• Dean Smith

Common Spy Devices and their Technical Surveillance Counter Measures

Technical Surveillance Counter Measures (TSCM). An industry whose name conjures images of the Cold War, double agents, and intricate spy games. Throughout the past three decades, however, TSCM has evolved into booming market – one fueled by commercial and individual demand.

As technology evolved, the devices used to conduct surveillance, went through three key transformations: reduction in cost, increased availability, and a profound jump in their capability to collect information while remaining undiscovered for long periods of time.


Conversely, the rise in illegal surveillance shepherded the development of the counter measure industry, and companies that specialize in TSCM offer “bug” sweep and detection services or develop a security analysis that shows the weaknesses of a home or commercial establishment. It’s a never-ending competition between the two industries, and we’ve gathered a few of the most common forms of surveillance devices and take a look at how TSCM firms counter them.

Microphone/Audio Surveillance

One of the oldest forms of surveillance, microphones and/or audio recorders remain a popular “go to” for would be spies, and a wide range of modern, extremely capable, devices is available to anyone – and even the cheapest have impressive capabilities.

Voice activated “flash drives,” James Bond-style recording pens, and 3.5” inch long audio recorders with a range of 60’, a 150-day battery, and 16Gb of memory, all run for less than $200.

Hidden Cameras

We live in a world where almost everyone carries a video recorder with them; it’s technology that’s become both commonplace and inexpensive. Camera’s masquerading as cell phone chargers, alarm clocks that capture video in total darkness, and camera’s the size of a dime, all of them can record at high resolution settings. Like the audio recorders, anyone can possess them. All one needs is an Amazon account and $50.

Of course, they aren’t always used by the brightest people, but that’s the point. These are devices that anyone can obtain and use.

Cell Phone Spy Software

This is a bit more complex than loading Amazon’s webpage, but not by much, and it’s a popular method for spouses who suspect their partner is being less than honest. Companies like MSPY, SpyFone, and HighsterMobile, all offer packages where the software is installed remotely. Provided the suspicious spouse has the device’s password, and a subscription to any of these services, each company states that a phone’s data is available, discreetly and at any time.

Technical Surveillance Counter Measures

The companies that perform detection services use a wide array of devices, but a thorough bug sweep is more involved than waving a black box with a red light on it around.

Trained technicians examine everything in a room, building, or vehicle, oftentimes dismantling furniture, light switches, wall sockets, etc. It’s a process that takes hours, and the tech’s log and photograph every detail. When the company returns periodically, they’ll compare the current position of everything for any unusual alterations, down to the rotation of the screw holding a light switch’s cover.

The video “Red Balloon,” includes a segment at 3:33 showing what’s involved. The technicians remove cushions, inspect frames and light fixtures, etc. It’s a simply furnished office that takes three trained investigators to comb through, and nothing is left examined.



The process for vehicles is no less thorough.



The same companies use a wide variety of electronics to locate surveillance devices and possess detectors for almost any type – spy cameras, mobile phones, wiretaps – or the RF signals some generate.

Unlike the surveillance cameras and microphones, counter surveillance equipment is on the expensive side and more complicated to use proficiently, a likely reason the industry isn’t awash with DIY instructables. Counter surveillance “kits” do exist, of course, and a package containing a contemporary 3-Band RF Detector, Multi-Channel Bug Detector Pro, Professional Digital RF Detector, a Stealth Camera Lens Finder, and an RF Wireless Signal Detector Wand is available for the truly dedicated.


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