07 Apr Am I Being Bugged?
Am I being bugged? We get this question on a regular basis. Let’s break down each component and take a closer look.
Before we continue, forget absolutely everything you might have seen on TV or in the movies. It’s all (or mostly) BS.
Am I being bugged?
By “being bugged” let’s take that to mean someone is listening in to what you and others around you are saying. First up, if that is indeed happening, then the person/s responsible are committing a crime and are prepared to risk at the very minimum a large fine and quite possibly a jail sentence – planting listening devices is treated as a very serious offence by the courts. Just recently Gary Jubelin, a very senior and high profile NSW Police Service detective (now ex-detective) was even charged and found guilty of recording conversations illegally – so if the Police can get charged so can the perpetrator in any case. So it is very risky business.
How does someone plant a listening device in the first place?
To be able to monitor conversations inside someone else’s home, car or workplace, the offender firstly needs access to the home, car or workplace. Installing spyware on someone’s phone also means the offender needs physical access to that person’s phone. Sure, plenty of internet sites claim that they can install a phone bugging program remotely without access to the actually device but at the time of writing this article this is just not the case.
This is a critically important step. If someone can’t get into your home, car, work place or get access to your phone, then you are more than likely not being bugged.
The listening device itself needs power. It can be a self-contained unit with an internal battery. However, batteries mean the device will only work for a certain time before the battery dies and the device stops working. The smaller the listening device, the less power it has and the shorter the operation time. Any bug that transmits is very, very power hungry. The person listening also needs to be reasonably close, unless the device uses a SIM card. If it is a SIM card type of unit, consider how much continuous talk time you would get from your phone.
Yes, there are also listening devices that connect up to permanent power, such as mains power, but they are usually hidden inside household items that are plugged in. That means the offender has replaced that household item with another device (or you have been given a new item) with an inbuilt bug. The first bit (replacement) is tricky as they need to also know exactly what make, model of item you have, then get that item altered and have the bug added. Would someone go to that much trouble? Only you know. Would you be able to tell if someone replaced your bedside alarm clock or another item? Probably.
Other bugs can be connected to mains power say, behind the power plug you have in a wall. But they then also need the microphone to have direct access to the room in which they are placed. Would you notice a small hole in the power plug plate? If you could see it, probably. If you can’t see it (let’s say it’s behind something) then the audio pick-up might not be all that great.
There are many, many other listening device options, but for the main part, these are very high-tech, very expensive items that are mainly only used by governments and large corporations with deep pockets. For the average person out there, they are almost certainly beyond anything you might encounter.
Monitoring the listening device
This is the $64,000 question. Is knowing what you might be saying worth someone listening in “live” or going through hours and hours of recorded material just to hear any possible “juicy” bits of conversation?
Think about this for a moment.
If you are home for say, 8 hours a day, someone needs to listen to 8 hours of, mostly nothing (when there is no worthwhile conversation) just to be able to maybe hear the worthwhile bits. You never see this part in the movies or on TV – you only see the conversations that matter. But, the reality is someone needs to listen to it all to work out what is and isn’t important. Again, it’s worthwhile for government departments and large corporations, but is it worth doing by an individual? Again, only you would know.
Buying a basic “bug” is inexpensive these days. Placing it can sometimes be problematic, but monitoring any and all conversations can actually be the major impediment to the “Am I being bugged” question.
Should I get my house/car/workplace/phone de-bugged?
Another BIG question. You’ve read the above information, but still think you need to have someone “sweep” your home/car/workplace.
There are basically two type of debugging “sweeps” (TSCM – Technical Surveillance CounterMeasures) you can get. They are:
A very basic (reasonably inexpensive) sweep that by no means covers everything you might be exposed to, or a very specialised (expensive) service that is up there with, or on par with, what government departments and large corporations get done.
Let expand on the “inexpensive” and “expensive” part of the above paragraph.
Inexpensive means using someone who has spent hundreds of dollars, maybe even a few thousand dollars on equipment. Let’s dismiss for the time being that person’s expertise in deciphering the various results they get from that equipment and their capacity to identify and locate any and all bugs that might be there for the time being. They will likely charge you hundreds of dollars to conduct a sweep – it might even be a thousand dollars or more. If it’s a cheap bug that has been planted, they might find it… if it’s a bit more sophisticated than that, maybe not.
However, if you want to engage a real professional for your bug sweep, be prepared to pay many thousands of dollars. The equipment used will likely have cost that organisation $150K or more. Getting it right is very, very expensive.
TIP: Before you spend any money at all, conduct a very thorough physical search of your home/car/workplace for anything that might be unusual. Most importantly, check underneath everything – chairs, tables, lounges, etc. Pay attention to anything that can’t usually be seen but has a direct ‘connection’ to what might be said in that room/location.
Spyware on phones
If you think there might be spyware on your phone, the solution is simple. Save everything on the phone you want to keep, then do a factory reset. That will completely delete the spyware.
Need to just see whether there is spyware on your phone, take it to a forensic data specialist. It will cost a thousand to a few thousand dollars for that to be checked – or simply Google “forensic data specialist” (without the quotes).