34C3: Microphone Bugs

Inspiration can come from many places. When [Veronica Valeros] and [Sebastian Garcia] from the MatesLab Hackerspace in Argentina learned that it took [Ai Weiwei] four years to discover his home had been bugged, they decided to have a closer look into some standard audio surveillance devices. Feeling there’s a shortage of research on the subject inside the community, they took matters in their own hands, and presented the outcome in their Spy vs. Spy: A modern study of microphone bugs operation and detection talk at 34C3. You can find the slides here, and their white paper here.

Focusing their research primarily on FM radio transmitter devices, [Veronica] and [Sebastian] start off with some historical examples, and the development of such devices — nowadays available off-the-shelf for little money. While these devices may be shrugged off as a relic of Soviet era spy fiction and tools of analog times, the easy availability and usage still keeps them relevant today. They conclude their research with a game of Hide and Seek as real life experiment, using regular store-bought transmitters.

An undertaking like this would not be complete without the RTL-SDR dongle, so [Sebastian] developed the Salamandra Spy Microphone Detection Tool as alternative for ready-made detection devices. Using the dongle’s power levels, Salamandra detects and locates the presence of potential transmitters, keeping track of all findings. If you’re interested in some of the earliest and most technologically fascinating covert listening devices, there is no better example than Theremin’s bug.

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BAMF2010: Spy TRAKR – no lasers, $14,861 cheaper

Maybe $15K for an elaborate balancing telepresence robot is a bit out of one’s league. In that case, another Bay Area Maker Faire exhibitor — Wild Planet — has you covered. Faire attendees got a hands-on sneak preview of the upcoming Spy Video TRAKR, a video-transmitting radio-controlled toy that’s programmable and extensively hackable.

The TRAKR has an impressive pedigree. It’s a collaborative effort between three successful and creative technology companies: Wild Planet, makers of the Spy Gear toy line; MOTO Development Group, designers of the Flip Video camera; and Making Things, software designers for the Make Controller.

So just how hackable are we talking? The Spy Video TRAKR is intended right out of the box to use downloadable apps, and allows development of new programs in C. The controller and vehicle each contain their own ARM9 processor, and the ’bot features 8 megs of RAM, an SD card slot and USB client and host (yes, host) ports. And that’s all with the cover still on. Pop the lid, and you’ll find links to online schematics and neatly-labeled breakout headers for deeper exploration.

The Spy Video TRAKR is expected to ship in October with a target price of $139 or less. Additional photos after the break.

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