The same miniaturized technology that led to smartphones and other high-tech devices has also given detectives and undercover operators a new range of useful tools. Once the exclusive reserve of well-funded spy agencies, many undercover gadgets are now relatively inexpensive and widely available at retailers. In addition to spying applications, some of these items are useful for home security, keeping watch over spaces outside and inside the home, and monitoring sticky-fingered houseguests or mischievous pets.
Phone cameras and digital cameras have been made possible by the Charge-Coupled Device, an array of microscopic light sensors on a sliver of silicon. The CCD’s small size and low power consumption has made it possible to hide a camera inside pens, eyeglass frames, teddy bears, smoke detectors and other innocent-looking objects. The camera typically includes a computer, memory and a battery. Placed on a shelf, the hidden camera can take pictures or video continuously, on a programmed schedule or when triggered by a motion sensor.
Personal computers are treasure troves of secrets, including photos, financial records, email and clues to personal habits. A careful computer user protects this information with passwords, but a device called a keylogger can defeat security codes. A keylogger is a USB device or piece of software that resides on a computer, surreptitiously recording every keystroke and mouse click; all you need do is install the keylogger, wait a few days and then retrieve it or download the results. In most cases, you need physical access to the computer for brief periods, but using this device, you might “crack” bank accounts, encrypted files and other secret information.
The Global Positioning System, initiated by the U.S. military, has become a boon for personal and commercial uses as well. The miniaturization of GPS receivers has led to devices smaller than a matchbook, capable of recording location. Combined with a tiny computer, a GPS tracking system dropped into a purse or briefcase or fastened to the bottom of a vehicle can record a person’s movements for days or weeks.
Night-vision goggles have been traditionally employed by spy agencies and the military as a way to observe the movements of others in darkness without being seen. With improved technology, the cost of these devices has come down, and they have become more convenient to use, gaining the interest of hobbyists and hunting enthusiasts, among others. Some night-vision equipment amplifies existing light from stars and other sources, making a dark scene brighter when you look through the eyepiece. Other devices use an “invisible” infrared illumination source. The IR source illuminates the scene; a sensor detects the infrared light and converts it to visible light seen only by the user.
Parabolic Dish Microphone
Used to eavesdrop on conversations hundreds of feet away, a parabolic dish microphone focuses sound waves much like a parabolic mirror focuses light. The large surface area of the dish collects faint sounds that are picked up by the microphone. Connect the microphone to a recording device for playback later.