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bogdan » modern spies don’t use microphones

10:44 pm on Sep 28, 2012 | read the article | tags:

an article for all my paranoid friends and acquaintances.

i love spy movies. i really do. with little to no exception most of them depict the use of “bugs” to spy on a conversation. more, due to our communist legacy, we (romanians) are proficient at spying. romanian “bugs” were generously (re)covered by our media: here, here and here. unfortunately most of these stories are focused on pretty old, flawed technology.

the “bug”, no matter how small and miniaturized, has a built in weakness: it has to send the information collected to the listener and the preferred medium is modulating an electromagnetic field and actively transport it. needless to say that power sources are involved requiring maintenance.

a better, safer and passive way of spying on other people should start from the definition of a microphone:

microphone: an instrument capable of transforming sound waves into changes in electric currents or voltage, used in recording or transmitting sound.

first, capturing sound is quite easy: the pressure waves travel through an elastic medium bouncing of various surfaces, including windows. the glass is a relatively elastic medium and forced by the sound waves inside – vibrates, transporting inside information to the outside world.

but is there a device capable of measuring the tiny vibration of windows, from a relatively safe distance, in order to recover the leaked information? of course, and it’s around from 1897 when michelson and morley laid the foundation of special theory of relativity: the michelson-morley interferometer. a tool used to measure tiny length variations made by current technologies cheap and suited for spying.

the above picture shows a sketch of the apparatus. any vibration of the movable mirror M1 – actually the spied window – is translated in a variation of the interference pattern, simple enough to be analyzed in real time and converted into sound. using infrared laser diodes (extremely cheap and easy to process with a webcam) you get an invisible, passive, hard to detect “bug”. there are some technical difficulties but any student with basic understanding of the interference process is able to solve them.

my security advice: along with searching for hidden microphones one should be careful talking in a room with outside windows. and no, thermopane® windows are not immune but a thick curtain can greatly improve your privacy.

photo source: here.

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