Techniques for Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance Tactics

By Noel Lawrence - Updated June 16, 2017
spy at work

With the evolution of wireless and microchip technologies, surveillance devices have become smaller, cheaper and better than ever before. At the same time, using the right counter-surveillance tactics and techniques, you can elude most forms of physical and electronic eavesdropping. Success in either implementing or avoiding surveillance often depends on how far you are willing to go. Vigilance and diligence are the key criteria for success.

Physical Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance

Long before wireless HD cameras and GPS systems, the classic method of surveiling a target involved using a physical “tail.” Oftentimes, that meant posting someone in an automobile near a residence or office to find out who visits the subject being investigated. Further, tails could follow the target to record behavior, associates, hangouts and travel patterns.

This “gumshoe” method is still used by law enforcement and private detectives, though there are effective methods of shaking off the tail. First of all, determine whether there is indeed a tail. A strange automobile on an empty street is a good sign. When you suspect a car is following you, make four right turns. If the car is still behind you, chances are you have a tail.

The ability to shake a tail depends on your adversary’s determination. Avoiding routine travel patterns and arrival/departure times from your home and office makes it harder to be followed. If that does not work, persistent physical surveillance may violate state “stalking” laws, so filing a restraining order against the pursuing party may be required (unless you are being monitored by a law enforcement agency with a warrant).

Audio Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance

In part, audio surveillance can be prevented by technological means. Audio bugs emit radio waves that can be picked up by a standard radio-frequency (RF) bug detector. More sophisticated bugs switch frequencies and can shut on and off. In that case, security vendors sell more comprehensive bug detection kits that pick up the “electric noise” from the device’s circuitry. Conducting “sweeps” of your home, car and office may rid you of these bugs.

Additionally, counter-surveillance equipment may be used for detecting taps on your landline telephone. When it comes to cell phones, do not use them for any sensitive calls. There are no surefire ways to secure a cell phone from being tapped, and tapping can be easily accomplished in a non-invasive manner. Further, spy software may activate a cell phone's speakers and listen in on nearby conversations even when the phone is not in use.

Besides taps and bugs, specialized shotgun mikes can pick up your voice from a distance of up to 300 feet. Since sweeping such a vast area for possible spies would be impractical, walking and talking with someone on a busy, noisy street is a fairly effective way to elude this method of eavesdropping.

Computer Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance

Your home computer is a vulnerable target for surveillance. Not only may it be accessed remotely with no visible signs of a break-in, but every single file and email can be read and copied. “Keylogging” software even allows a third party to record every keystroke made on your computer. These methods may be used to record everything from your credit card information to communications in private chat rooms. A secure firewall is the best way to prevent digital eavesdropping. Additionally, consider purchasing a counter-surveillance software package, such as SpyCop, that will search your computer for spyware, Trojans and bots that allow outside access to your computer.

About the Author

Noel Lawrence has written on cultural affairs and cinema for Release Print and OtherZine since 2000. He holds a graduate degree in Russian literature from Stanford University and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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