Oct 18

The SpyPhone – and remote recording

The project:
How to record a meeting in such a way that even a strip search wouldn’t blow the agents’ cover and also store the recorded intel in such a way that should the agent be compromised, the intel would be safe.

Oh god oh god oh why:
The list of movies in which an agent has his cover blown after the counterpart rips his shirt open to find his body-worn microphone taped to the chest and a tape recorder in his pocket is endless. Afterwards the agent is “disposed of” and the recorded intelligence is lost since the counterpart has obtained the recorder.

And finally I’d like to give a “heads up” to those who fear for industrial espionage or otherwise like to keep somethings secret. Cellphones is probably one of the easiest tools to use for gathering intel either as a dictaphone or a bug as you can read in this article.

Conceiving the project:
The solution to this problem came to me inspired by a newspaper article I saw a while back ago… “Police security was compromised during an arrest, where the police confiscated a cellphone from the perps, and forgot to turn it off. Later, the the perps called the phone which was set to both be silent, but also automatically take the call. Since the phone was stored in the same room where the police spoke of sensitive matters, the perps learned vital and secret information from the police”
Not that I in any way sympathize with the perps, but I must admit it was a rather clever way to place a bug amongst their adversaries.
You can read the article here in Danish “Here”

It occurred to me that the best way to hide the gear was to hide it in plain sight – preferably by using ordinary consumer products to make the illusion more believable. Everyday gadgets that wouldn’t raise suspicion.
Secondly, keep the recorded intel of the agent in case the worst should happen.
This means a transmitter/reciever solution – preferably encrypted. I wanted it to be one-man operated and easy to set up.
To me, the obvious gadgets to use are cellphones as they are easy to come by, they are well encrypted, these days people would take notice if you didn’t carry one and finally cellphones are optimized to the spoken word for clear conversation.

The Transmitter:

Actually there isn’t much to this. The phone the agent is carrying should just be a standard cellphone, although preferably anonymous or boring rather than the newest and shiniest model.

The next thing to give some thought is the position of the microphone.
To get the best recordings one should keep the microphone as close as possible to the source of recording
but without raising suspicion to what you’re doing. In most case scenarios, simply holding the phone casually or otherwise placing it in a good strategically place would be sufficient. However, in some cases it could prove beneficial to connect an external microphone to the phone. This of course is simply done by using a decent “handsfree set” giving the agent the opportunity of hiding the phone in a pocket and the microphone can be placed on the chest as normally done with a covert microphone. One thing I’d recommend is to disable the handsfree set so that any possible noise from from the speaker won’t give away that the phone is “on”.
To do so use a small screwdriver to pry open the little case as shown below.

    When this is done use a wirecutter to disable the speaker…cut the two cables within the orange frame.

    Put it all back together so it looks like it hasn’t been tempered with

The Receiver:
This is where the real fun begins… If our imaginary agency hasn’t got the manpower to have a tactical team sitting in a van outside the building (labeled Otto’s gardener service) with another cellphone and a recording device pressing “record” when receiving an incoming call, then we should automate this task a bit by using the automated answer function imbedded in the phone.
(A little detail you might want to take notice of, is that not all phones have this function)
I used an old SonyEricsson K750 phone kept in my “old gadgets soon to be obsolete” drawer, which has this very function.
Of all the phones I’ve come about with the “automated answer” function, every one of them needs to have a handsfree set connected before this function can be enabled, but since we need a handsfree set to connect the phone to a recorder, this poses no problem.
How to activate the automated answer function is shown below… (It’s actually much the same setup on most phones)

    …and connect the cables to the recorder…

The recorder:
Instead of a finger pressing “record” and “Stop” we’d use the VOX technology (Voice activated recorder) to do just that.
There are various dictaphones and the likes that has this technology build in.
However I’d much prefer to use my Mac for this task. Eventually I’ll be uploading it to the computer anyway for storing or editing.
Setting up the Mac I just needed some software to make it a VOX recorder and fell in love with “AudioCorder” for OSX. (There is an abundance of VOX software on the internet for all OS systems, both for free and demo)
To set up the AudioCorder software do the following:

Set the “Start Trigger Length” to 0.0 Seconds:
(This determines when the recorder should start reacting to incoming sound.)

Select “Buildt-in Input/Line In”:
(Be sure to select the right input.)

Enable VOX:

Trigger Volume Start/Stop:
(Determines what level of volume the recorder should react on to start/stop recording.)

That’s it. You’re all set to play undercover agent.

Materials & Price tag:

Extra cellphone: 100$
Handsfree sets: 40$
Cables & plugs: 5$
Software: Free or Demo

Putting it to real use:
Let’s Imagine we are going to use our new contraption…
The agent turns on his receiver phone, Mac and the Audiocorder software before leaving his safe place.
He catches the first commercial flight across the atlantic and meets up with the target and after a routine security check for suspicious items the meeting begins, the agent calls his receiver phone and the computer starts to record…
… after a while the agent determines that he got the intelligence needed, he ends the call and deletes the outgoing call list in case security should find an interest in his phone.
He leaves… job’s done.