The FBI has used a form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.
The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warned that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.”
Because modern handsets are miniature computers, downloaded software could modify the usual interface that always displays when a call is in progress. The spyware could then place a call to the FBI or a hacker and activate the microphone–all without the owner knowing it happened.
Someone wrote in to ask us if a device known as a BlackBerry security plug (also variously known as a “pin”, “nib”, or “dongle”) could provide protection against this threat. I haven’t been able to find the answer to this question. If you know, please feel free to comment.
I can tell you that our MSI Detective Services offers electronic countermeasure sweeps of cell phones and our U-Spy Store sells countersurveillance equipment. To find out more, visit either https://www.detectiveservices.com/services/debugging/ or view our countersurveillance products at