Covert Listening Device



A covert listening device, more commonly known as a bug, is usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter with a microphone. The use of bugs, called bugging, is a common technique in espionage and, increasingly, in police investigations.

Most bugs use a radio transmitter, but there are many other options for carrying a signal: radio frequencies may be sent through the main wiring of a building and picked up outside; transmissions from a cordless phone can be monitored; and it is possible to pick up the data from poorly configured wireless computer networks or tune in to the radio emissions of a computer monitor.

Bugs come in all shapes and sizes. The original purpose of bugs was to relay sound, but today the miniaturisation of electronics has progressed so far that even commercially-available bugs designed to carry TV signals are usually the size of a cigarette packet. Professional bugs can fit into pens, calculators and other commonplace items. Some are only the size of small shirt buttons, although the power and operational life of the smallest bugs is very short.

The development of modern 'wireless' technology has presented new security concerns. To be 'wireless' a device must transmit information, either by radio waves or infrared light, and this potentially makes all the information sent via that link available to others. Radio waves are the easiest to intercept, but even infrared transmissions can be picked up through a window. Some wireless devices, such as wireless computer networks, do encrypt transmissions, but the standard forms of encryption are weak. Such devices, whether wireless keyboards or wireless telephones, should not be used in any environment where sensitive information is handled.

Most bugs emit radio waves. The standard counter-measure for bugs is therefore to 'sweep' for them with a receiver, looking for the radio emissions. Professional sweeping devices are very expensive. Low-tech sweeping devices are available through amateur electrical magazines, or they may be built from circuit designs on the Internet. But sweeping is not foolproof. Advanced bugs can be remotely operated to switch on and off, and some even rapidly switch frequencies according to a predetermined pattern in order to make location with sweepers more difficult. A bug that has run out of power may not show up during a sweep, which means that the sweeper will not be alerted to the surveillance.

In 2003 the FBI obtained a court order to surreptitiously listen in on conversations in a car, through the car's built-in emergency and tracking security system. A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals forbade the use of this technique because it involved deactivating the device's security features.

Some mobile phone (cell phone) microphones can be activated remotely, without any need for physical access, even when the phone is switched off. This is reportedly being used by law enforcement agencies and intelligence services to listen in on nearby conversations. A United States court ruled in 2006 that a similar technique, used by the FBI against a mobster after having obtained a court order, was permissible. While it is not possible to do this with every mobile phone as of 2006, some models are susceptible to being remotely reprogrammed with this capability without the knowledge of its owner. Purportedly, the person carrying the phone will not know that the phone is transmitting his conversation, but an observant owner may notice that the battery is being depleted sooner than expected.

Instead of transmitting a conversation it can also be recorded. Bugs that do not emit radio waves are very difficult to detect. There are a number of options for this:

Somebody can secretly record his conversation, or nearby conversation, carrying a microphone and recorder. The microphone and recorder can also be placed (mobile in an object or fixed), and later either the whole set or just the recording carrier is recovered.

* Pocket sized devices, either worn or carried in baggage, linked to a small microphone which is usually mounted on the surface to pick up the audio. Digital devices such as minidisc recorders or even mobiles or the latest palm-sized camcorders produce very high quality recordings and are conveniently small.

* Larger recording devices hidden in the room, for example above suspended ceilings. These are popular in workplaces for monitoring staff.

Listening from a distance without radio transmission:

* Ultra-directional microphones, or parabolic microphones. These are like the microphones seen on camcorders, or carried by sound technicians. They are constructed to receive signals only from one direction. The most high-tech directional microphones can eavesdrop on conversations from a hundred metres away or more. Microphone arrays can be used as well.

* Laser microphones. These are very expensive and highly technical to operate. A laser beam is bounced off a window, or off any object near to the conversation monitored. Any object which can resonate/vibrate (for example, a picture on a wall) will do so in response to the pressure waves created by noises present in a room. The electronics detect the minute difference in the distance travelled by the light to pick up this resonance and reproduce the sound causing it.

* Some equipment may exhibit microphonics and can therefore, unsuspected by the party listened to, act as a microphone.

* The adversary can use a trojan horse to acquire access to microphones connected to a computer.

Very sensitive equipment could be used to look for magnetic fields, or for the characteristic electrical 'noise' emitted by the computerised technology in digital tape recorders; however, if the place being monitored has many computers, photocopiers or other pieces of electrical equipment installed, it may become very difficult. Older analog equipment is even more difficult to detect.

Another method is using very sensitive infrared cameras to detect waste heat of a bug, or different thermal conductivity of a place where it is hidden after briefly chilling the surface of the object with eg. liquid nitrogen.

Examples of use:

* Embassies and other diplomatic posts are often the targets of bugging operations.
o The Embassy of Russia in Ottawa was bugged by the Canadian government and MI5 during its construction.
o A copy of the Great Seal of the United States, presented by the Soviet Union to the United States ambassador in Moscow in 1946, contained a bug (discovered in 1952). The bug was unusual in that it has no power source or transmitter, making it much harder to detect — it was a new type of device, called a Passive Resonant Cavity Bug. The cavity had a metallic diaphragm that moved in unison with sound waves from a conversation in the room. When illuminated by a microwave beam from a remote location, the cavity would return a frequency modulated signal.
o The United States Embassy in Moscow was bugged during its construction in the 1970s by Soviet agents posing as laborers. When discovered in the early 1980s, it was found that even the concrete columns were so riddled with bugs that the building eventually had to be torn down and replaced with a new one, built with U.S. materials and labor.[1] For a time, until the new building was completed, embassy workers had to communicate in conference rooms in writing, using children's "Mystic Writing Tablets".
o In 1990, it was reported that the embassy of the People's Republic of China in Canberra, Australia, had been bugged by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
* Colin Thatcher, a Canadian politician, was secretly recorded making statements which would later be used to convict him of his wife's murder. The recording device was concealed on a person who Thatcher had previously approached for help in the crime.
* Electronic bugging devices were found in March 2003 at offices used by French and German delegations at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. Devices were also discovered at offices used by other delegations. The discovery of the telephone tapping systems was first reported by Le Figaro newspaper, which blamed the US.
* The car of Thomas Hentschell, who was involved in the Melbourne gangland killings, was bugged by police.
* In 2001, the government of the People's Republic of China announced that it had discovered twenty-seven bugs in a Boeing 767 purchased as an official aircraft for President Jiang Zemin.
* In 2004, a bug was found in a meeting room at the United Nations offices in Geneva.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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