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How Governments Use Private Spy Firms to Get Important Info

23 Nov

If you want to overhaul your landscaping or put a new deck on the back of your home, what do you do? You find a contractor who can do what you need and you hire them on the spot. According to the New York Times, governments from around the world may be operating under the same basic mentality. Only they’re not dealing with contractors who can install a new hardwood kitchen floor – they’re working with groups who can spy on technology owners without their knowledge.

The NSO Group

One such company is the NSO Group, a surveillance firm based out of Israel that has been making waves across the world for the last six years. According to one report, spying on up to 10 iPhone owners without their knowledge doesn’t require backdoor Senate hearings, public debates or wiretaps at all. It turns out it can cost any government in the world as little as $650,000, plus a modest $500,000 setup fee. Naturally, prices go up as the number of people you’re trying to monitor increases.

With an arsenal of high-tech surveillance tools that read like something out of a James Bond novel, the NSO Group claims that it can capture EVERYTHING on a smartphone or computer without the owner’s knowledge. This includes sounds, messages, keystrokes, location information and beyond.

Think about the last intimate text message that you sent. Now, think about how terrifying that it is that someone might be reading it without your knowledge.

Perhaps the most frightening thing of all is that we wouldn’t even know the NSO Group existed had they not recently made a series of high-profile mistakes. In August of 2016, security researchers discovered a strain of spyware belonging to NSO Group on the iPhone of a UAE-based human rights activist. After doing some digging, they also found a similar strain on the smartphone of a journalist who had been covering corruption in the Mexican government.

In both cases, it isn’t exactly difficult to discern where those spying requests happen to come from.

Exploiting Technology

NSO Group and similar organizations like it usually gain access to a user’s smartphone through good, old-fashioned user error. According to the New York Times, one of the most common approaches takes the form of a phishing scam. Malicious links are sent to a user, usually in the form of an email, that the user then opens on their smartphone. Once the link has been opened, spyware downloads automatically – turning over every last digital activity to prying eyes.

These types of private spy firms also often make use of security flaws in the Android and iOS operating system to gain access to devices. While Apple, in particular, regularly issues bug fixes to prevent this type of thing from happening, no OS is perfect – something that private spy firms seem hellbent on proving as time goes on.

A Brave New World

The NSO Group is just one of many, many examples of companies out there that act as private spy firms who can get important information out of electronic devices on behalf of world governments. With the right malware installed on a device, a smartphone can essentially become a GPS-enabled secret recording device – tracking your every move and reporting what you’re doing to interested parties.

Naturally, many of these companies are less than forthcoming regarding who they’re doing business with and how many people they’re spying on.

As smartphones, tablets and similar types of technology become increasingly essential parts of our daily lives, it’s clear that privacy, in general, is a situation that will get much worse before it gets better moving forward.


Surveillance, Security, and Gadget Roundup

3 Jun

Here at Spy Tec, we are always thinking of new ways to better serve and inform our customers, and the security community as a whole. With that in mind, we have reestablished our blogging efforts in an attempt to communicate important and engaging news  and stories that appeal to those who frequent our site and business. In an attempt to keep our audience ever informed, we have renewed our focus on the latest in industry news, tech breakthroughs, and the products that have drawn our interest and will certainly command yours. The roundup of this week’s top news is sure to grab your attention as much as it did ours:

1. US Cyber-crime Laws Being Used to Target Security Researchers

An interesting take from the Guardian on why U.S. cyber crime laws and the regulators that enforce them, are counter-intuitively weakening the security of the internet.

2. The Secrets of Surveillance

An introspective piece in Pursuit Mag, featuring one PIs take on the most important features of good surveillance.

3. 7 Tools and Recommendations for Social Media Investigations

A great summary of some tools and recommendations you can use to leverage social media in your investigations.

4. Most Americans Are Doing Nothing to Protect Their Privacy

Every week it seems like another corporations has sprung some a data leak, but as this article explains, the American public isn’t doing much to protect its online security either.

5. Google’s Right to be Forgotten

A first take at how Google is responding to the European Union court ruling that it must provide an option to delete personal data.

6. NASA Uses Smart Sandals to Stop Astronauts Exercise Cheating

It goes to show you that even astronauts, like the rest of us, may occasionally exaggerate their exercise habits.

Omnipresent Eyes

25 Mar

Machines of Loving Grace

Governments and corporations the world over are devising ever more ingenious and intrusive schemes to keep a watchful eye on citizens.

From here on, squadrons of unmanned drones and all-pervasive surveillance over the internet could help capture what the UK’s estimated 2 million CCTV cameras cannot.

Here are some of the weirdest, most wonderful and downright scary surveillance methods currently in use.
Eyes in the Skies

State-sanctioned aerial surveillance stretches right back to the French Revolution and the formation of the world’s very first air corps in 1794.

We’ve come a long way since the Montgolfier brothers astonished revolutionary France by flying a measly nine kilometres in their famous silk balloon and inspiring the military to use a similar balloon, nicknamed l’Entreprenant, to reconnoitre enemy positions to aid a crushing victory in the decisive Battle of Fleurus . These days reconnaissance is hampered by few of the risks encountered by aviation’s early pioneers, with unmanned drone operators often sat behind a desk while surveillance imagery is beamed back from enemy territory on the other side of the planet.

According to current reports it might not be too long before the same technology is in widespread use by governments in a domestic setting. Drones already patrol the US/Mexico border and defence lobbyists have already pushed for the deregulation of US airspace, paving the way for up to 30,000 unmanned drones to be in use within the next 10 years.

Eyes Online

Employers have been monitoring internet access ever since workers were distracted by browser-based Flash games in the first years of the switched-on century. Some companies even demand access to potential employees’ social media accounts to guard against the dangers of employing a raving alcoholic and/or serial absentee.

Imagine if governments had the same powers. The scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

Authorities in the UK and US are already fighting hard for similar powers, including the right to see the contents of your inbox and search history without a warrant, and even shadier spooking is already being carried out.
A very shady piece of software known as Finspy, or FinFisher, acts as a hi-tech keylogger which allows the user to take complete control of the target’s computer is already being deployed by governments whose poor human rights records is more than made up for by a talent and zest for oppression. Finspy is already being used by countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Turkmenistan, along with other more unexpected players like Japan, the US and UK.

This malignant little piece of software caused Reporters without Borders to brand its developer Gamma International a ‘Corporate Enemy of the Internet.’

Wireless Eyes

No story about the creeping ubiquity of surveillance technology would be complete without a reference to Orwell’s 1984. The political fable appears to have been a warning to most of us about the dangers of limited freedom that all-pervasive surveillance entails. Yet to those in power, 1984 appears to have acted less as a warning and more as a handy how-to guide.

Those who think the days in which Big Brother scrutinizes every movement of party members through the telescreen is still the stuff of fiction would do well to take a look at the case of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Laptops handed out to students at the school were secretly fitted with software to intermittently activate the laptop’s webcam and email the collected images to central database.

The school was called out on its spying when a pupil was confronted over popping pills in his bedroom which later turned out be little more than sweets. The boy’s parents were understandably confused as to how the school knew what the pupil was up to in the privacy of his bedroom.

Following a lawsuit by concerned parents, Philadelphia State moved to ban the technology from being used in schools, but similar software is still used by laptop hire companies to help track down stolen and unpaid-for equipment.

Bob Clowrey is a copywriter with, a UK-based private detective agency specialising in ethical surveillance investigations.

NYPD & CIA conduct a massive surveillance program to monitor Muslim communities

24 Aug

The NYPD has been conducting an extensive covert surveillance program on the Muslim Community in New York and New Jersey. The AP report on the spy program: “The [NYPD] has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as ‘rakers,’ into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as ‘mosque crawlers,’ to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims. Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.”

So the CIA has decided to circumvent Federal Law by having the NYPD do their dirty work. Was the White House aware of this program, was Mayor Bloomberg? We have a lot more yet to learn about this story.

One Week Sale on 2GB USB Flash Drive Audio Recorders @ $38.95

19 Aug

For one week only, Spy Tec is selling our 2GB USB Flash Drive Audio Recorders at the unbelievably low price of $38.95. You will not find a better price!

This is a USB Flash Drive that has a one click secret audio recorder that records audio at a surprisingly crisp quality. Easily attachable to keychains, this device lets you carry a covert audio recorder wherever you go at an incredible price.

Get it here:

Is it legal to record a phone call?

18 Aug

Is it legal to tape record a phone call without consent or permission?

There are complex issues of law that must be addressed before deciding whether recording a phone call is legal. At both the Federal and State level, there are specific laws that determine the permissibility of using electronic recording equipment.

It is absolutely essential to know your rights when recording audio and utilizing electronic recording equipment.

PLEASE NOTE: Illegally using audio recording equipment can give rise to criminal prosecution as well as civil suits by the injured party.

Most statues that govern these issues are primarily concerned with wiretapping and eavesdropping, however the statutes usually to electronic recordings of conversations as well, whether in-person or over the phone.

Federal Law: Federal statutes permit recording of phone calls and electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call. The majority of states have wiretapping statutes that are based on federal law and most have extended the state statutes to cover in-person conversations.

General Rule: It is nearly always illegal to record a conversation when you aren’t a party, don’t have consent to tape and could not naturally overhear the conversation.

One-Party Consent Statutes: Washington D.C. and thirty eight states allow the recording of conversations when the recorder is a party WITHOUT the recorder informing the other parties that they are being recorded. So in these states, as long as you are a party to the conversation, it is legal to record it. Nevada also has a one-party consent law, although the state Supreme Court has ruled it an all-party rule and therefore illegal.

All-Party Consent Statutes: Twelve states require, under most circumstances, the permission of every party to a conversation. These jurisdictions are the following: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. In these states you will need the consent of EVERY single party involved in the conversation before taping.

In addition to recording, Federal and most state laws forbid disclosing the contents of any illegal recorded call or communication.

Is it Legal to use Hidden Cameras?

Recording video with Hidden Cameras is almost always permissible however, at least twenty four states have statutes which forbid using hidden cameras in especially private places, for instance in places with nudity such as a bathroom.  Many of these laws forbid unattended hidden cameras placed in a location, not cameras hidden on a person. The audio portion of a hidden camera recording is treated like any audio recording and the laws mentioned above apply. In general, if you are recording using unattended hidden cameras in a private place, please use caution.


See the State by State guide:

Ex-Scientologist confesses to being a spy at California Board of Supervisors

28 Jul

L. Ron Hubbard and his Captain's Hat

Paulien Lombard, an ex-scientologist, admitted on Tuesday to having worked as a spy for the Church of Scientology. Her holy spy mission had been to target members of the hacking collective Anonymous. Anonymous began protesting the Church of Scientology in 2008, after the Church had attempted to censor an unflattering video interview with Tom Cruise which leaked to the Internet.  Lombard admitted to her spying past before the Riverside County, California Board of Supervisors who have been recently discussing denouncing Anonymous  as a hate group because of a Scientology sympathetic supervisor.