Issues with Listening Devices – aka `bugs’

Technical Surveillance is the security industry term for that laypeople would normally call a `bug’ – essentially a listening device that can be placed inside an office, vehicle, room etc. The Technical Surveillance device can then record conversations or else capture images of the people inside the office or room. Technical Surveillance device can have the ability to record the sound or vision in situ, whilst others can broadcast the data via cable or wireless to a separate recording device.

Though so much personal and corporate data is now stored digitally on computers and mobile phones [which may fall prey to cyber hackers], conversations between executives or activity which is sensitive are still vulnerable to be compromised by an outside party and utilised for corporate espionage, fraud / theft, extortion or even public humiliation of an individual.

With the internet offering a free and nearly anonymous broadcast system; sensitive conversations or images belonging to an organisation can be disseminated across the globe and be impossible to remove or take down. An example would be images of a female changing room at a store or business – outraging the modesty of the victim and tarnishing the reputation of the company.

Most people generally view Technical Surveillance as the stuff of spy movies or a John Grisham book, where the agent is dressed in black and installs a listening device under the desk or a video camera in a picture frame. Not only does this make the movie more exciting, it does demonstrate that placing a Technical Surveillance can be fairly easy.

Another misapprehension is that Technical Surveillance is too expensive or complex to be considered by a competitor to make the threat real. Obtaining covert listening devices has never been easier – a simple search on Google or eBay will display devices that are under $100 and which can be deployed by an amateur. With the advent of legitimate electronic devices such as phone chargers, power packs etc being placed in office locations by employees, it is easy to overlook that an outsider has placed a voice-activated listening device inside the room.

There are many reasons why a Technical Surveillance listening device might be used against a company or other entity. The most common objective is with obtaining confidential, proprietary and dynamic information for competitive advantage. Such information provides insights into likely company performance, new products or services and marketing strategies – all hugely useful to a competitor.

Mergers and acquisition information, financial details and market expansion plans are also strongly desired by outsiders. Board meetings, discussions in executive offices and finance department information are often targeted using Technical Surveillance devices.

An unsavoury development of the use of these devices is that covert video cameras have been placed by perverts in common areas such as washrooms, showers or changing rooms to video people in a state of undress. Though the intent is not espionage, the effects on the victim and organisation are devastating. Some shopping malls and major retailers have taken steps to make regular checks for any covert video cameras and report to Police any suspect devices.

South Korea has experienced a serious issue whereby hidden cameras have been secreted in locations including public bathrooms, swimming pools, changing rooms etc to record offensive images of women. These images are later uploaded to internet websites for voyeurs to watch. The problem has gotten so bad that Seoul city government has created a team of fifty marshals to inspect bathrooms, changing rooms etc around the city with equipment to spot any concealed cameras.

Recent developments in the availability of cheap, small, & disposable listening devices has created another opportunity for a hostile party to covertly monitor your business environment. These disposable listening devices run on low power and have plug-in peripherals such as cameras & microphones with large SD card storage – so they can save data on the SD cards for physical collection later, they possess the best traits of a non-radio frequency emitting device to make detection even harder.

Just as cyber criminals pose a threat to a company by probing for holes in computer security systems, companies need to be aware that Technical Surveillance listening devices can pose an immediate threat – from the eavesdropping of executive meetings through to voyeur images of a changing or bathroom in a store, hotel, office or club. Prevention is better than cure and every company should be assessing such a threat and the harm they can cause.