The number one thing that gives me security when I travel is obscurity, there’s no one who wants to spy on me. I’m simply not important or valuable enough to be worth the effort.
At the same time I assume any device I carry with me to China is compromised. And in many countries the room I’m staying in may be set up for monitoring because of other people who might stay there either before or after me. Business espionage is at least as common as national security espionage.
Furthermore there are plenty of stories of rogue hotel employees installing video monitoring in some hotel rooms, they very much aren’t trying to see me naked but they’re probably hoping to see other people naked – again either before or after me.
According to the President of Spy Associates, your greatest risk is in China, Russia, Israel, “or even the U.K.”
Here’s how devices are obscured,
A bugging device in a hotel is not easy to spot as they are often concealed inside everyday items (smoke detectors, fire alarms, clock radios, landline phones, docking stations, speakers, and even behind power outlets, air-conditioning vents, or ceiling lights) ..It’s typically a tiny little computer board and may have little wires. I’ve seen some the size of a quarter.
Copyright: kenishirotie / 123RF Stock Photo
Here are tell tale signs that a device has been installed,
- “Check if any plaster (white powder) is laying near wall or vanity areas .. These areas could be pinholes installed in walls from a neighboring room or ceiling vents.”
- “[L]ook for ordinary objects that may have a stripped screw or an unusual placement, unusual static or sounds coming from the hotel phone, or discolorations on the walls such as new paint or plaster.”
- Places to look are “around the living room, bathroom, under the desk, and bed.” It seems to be – unmentioned in the piece – is that ceiling vents would be ideal places to hide monitoring devices.
If you suspect you’re being bugged the spy shop owner suggests picking up “a cheap voltage meter, which detects for unstable energy use… And if you remove wall plates, you can spot listening devices.” Of course the more sophisticated devices require more expensive equipment to detect. It seems easier to just change hotel rooms, or hotels.
And just because there isn’t a bug inside your room doesn’t mean someone can’t be listening. In DC I’ve been in plenty of conference rooms that have special glass to prevent listening devices aimed at the building. You might even hire an expert to sweep your room, but a local expert that you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with may be compromised.
Basic security procedures include ProtonMail for e-mail, covering up your laptop’s camera when you’re not using it, and removing your cell phone battery. Avoid public and hotel wi-fi, keep your calls under 30 seconds using a burner.
I don’t take all of these precautions of course because I’m just not that interesting, and the US government is already intercepting my internet traffic and texts, tracking my cell phone geolocation data, and watching my car’s movements via traffic and other cameras so they know when I go to the doctor and which ones. I remember watching The Lives of Others a dozen years ago about the monitoring of East Berliners by the Stasi, not realizing at the time that’s exactly what happens now in the U.S.
(HT: Jennifer Billock)