How to detect a listening device? Find out the best and the most effective way of counter-surveillance!

Sometimes we feel as if someone’s observing us. Watching our every move, listening to each word we say and following us wherever we go. Although some may think that these are symptoms of a mental illness, it may not be the case.

Using various devices in order to record or intercept sound and image is daily bread when it comes to industrial espionage. Listening bugs are now available in very affordable prices so even individuals are able to buy them. On the one hand, this is a positive thing as the wide availability of spying equipment means a higher level of security, but on the other hand, it has also a negative side – it may be (or already is!) used against us.

Unfortunately, there’s no reliable research concerning how common the use of listening devices is. This is no wonder as such activities may be treated as a crime and some people don’t want to admit that they have found a listening device. The listening devices can be installed in any objects, find out more in this article. Reasons for that reluctance are described further in this article. We may, however, examine situations in which the risk of being bugged rises considerably.

Persons of high risk

  1. Politicians, military men, persons with access to state secrets – they’re quite obvious. Heads of state, staff officers and chief ministers have always been the most exposed to spying on as the information they have is extremely vital for foreign intelligence.

  2. Decision-makers in companies – presidents, managers, heads of departments and R&D chiefs. They all are very attractive for their competitors, especially the knowledge they possess. The bigger the company and its competition, the higher the risk. This is especially true for companies working on revolutionary technologies.

  3. Persons with extremely jealous partners – it’s not a mystery that considerable group of detective stores clients are spouses suspecting their other half of cheating. If your partner is obsessively jealous and/or you give reasons for jealousy, you may be bugged.

How to detect a listening device – step-by-step instruction

This subheading is more appropriate than it may initially seem. As it turns out, the absolute basis of finding listening devices is a meticulous inspection of the suspected room. It’s the only method that guarantees that the planted listening bug will be found, you just need to be extra careful and really thorough.

A listening device may be hidden almost everywhere – in a clock, flower pot, chair or lamp. Can be camouflaged in a floor panel, electric outlet, sculpture, chair leg or window sill. Possibilities are endless.

What’s more, not every listening device may be found using a detector. The more advanced or passive ones may be invisible to them and the only way to find them is to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

But first things first…

Types of listening devices

They can be divided into three types:

– recording devices

– transmitters using GSM network

– transmitters that use radio waves

Listening devices don’t send footage on-the-go but discreetly record everything within their range. The simplest device of this type can be a turned on and hidden voice recorder, but professional equipment has much more to offer. A listening bug may be hidden in a car or gate remote, pen or flash drive. The most advanced can be activated with voice so they don’t record illegible noises, have big capacity and an energy-saving battery which enables long operating time (up to one week of continuous recording, which is much longer in reality, as usually nothing happens at night) and wide range, even up to 15 metres.

They do, however, have flaws. The most serious is the fact that they don’t send footage in real time so are of no use when you want to see what’s going on in a given moment. It also means that, in order to get the gathered material, you need to retrieve it from the device and expose yourself to getting caught. But this is at the same time an advantage – the lack of a real-time transmission means no signals that could be detected. So, if only the device is well-hidden, its detection is time-consuming and difficult – especially without costly equipment or arduous search.

Radio and GSM listening bugs are the kind of spying equipment that majority of people have in mind when asked about a listening bug. These are small transmitters that, once activated, start to send intercepted sounds in a predefined way. Radio transmitters transmit signal on specific radio waves while GSM devices work like a one-way telephone: after dialling a number assigned to the device, the microphone gets activated and sounds from its surrounding are transferred via a cellular network like during a common phone conversation. Similarly to recording devices, the way they work is their biggest advantage and disadvantage at the same time. They enable prompt reaction and listening in real time, but they’re easier to detect and jam. Radio listening devices work continuously, i.e. they emit signal all the time, whereas GSM devices use the network only when needed, e.g. after connecting with their number, what makes them more difficult to find.

Detectors of listening devices

There’re special detectors of listening devices, their main task is finding different types of waves. The most basic version of such equipment detects only radio waves and its functionality is limited to switching on diodes when getting closer to the source of the signal. The more advanced models display the type of detected waves (so you can eliminate those not emitted by a listening bug like Wi-Fi), have a wider range of frequency and allow you to create charts facilitating discovering anomalies.

The range of a listening bug detector depends on its type, set sensitivity (if possible) and strength of the signal emitted by a listening device. In theory, most of the equipment (according to its specifications), work well in the range from 10 cm to 1 metre from the source of the signal. In practice, you should assume the lower values. Although it will take more time to inspect a room in this way, the possibility of overlooking something substantial is smaller.

I’ve already mentioned that recording devices are hard to detect. There are, however, models of detectors that can find non-linear junctions, which are the basis of electronic devices. This type of detector is the only device able to identify spying recorders. Unfortunately, its price is quite high, it is not user-friendly and requires an experienced operator. It’s dedicated to checking places where there should be no electronic appliances like wooden furniture, sculptures or partition walls.

Conclusively, listening devices detectors should be used as an auxiliary tool – useful and often making your work easier but not substituting checking a place manually and having experience in this field.

Background check

When a detective gets down to looking for listening bugs, the first thing is not laying out specialised equipment or taking the suspiciously-looking lamp in a corner to pieces. The first thing is a conversation with the client in order to get to know as much about the situation as possible. Do they know who may be listening in on them? What may be used against them – cheap or rather advanced and pricy spying equipment? What about security, is anyone able to enter the room, spend much time in it doing whatever or maybe all visitors are verified and checked and there’re cameras installed?

A comprehensive background check is half the battle. If the room is monitored and no one has noticed anything, places where you can hide something without drawing anybody’s attention should be checked first. If this doesn’t bring any results, the focus should be put on employees.

If, in turn, the office has been renovated lately and no one knows who the builders were and what they were doing exactly, there’s no easy way out – each centimetre needs to be inspected.

A level higher

Everything written above is a standard when it comes to detecting listening devices. Even when using a detector worth a few thousand pounds, the most important thing is checking the room as precisely as possible. There are, however, more advanced methods. One of the most popular is a jammer for detecting GMS listening devices.

In order to use a cellular network, each device has to log into it. This knowledge can be used to jam the network so that the listening bug gets disconnected. When the jammer is turned off, the bug logs into the network again – a few seconds during which the listening device is activate and can be detected.

Using a jammer does not only facilitate detection but sometimes is a must, like when checking cars. These are (for a detective) metal tins with thousands of nooks and crannies not fit for classic search. Reactivation of a listening bug is the only method besides taking a car to pieces.

A listening bug has been found – what’s next?

The search was successful, a listening bug has been found. There’re a few options of how to proceed:

  • Destroy/remove the device – this is the most invasive method but giving you instant peace of mind. Its minus is that the person who has planted it will almost instantly know that it was found.

  • Analyse the equipment and find the perpetrator – radio listening bugs do not have long range what makes detecting their signal easier. And GMS listening devices may be analysed to determine telephone numbers of phones that have contacted them. This task is not easy and not always successful but there’s always a chance.

  • Pretend that nothing has happened – you may decide not to react. What for? To provide the spying person with fake information.

  • Monitor the device – each listening device needs to be attended to from time to time, in order to change batteries or its memory card (in case of recorders). If you know where the bug is located, you just have to wait to get the spy red-handed.

There’s also an option to call the police and they usually use one of the methods described above to catch the perpetrator.

Arms race

Advanced methods of detecting listening devices are countered with even more advanced listening technologies. Someone really determined and with a thick wallet may rent an office opposite the surveilled room and use laser microphones. They use a laser beam to detect sound vibrations in a distant object, like window glass, and convert them to sound. It can be used to eavesdrop with minimal chance of exposure…

…however, there’re detectors able to detect a laser beam of course. Their price is exorbitant, but sometimes security of information is priceless.

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