The modern consumer is not overly concerned with their phone conversations being monitored. For one thing, Google and Amazon have done a tremendous job of conditioning them to believe that electronic gadgets listening to their every word isn’t just acceptable, but a near necessity in the 21st century. After all, if there was a better way to turn on the kitchen light than having a recording of your voice uploaded to Amazon so they can run it through their speech analysis software, somebody would have surely thought of it by now.
But perhaps more importantly, there’s a general understanding that the nature of telephony has changed to the point that few outside of three letter agencies can realistically intercept a phone call. Sure we’ve seen the occasional spoofed GSM network pop up at hacker cons, and there’s a troubling number of StingRays floating around out there, but it’s still a far cry from how things were back when folks still used phones that plugged into the wall. In those days, the neighborhood creep needed little more than a pair of wire strippers to listen in on your every word.
Which is precisely why products like the TA-1356 Tap Trapper were made. It was advertised as being able to scan your home’s phone line to alert you when somebody else might be listening in, whether it was a tape recorder spliced in on the pole or somebody in another room lifting the handset. You just had to clip it onto the phone distribution panel and feed it a fresh battery once and awhile.
If the red light came on, you’d know something had changed since the Tap Trapper was installed and calibrated. But how did this futuristic defender of communications privacy work? Let’s open it up and take a look.
Continue reading “Teardown: Tap Trapper”
Getting by without falling under the gaze of surveillance cameras doesn’t seem possible nowadays – from malls to street corners, it’s getting more common for organizations to use surveillance cameras to keep patrons in check. While the freedom of assembly is considered a basic human right in documents such as the US Condition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is not a right that is respected everywhere in the world. Often times, governments enforcing order will identify individuals using image recognition programs, preventing them from assembling or demonstrating against their government.
Freedom Shield built by engineer [Nick Bild] is an attempt at breaking away from the status quo and giving people a choice on whether they want to be seen or not. The spectrum of radiation visible to humans maxes out around 740nm, allowing the IR waves to remain undetected by normal observers.
The project uses 940nm infrared (IR) LEDs embedded in clothes to overwhelm photo diodes in IR-sensitive cameras used for surveillance. Since the wavelength of the lights are not visible to humans, they don’t obstruct normal behavior, making it an ideal way to hide in plain sight. Of course, using SMD LEDs rather than the larger sizes would also help with making the lights even less visible to the naked eye.
The result doesn’t perfectly obscure your face from cameras, but for a proof-of-concept it’s certainly a example of how to avoid being tracked.
Continue reading “Using IR LEDs To Hide In Plain Sight”
It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear there are tens of thousands of web-connected cameras all over the world that are set to take the default credentials. Actually, there are probably more than that out there, but we can assure you that at least 70,000 or so are only a click away. With this project, [carolinebuttet] proves that it’s quite possible to make art from our rickety, ridiculous surveillance state — and it begins with a peephole perspective.
The peephole in your own front door grants you the inalienable right to police your porch, stoop, or patch of carpet in the apartment building’s hallway while going mostly undetected. In Virtual Peephole, the peephole becomes a voyeuristic virtual view of various corners of the world.
Slide aside the cover, and an LDR connected to an Arduino Micro detects the change in light level. This change makes the Micro send a key press to a Raspberry Pi, which fetches a new camera at random and displays it on a screen inside the box. You can peep a brief demo after the break, followed by a couple of short build/walk-through videos.
If you’re a peephole people watcher, put a camera in there and watch from anywhere.
Continue reading “Insecure Surveillance Cameras Provide Dystopian Peep Show”
By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the recent release of a high-resolution satellite image showing the aftermath of Iran’s failed attempt to launch their Safir liquid fuel rocket. The geopolitical ramifications of Iran developing this type of ballistic missile technology is certainly a newsworthy story in its own right, but in this case, there’s been far more interest in how the picture was taken. Given known variables such as the time and date of the incident and the location of the launch pad, analysts have determined it was likely taken by a classified American KH-11 satellite.
The image is certainly striking, showing a level of detail that far exceeds what’s available through any of the space observation services we as civilians have access to. Estimated to have been taken from a distance of approximately 382 km, the image appears to have a resolution of at least ten centimeters per pixel. Given that the orbit of the satellite in question dips as low as 270 km on its closest approach to the Earth’s surface, it’s likely that the maximum resolution is even higher.
Of course, there are many aspects of the KH-11 satellites that remain highly classified, especially in regards to the latest hardware revisions. But their existence and general design has been common knowledge for decades. Images taken from earlier generation KH-11 satellites were leaked or otherwise released in the 1980s and 1990s, and while the Iranian image is certainly of a higher fidelity, this is not wholly surprising given the intervening decades.
What we know far less about are the orbital surveillance assets that supersede the KH-11. The satellite that took this image, known by its designation USA 224, has been in orbit since 2011. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has launched a number of newer spacecraft since then, with several more slated to be lifted into orbit between now and 2021.
So let’s take a closer look at the KH-11 series of reconnaissance satellites, and compare that to what we can piece together about the next generation or orbital espionage technology that’s already circling overhead might be capable of.
Continue reading “Watching The Watchers: The State Of Space Surveillance”
“Don’t Be Evil” was the mantra of Google from years before even Gmail was created. While certainly less vague than their replacement slogan “Do the Right Thing”, there has been a lot of criticism directed at Google over the past decade and a half for repeatedly being at odds with one of their key values. It seems as though they took this criticism to heart (or found it easier to make money without the slogan), and subsequently dropped it in 2018. Nothing at Google changed, though, as the company has continued with several practices which at best could be considered shady.
The latest was the inclusion of an undisclosed microphone in parts of their smart home system, the Nest Guard. This is a member of the Nest family of products — it is not the thermostat itself, but a base station for a set of home security hardware you can install yourself. The real issue is that this base station was never billed as being voice activated. If you’re someone who has actively avoided installing “always-listening” style devices in your home, it’s infuriating to learn there is hardware out that have microphones in them but no mention of that in the marketing of the product. Continue reading “What Hardware Lies Beneath? Companies Swear They Never Meant To Violate Your Privacy”
No matter how excited you are to dive headfirst into the “Internet of Things”, you’ve got to admit that the effort and expense of going full-on Jetsons is a bit off-putting. To smarten up your home you’ve generally got to buy all new products (and hope they’re all compatible) or stick janky after-market sensors on the gear you’ve already got (and still hope they’re all compatible). But what if there was a cheap and easy way to keep tabs on all your existing stuff? The answer may lie in Cold War era surveillance technology.
As if the IoT wasn’t already Orwellian enough, Vibrosight is a project that leverages a classic KGB spy trick to keep tabs on what’s going on inside your home. Developed by [Yang Zhang], [Gierad Laput] and [Chris Harrison], the project uses retro-reflective stickers and a scanning laser to detect vibrations over a wide area. With this optical “stethoscope”, the system can glean all kinds of information; from how long you’ve been cooking something in the microwave to whether or not you washed your hands.
The project takes its inspiration from the optical eavesdropping system developed by Léon Theremin in the late 1940’s. By bouncing a beam of light off of a window, Theremin’s gadget was able to detect what people inside the room were saying from a distance. The same idea is applied here, except now it uses an automated laser scanner and machine learning to turn detected vibrations into useful information that can be plugged into a home automation system.
For Vibrosight to “listen” to objects, the user needs to place retro-reflective tags on whatever they want to include in the system. The laser will periodically scan around the room looking for these tags. Once the laser finds a new tag, will add it to a running list of targets to keeps an eye on. From there Vibrosight is able to take careful vibration measurements which can provide all sorts of information. In the video after the break, Vibrosight is shown differentiating between walking, jogging, and running on a treadmill and determining what kind of hand tools are being used on a workbench. The team even envisions a future where Vibrosight-ready devices would “hum” their IP address or other identifying information to make device setup easier.
If all this talk of remote espionage at a distance has caught your interest, we’ve covered Theremin’s unique surveillance creations in the past, and even a way to jam them if you’re trying to stay under the radar.
Continue reading “Vibrosight Hears When You Are Sleeping. It Knows When You’re Awake.”
There are many viable options for home security systems, but where is the fun in watching a static camera feed from inside your place? The freedom to really look around might have been what compelled [Varun Kumar] to build a security car robot to drive around his place and make sure all is in order.
Aimed at cost-effectiveness and WiFi or internet accessibility, an Android smartphone provides the foundation of this build — skipping the need for a separate Bluetooth or WiFi module — and backed up by an Arduino Uno, an L298 motor controller, and two geared DC motors powering the wheels.
Further taking advantage of the phone’s functionality, the robot is controlled by DTMF tones. Using the app DTMF Tone Generator and outputting through the 3.5mm jack, commands are interpreted by a MT8870DE DTMF decoder module.While this control method carries some risks — as with many IoT-like devices — [Kumar] has circumvented one of DTMF’s vulnerabilities by adding a PIN before the security car will accept any commands.
He obtains a live video feed from the phone using AirDroid in concert with VNC server, and assisted by a servo motor for the phone is enabled to sweep left and right for a better look. A VNC client on [Kumar]’s laptop is able to access the video feed and issue commands. Check it out in action after the break!
Continue reading “Cell Phone Surveillance Car”