more sophisticated and widely available.

Don't believe us? Do a Web search for "spy gear" or "spy gadgets." You'll be amazed at what you find.

Surveillance gadgets are the latest worry for executives and celebrities. Paparazzi have placed them in celebrities' hotel rooms and private planes. The gadgets are used for corporate espionage. So, many people are employing security services to safeguard their privacy.

Audio bugs

Audio bugs run from a simple baby monitor to sophisticated gadgets that can be hidden in walls or everyday objects.

You'll find pens that contain audio recorders. Power strips, calculators, watches and other items can conceal audio bugs. Other audio bugs, of course, can be connected to telephones.

There's even a cell phone that can be activated by a special code and used as a listening device. The phone doesn't ring or give notice that a call has been received. The spy eavesdrops on the phone's location. Cellular conversations also can be heard.

Other eavesdropping gadgets can penetrate walls. And the audio can be recorded.

Camera surveillance

Surveillance cameras also range from simple to elaborate. For example, "nanny cams" can be used as spy gear. These often resemble a stuffed animal.

Of course, a stuffed animal may raise suspicion. But what about a camera hidden in a fake smoke detector? Some are angled to give a view of an entire room.

Other cameras are the size of a dime and can be mounted discreetly in any number of places. Some manufacturers have modified common products to include hidden cameras. You can buy an iPod dock with a built-in camera. Some watches and belt buckles hide cameras. Often, these gadgets include a built-in DVR.

GPS tracking

Some businesses place GPS devices in company vehicles to track employees, but these devices can also be used for nefarious purposes. A GPS tracking gadget the size of a matchbook costs about $300 and is easily attached to a vehicle. A microphone can be included. The GPS data is transmitted via cellular service.

GPS loggers can also be installed in vehicles: GPS data isn't transmitted in real time, but the spy can retrieve the unit and review the location logs.

Computer espionage

Key-logging software can be installed on computers to monitor use, and hardware key loggers can also be attached to machines. These may resemble adapters for computer keyboards.

Wi-Fi users often fail to use encryption or use the old WEP, or wired equivalent privacy, encryption method, which is easily broken, allowing data from the wireless network to be intercepted.

Countermeasures

If all of this makes you uneasy, there are solutions. Executives and celebrities frequently hire companies to sweep offices, homes, hotel rooms and the like.

Recently, these services have seen a dramatic increase in customers. And often, spy gadgets are discovered.

Of course, these services come at a premium. Costs can be in the thousands of dollars.

Most of us won't face this kind of espionage. However, a jealous ex could use spy gadgets to stalk and spy on you.

Fortunately, there are less costly countermeasures. Inexpensive gadgets can detect radio signals given off by hidden cameras and recorders. Jammers can block GPS and cell phone signals.

As for computer surveillance, be wary of public wireless Internet hot spots. Make sure your security software is current. Look for suspicious computer attachments. And use encryption software to make intercepted messages unreadable.

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