Table of Contents
. Why Counter Surveillance is needed
. Counter Surveillance Tips, Tricks, Techniques, Methodology
. Business meeting room anomalies
. Hotel anomalies
. Counter Surveillance Devices – RF Detectors
. So, which RF Detector?
. Counter Surveillance – Thermal Image Cameras
. So, which Thermal Image Camera
Why Counter Surveillance is needed
Counter Surveillance is very important topic of Privacy. Ever wondered, if your hotel room or your rental apartment is being watched through a camera? Or your conversations are being recorded, while you’re in the business meeting room?
We’ll be covering Consumer level Counter Surveillance devices and techniques. “Consumer”, because we will be focusing solely on the low-price range that covers most of the features for a person (like me that cares about the privacy) to go to a hotel room and check for cameras / audio “bugs” with efficiency. Professional grade products are way overpriced for this kind of activity or has features that regular consumer does not need.
Counter Surveillance Tips, Tricks, Techniques, Methodology
Before getting into Counter Surveillance – you can use some logic to watch out for anomalies and concentrate on the main aspects of your activity (what is more important privacy-wise: audio or video surveillance) at the hotel room / rental apartment / business meeting.
A business meeting: your conversations might be of interest – an audio recorder with a microphone most likely to be used.
A hotel room: your conversations will be less of an interest and video surveillance might be more important.
Business meeting room anomalies
If you’re in the business meeting – you should check for strange wires, devices connected to your desk (where the conversation will take place). A microphone needs to be close to the source to be recorded properly and all the words understandable. If there are devices that you do not need, probably the best would be to remove them from the desk entirely. Even, if the device is not connected to the electricity, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be an audio device with a battery inside. So better move anything you don’t need to another room.
While entering your hotel room, watch for the most usable and potentially problematic visual spots (that a camera surveillance can have a clear view of): bed, mirror, dresser, entrances, balcony, shower, bathroom. Check, if there’s anything suspicious about these spots. Like, if there are duplicate items (clocks, smoke detectors), holes in the walls or ceiling that should not be there. Check all the electronic and non-electronic devices in the room for suspicious lighting / wiring / anomalies (like lights on analog clock). Also watch for thermostats, light bulbs and other small devices that are essential part of the room. Check, if the objects are pointing in an unusual way and have a clear view of the most used areas.
Check all the electrical outlets that are connected. Enumerate each one – check to which electrical device it is connected. If there’s a cable from an outlet that goes inside the wall, that can be a “bug”. Check, if all the objects are really should be in the place that they’re now. Should there be a coffee machine in the bedroom? Do you need it to be there? Alternatively, you can take it to the kitchen while staying in the hotel – better unplugged.
Take note of the style in the room. If it’s an old age decoration – should there be something fancy new? Like a futuristic drawing that is not fitting to the old age styling of the room. Mirrors are usually not glued to the wall. So, to check for a two-way mirror, you should carefully see what is behind that mirror. Even after moving it for half a centimeter from the wall, you should be able to see if there’s a wall behind it or something else.
To summarize things up for some Counter Surveillance logic, check all the anomalies in the room, check the outlets, check the devices, check mirrors.
Counter Surveillance Devices – RF Detectors
There’s a great Wikipedia Radio Frequency article you can check, if you want to know more about RF. It is used in many transmission applications: Wi-Fi Wireless Networking (mostly around 2.4 GHz and around 5 GHz), GSM frequencies – cellphones (from 400 MHz to 2 GHz), GPS frequencies (are also somewhere in cellular range), Bluetooth (around 2.4 GHz).
All these technologies can be used to transmit data from wireless cameras / microphones in your room to someone at the control center and record the video / audio data. Not something you would want to, by simply going on vacation. All these devices use Radio Frequencies to transmit data, so they can be spotted by an RF detector.
To understand how to use RF detectors, it is better to search for some Youtube guides. In short, you need to:
1. Power off any device that you already know that might use the RF (your cellphone, Bluetooth earphones, computer, etc).
2. Power on the RF Detector.
3. Set up the sensitivity. Since any room most probably will have a Wi-Fi RF signal – it should be weaker than a transmission of the devices that are near you. So, set up the sensitivity until the RF signal that the device detected will be lowered to a minimum of the detection bar.
4. Now sweep the room with the device – walls, carpet, mirror, all the devices, paintings, etc. Do it slow, since there can be small devices that you might skip by sweeping fast.
5. Each time you will get closer to a device that has more powerful RF signal than the Wi-Fi that is in the room, the RF detector will signal and the detection bar should bump.
Specifications that are important to notice while choosing an RF detector: the minimum – maximum radio frequencies that the device can scan and adjustable sensitivity. From the above RF examples, you should understand that most consumer equipment would range from about 400 MHz to about 6GHz. For example, if your RF detector’s maximum RF range is 6 GHz and there’s a camera in your hotel room that sends signal at 8 GHz – this RF detector won’t be able to detect this camera’s transmission. Adjustable sensitivity is also important. There almost always will be Wi-Fi RF signal at any place – especially at the hotel. So, turning on the device with high sensitivity will immediately pick it up and it will alarm in any spot in the room. Lowering the sensitivity should be able to focus only on the specific spots of the room to find devices that are close enough and has stronger RF signal.
Some of the RF detectors come also with the camera lens detectors. The logic behind these is pretty simple. The detector flashes several LEDs and the lens of any camera that there might be (doesn’t matter – working or not) will reflect the light, which apparently is easier to see behind red glass. Same RF detector sweeping technique should be applied here as well. Probably you will get more optimal results with lights off. For better to understand how this works and what to expect, you should watch some Youtube examples.
So, which RF Detector?
It is important to note that I’m not affiliated with any of these devices / companies – just sharing with you the research that I did while buying my own. In addition, I didn’t test all the devices, only the ones that I bought.
So, for the RF detector I bought the “M8000”. Apparently, this is some global model name that many companies produce. The one I found was by “Sonew”. Just search for “M8000 rf” on Google / Amazon or wherever you like to understand what I’m talking about.
The “M8000” has RF range of 10 MHz – 12 GHz. This is very impressive for the price range. I found it on Amazon for $122, while the same one was on Aliexpress for $85. Some might also sell it for $150. The device has sensitivity knob and it comes with separate camera lens detector. It is better to have these two separated, since each device does what it was designed for. Statistically, combined devices will be always worse at something compared to the separated ones. In addition, the “M8000” has magnetic probe antenna. It can alarm when you get close to devices which has magnets in them. For instance, something with a microphone (which uses magnet in order to operate).
I didn’t test the other devices, but there are more in that price range.
“K18” and “K68” (the updated version of “K18”) will cost less, but I would probably get the updated “K68”. It is also some global model – I saw one from “sherry”. Both models have the magnetic probe and sensitivity knob. Someone posted that “K68” signal pickup range is lower than that of the “M8000”. Both “K18” and “K68” have camera lens detectors. These are built in into the body of the RF detector. The RF range of this device is twice lower than of “M8000”: around 10 MHz – 6.5 GHz. Different manufactures say different things about this specification, but as being the cheapest models that combine all the technologies – it is not surprising. Some manufacturer wrote it could do 8 GHz. All the devices are the same, since they use the same “K18” or “K68” chipset. So, I don’t actually believe it.
For some more expensive option – there’s “KJB Security Products DD802 SleuthGear Defender Simple”. Price of one should be around $200. It looks more robust with RF range of 10 MHz – 8 GHz. Comes with camera lens detector, which is separated from the case (but needs to be screwed above the RF device in order to operate). Not sure why this one would cost almost twice as the “M8000”, since it has less of RF range. Maybe the DD802 has more sensitivity – I don’t know. I can only tell that there’s no need for this one if you’re just scanning your hotel room.
There’s also “KJB Security Products DD801 PRO Sweep Defender Deluxe”, which costs $500. This is a more professional Counter Surveillance device that has many useless features for a Consumer that just want to find bugs in the hotel. The needed features: are the ones of the DD802″, plus the RF range is 10 MHz – 10 GHz. The useless features: white noise generator, TELephone line in / out, laser tapping.
White noise generator: plays white noise. Useful to add high volume noise while there’s an important conversation. So, the devices that record sound with a microphone will have this noise on top of the conversation itself, so no words will actually be understood.
TEL line in / out: used to check if the line is tapped. I believe that this is applicable only in the business area. Who’s having the TEL lines in the age of cellphones anyway…
Laser tapping: someone can “tap” you with a “laser” – works like the controller of your TV. When you point the controller to the TV and press a button the signal from the controller’s LED is picked by the TV’s RF sensor. Probably something similar can be done surveillance-wise.
As you can see, if you just want to scan for “bugs” – the DD801 is just too over-featured for this.
“BugHunter BH-03 Expert RF Signal Detector with a Frequency Meter” – I didn’t find the RF range for this one, but for the price of $600 it should be decent. The device doesn’t look very robust, but shows you the exact type of the RF signal that it catches. Which is very useful. If there’s a Wi-Fi signal floating in the room – it will show you “Wi-Fi” on the screen. You can lower the sensitivity and continue to search for other signals (like Bluetooth), which also will be written on the screen (when you’ll get close to one).
“KJB Security Products RF Wireless Signal Detector DD1206” seems to be the first professional grade device that is really useful (at least from its specifications). The device cost $500 and has RF range of 50 MHz – 12 GHz and 2 Sensitivity modes (low / high). It also has robust body case and 2 antennas for higher detection precision. One Antenna is powerful and specifically for Bluetooth / Wi-Fi transmissions (1.4-2.48 GHz and 4.9-5.875 GHz). The second antenna has the full range of 50 MHz – 12 GHz. The most useful feature would be showing you which RF frequency it found, if it is a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GSM, etc. I Didn’t operate it – not sure how it shows the frequency, but from the description they state that the device is super precise with technologies that hard to detect (GSM / Bluetooth). The “K68” and “M8000” do that easily. So, I’m not quite sure what the big issue is. Again, I didn’t test it and surely can’t compare it to the “M8000”, but I think you don’t need this one for regular hotel room inspection.
And finally, we got this “beast” – “KJB Security Products Multi-Channel Detector for Wireless DD1207”. The device costs $750. The DD1207 has all the features of the 1206 and from the description I didn’t see any different highlights. The pictures show that probably there are more protocols that it can show separately.
Surely there is more expensive equipment for hi-tech professionals. I saw some RF frequency analyzers that show full operable spectrum of the device on the screen with a cost of $13000.
Not sure why the professional grade equipment costs so much higher, compared to the consumer level. I’m not the professional Surveillance engineer, but seems like they’re over-priced in general and specially for regular consumers.
Counter Surveillance – Thermal Image Cameras
Not all the video cameras have to transmit data wirelessly. They still can have some data storage on them to store the video data. Someone can pick it up when cleaning your room or after you leave. In this case you will not find it with RF detector – since it is not transmitting anything. So, another useful Counter Surveillance device in this situation is Thermal Image Camera. The device that operate will have higher temperature than its surroundings and the devices that doesn’t operate. If there’s a camera working, you should see its heat in the middle of the wall / ceiling.
There are useful specifications that you should understand before buying a Thermal Image Camera.
IR Sensor Size / Thermal Resolution (pixels) – the more resolution you have the better. Simply put – you can have more detailed thermal image with higher resolutions. Let’s say you observe your hand through the thermal image – with lower resolutions you will see a hand image, with higher resolutions you will distinguish between the fingers on the hand. Rather harsh comparison, but I think it is easier to understand it that way. The lowest resolution that I saw was 80×60. From the Youtube videos of these devices, I couldn’t actually understand the details of what I saw. You could understand that the reviewer showed a cat, since it was pointed to a cat, but I’m not sure that it will have that precision on small devices (which is our target). 160×120 is off course twice as better and 320×240 considered a pro quality (I’m sure the hi-end professional equipment has by far higher resolutions).
Another thing to consider is Sensitivity (measured in “mK” – milli Kelvins. 100 mK = 0.10 degrees Celsius). Basically, it is the lowest change in the temperature that the camera can distinguish. Think of it as a gradient change / difference between the low temperatures (cold colors) to higher temperatures (hotter colors). The lower the number is the better – the smoother and more precise the difference between the temperatures. Let’s return to the hand example. You observe your hand. Outside the hand you see the temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, when the hand begins it is 34 degrees C and in the middle, it is 36.5 degrees. The lower the Sensitivity the more color range / difference you will see between the outside (18 – cool colors) and the center of the hand (36.5 – hot colors).
Temperature range that the camera can capture is also important an important specification. Not sure though that it will be too much of importance for a consumer level. There is a difference between the camera that can do a range of 20 degrees C – 150 degrees C and the one that can do -4 degrees C to 300 degrees C. I’m not sure that a small camera can do more than 150 degrees C though.
Field of view (degrees) – which is how much of the area a camera can capture. The higher the number of degrees the more area it will capture. In our application, it means how much movement you will need to make around your hotel room. Anyway, I wouldn’t be bothered much about it. Since, our application is a low-cost consumer and not professional grade – we want to pay as less as possible. So, this is not the main feature here.
Refresh rate / Image Frequency (Hz – Hertz) – how fast will be the image updated on your screen. Smooth playback is 24 images per second. Most of the non-professional Thermal Image devices will be at 9 Hz. It means 9 images per second – the movement of the camera won’t be smooth. Someone wrote that this is due to Export regulations of the country that the devices are produced. I’m not the expert in the Export laws – in our particular application it doesn’t matter much. We just want to see the wires / device operating and not recording a smooth video.
I saw several Thermal Image Camera types on Amazon: Handheld devices with handle (looks like a gun), portable devices (looks like an old cellphone) and cellphone extension (I saw a USB Type-C for Android phones and Lightning connectors for Apple devices).
Cellphone extensions are the cheapest. If you don’t want to spend some extra on higher specification devices ($350) for higher precision, then cellphone extensions are your choice for around $200. More on the specs and examples later.
But I wouldn’t recommend cellphone extensions because of the features / cost ratio. Extensions with higher specifications usually cost more than the portable version of the same device. Not sure what their problem is – since there is no screen (You use your cellphone’s screen with an application) – it should cost less. Also, there can be compatibility issues. You should check which extension compatible with which cellphone devices. Not sure that your specific Android / Apple device will be compatible, or maybe too new / too old. Another thing to consider is the thickness of your phone protective case. Not all the extensions have enough cable plug, so probably you will have to remove your phone protective case during the camera extension usage. Not very convenient.
So, which Thermal Image Camera
Take for example this cellphone extension – the “FLIR ONE Gen 3”. Cost $200, has Thermal Resolution of 80 x 60, Temperature range of -20 degrees C to +120 degrees C. If you don’t want to spend too much money, maybe this option is for you. I bought portable Thermal Image Camera for $350 (you can read about it further), which is twice the price, but by far much higher specs than this one.
Another example is “FLIR ONE Pro LT”: $300 with same Thermal Resolution and Temperature range as his little brother, with 100 mK Sensitivity and more display modes. $300? I would add another $50 and buy the portable “PerfectPrime IR0005 Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager – Thin size” model with much higher settings.
When I was picking between the small portable devices and handheld guns, I simply though of portability. The handheld guns are much bigger. You’re going on vacation, so why the excessive space / baggage. I believe for traveling purposes it should be as small as possible, so I stopped with a portable model.
The one I bought was the “PerfectPrime IR0005 Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager – Thin size”. There are different models: Thin size (the smallest with less features), Gun size, Thin size 320×240, Gun size 320×240. Off course 320×240 models are of a higher Thermal Image resolution than the regular models and are more expensive. The Thin size has 220 x 160 pixel Thermal image, which is pretty impressive for the $350 unit. The regular price of the unit is $500 – I bought it when it was a holiday sale. If you’re not in a hurry I suggest you wait for another sale. Operating range of -20 degrees C to +300 degrees C. And Image frequency of 9 Hz. Sensitivity is 70 mK. The screen is pretty big compared to portable models of other manufacturers. Finally, what I liked the most is that it is not showing you the temperature degrees only in the middle of the screen, but also on the sides of the screen at the same time. if you move the camera around – it updates the degrees (off course with Refresh rate of 9 Hz). Didn’t see that in other $350 range devices. Also, the image has really precise details compared to other devices that I saw on Youtube in the same price range.
Another device in the $350 range was (at the time of the writing) the “Seek Thermal Reveal” (the cheapest version). It has lower Thermal Image resolution of 206 x 156 (not THAT big of a deal). It has higher temperature range: -40 degrees C to 330 degrees C (which is not that much change for our application also). The image Refresh Rate is also 9 Hz, Sensitivity is 70 mK. And a bonus it has a flash light (not needed much). The one thing I didn’t like is lower precision on the screen and no side temperature probes unlike in the device that I bought. Again, I didn’t test this one in my hands, maybe there is a setting for that.
The devices that cost lower than $350 had 80 x 60 Thermal Image resolution. So, I didn’t see the point in mentioning them, since it will be more difficult to see the small details like a camera / hot operating wires in the wall / ceiling.