Are you being spied on? These DIY counter-surveillance tools can help protect privacy

One of the simplest ways is to turn off the lights and scan the room with a flashlight.

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One of the simplest ways is to turn off the lights and scan the room with a flashlight.
People worry that Big Brother and Big Tech are invading their privacy. But a more immediate concern may be the guy next door or a shifty co-worker.

A growing array of so-called smart surveillance products have made it easy to secretly livestream or record what other people are saying or doing. Consumer spending on surveillance cameras in the United States will reach $4 billion in 2023, up from $2.1 billion in 2018, according to the technology market research firm Strategy Analytics. Unit sales of consumer surveillance devices are expected to more than double from last year.

The problem is all that gear is not necessarily being used to fight burglars or keep an eye on the dog while it’s home alone. Tiny cameras have been found in places where they shouldn’t be, like Airbnb rentals, public bathrooms and gym locker rooms. So often, in fact, that security experts warn that we are in the throes of a “bugging epidemic.”


It is not paranoid to take precautions. A lot of spy gear is detectable if you know what to look for, said Charles Patterson, president of Exec Security, a firm in Tarrytown, New York, that specializes in corporate counterespionage.

Look for anything in your surroundings that appears disturbed, out of place or odd. Surveillance can be done by more than clunky nanny cams. It can be conducted with wireless microdevices, some as small as a postage stamp, that can be stashed in hard-to-spot places like inside clocks, light fixtures and air vents.

Be wary of anything with an inexplicable hole in it, like a hole drilled into a hair-dryer mount in a hotel bathroom. And scrutinize any wires trailing out of something that’s not obviously electronic, like a desk, a bookcase or a plant.
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“A basic physical inspection is something everybody can do,” Patterson said.

Hidden cameras can be spotted by looking for holes in furniture or wires coming out of non-electronic devices.
Hidden cameras can be spotted by looking for holes in furniture or wires coming out of non-electronic devices.

Another low-cost way to spot surveillance equipment is turning off the lights and using a flashlight to scan a room to see if the lens of a camera shines back at you. If you don’t have a flashlight, look around using the front-facing camera on your smartphone (the side you use for video chats), which may allow you to see the otherwise invisible infrared light that spy cameras emit.

A quick way to see if your phone’s camera detects infrared light is to look at your television remote through the viewfinder. If you can see a light flash on the tip of the remote when you press its buttons, you’re good to go.

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You can also download the Fing app on your smartphone, which when activated will show you all the devices connected to your Wi-Fi network. Anything that includes the name of a camera manufacturer — like Nest, Arlo or Wyze — or that the app flags as a possible camera is cause for concern. As is anything that you can’t readily identify.

More sophisticated voyeurs may use spy gear that has its own hot spot for livestreaming. So it’s a good idea to check for other Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity that have a strong signal. But that won’t help if the device is recording everything onto a tiny memory card to be retrieved later.

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If you want to be more comprehensive in your sweep, several do-it-yourself countersurveillance tools are available. Among the easier-to-use devices are specially designed camera lens detectors. They cost $200 to $400 and emit a circle of superbright red LED strobe lights. When you scan the room looking through the viewfinder, even the tiniest camera lens will appear to blink back at you, giving away its location.

“I used to sell mostly cameras, but in last few years it’s more detection devices,” said Jill Johnston, chief executive of KJB Security Products in Nashville, Tennessee. “There are just a lot more things to spy on you with. It’s really changing our business model, to be honest.”

Also popular are radio frequency, or RF, detectors that can pick up signals emitted by surveillance devices. While you can get them for as little as $40, the better models start at $300 and can cost as much as $8,000, depending on their ability to analyze and differentiate signals.

'For every one camera that’s been found, there have probably been a hundred cameras that haven’t been found'.
'For every one camera that’s been found, there have probably been a hundred cameras that haven’t been found'.

Like old-fashioned metal detectors, RF detectors often produce a beep or tone that gets louder the closer you get to a transmitting radio signal. The more expensive versions have digital displays that detail the various radio frequencies detected and where they may be coming from.

Most environments today are filled with radio signals. Unless you get the most expensive gear and the associated training offered by the manufacturer, you’re going to have a hard time knowing whether your place is bugged or you’re picking up a signal from your neighbor’s Wi-Fi or your wireless computer mouse or Bluetooth speaker. To reduce the number of false positives, security experts recommend first turning off or unplugging all your devices before you start your scan.

Browsing Amazon and other online stores like Brickhouse Security and Spygadgets.com can also help. You’ll see that cameras and microphones don’t always look like cameras and microphones. They can look like smoke detectors, water bottles, air fresheners, cellphone chargers, pens, key chains, coffee makers, space heaters, birdhouses and toys.

Of course, you can always get professional help. But a professional sweep of a home or an office can range from $1,500 to more than $10,000, depending on the size of the space, the number of nooks and crannies, and the amount of clutter.

USA Bug Sweeps, a surveillance detection firm in Freehold, New Jersey, specializes in residential bug detection and does as many as three sweeps a day versus maybe one or two a week three years ago. Jimmie Mesis, the company’s chief executive, attributes the surge to recent news reports about cameras being hidden in homes by creepy landlords or handymen.

“For every one camera that’s been found, there have probably been a hundred cameras that haven’t been found,” Mesis said.
From Faster Storage To Periscope Cameras: Tech That Will Soon Become Common On Your Smartphone
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Smartphones are evolving at an accelerated rate with groundbreaking features every few months. Karan Bajaj rounds up some of the new tech that will become commonplace on your smartphone pretty soon.

Smartphones are evolving at an accelerated rate with groundbreaking features every few months. Karan Bajaj rounds up some of the new tech that will become commonplace on your smartphone pretty soon.

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Optical in-display fingerprint scanners have been around for some time now (they use camera lenses behind the display) but ultrasonic scanners are the new technology. Samsung already uses these in th..
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Phones use solid state or flash-based memory. Many have microSD card slots to expand internal storage. But as any geek will tell you, flash storage can range from painfully slow to lightning fast. And as usual, there is a cost associated with higher speeds. Till recently, the fastest storage solution available for smartphones was UFS (Universal Flash Storage) 2.1. It’s on almost all major flagships today. The next generation UFS 3.0 is roughly twice as fast as UFS 2.1. This is important because we now deal with larger photos/videos and larger storage capacities. Faster storage means you can copy things faster, apps load faster, photos/ videos are saved faster — you get the picture. The new standard is supported by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor. OnePlus has already confirmed that their flagship OnePlus 7 Pro features UFS 3.0 storage. We can expect UFS 3.0 to be available on more flagship smartphones this year.

Phones use solid state or flash-based memory. Many have microSD card slots to expand internal storage. But as any geek will tell you, flash storage can range from painfully slow to lightning fast. An..
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Smartphones need to be slim enough to fit into a pocket. But that also means there are physical limitations that the camera just can’t get around. This is why most smartphones don’t have optical zoom - there’s just not enough space/width. Some phones get around this by offering multiple lenses/sensors. The newest innovation in phone cameras is periscope lenses. Just like the name suggests, they use a system of mirrors to place the sensor sideways in the phone body and extend the focal length. They can easily add 5x optical zoom and 10x hybrid (optical + digital) without adding bulk. We’ve seen this on phones like Huawei P30 Pro and Oppo Reno. Periscope cameras will likely remain the preserve of flagship phones for some time, due to the higher complexity and higher manufacturing cost.

Smartphones need to be slim enough to fit into a pocket. But that also means there are physical limitations that the camera just can’t get around. This is why most smartphones don’t have optical zoom..
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Most screens around us (phones, tablets, laptops, TVs) have a 60Hz refresh rate. That means they can refresh content on the screen up to 60 times a second. A few screens can refresh faster: 90 or even 120Hz. There are multiple advantages of having a higher refresh rate screen: smoother motion, better animations, reduced blur and sharper visuals. This is most visible during gaming and fast moving scenes — it’s why gamers prefer monitors with higher refresh rates. Asus was among the first to offer a 90Hz screen on a phone last year (Republic of Gamers phone) and Razer even has a 120Hz screen gaming phone (not officially available in India). The recently announced Nubia Red Magic 3 has a 90Hz screen and the upcoming OnePlus 7 Pro is also likely to have a higher than normal refresh rate. While we don’t expect these faster refresh rates to become the norm (the screens are expensive to manufacture, require higher processing power and consume more battery), you can reasonably expect it in more flagship phones this year. It’s something that has to be seen to be believed — you can ‘see’ the benefits of a 90 or ILLUSTRATION: 120Hz on video. ANIRBAN BORA

Most screens around us (phones, tablets, laptops, TVs) have a 60Hz refresh rate. That means they can refresh content on the screen up to 60 times a second. A few screens can refresh faster: 90 or eve..
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More megapixels don’t necessarily mean better quality. This is an adage that many have come to accept. But a technology called pixel binning is turning that around again. First, the basics. A pixel is the smallest unit on the camera sensor and cramming more of them into a tiny space makes those pixels smaller. However, larger pixels deliver better quality images. Pixel binning takes a high resolution sensor (like a 48 million pixel or 48MP) and combines 4 adjoining pixels into one effective pixel. This reduces the image size from 48 down to 12MP — which is still very usable by the way. But it also doubles the pixel size, giving you twice the amount of light sensitivity. Surprisingly, these high megapixel cameras are now available on mid-range smartphones too (Redmi Note 7 Pro, Redmi Y3, Vivo V15 Pro, Oppo F11 Pro). Samsung has just announced their new 64MP camera sensor for smartphones, so we’re expecting this trend to grow in the coming year.

More megapixels don’t necessarily mean better quality. This is an adage that many have come to accept. But a technology called pixel binning is turning that around again. First, the basics. A pixel i..
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