Beat Big Brother: Dodge CCTV, phone taps and spies

Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not watching you. Surveillance is a boom industry in the UK, so here are some handy (and frankly bizarre) tips on how to avoid being spied on

Rory Reid
9 min read

Big Brother is watching you -- and we're not talking about the mind-numbing reality show. The UK has become a real-life Orwellian nightmare. There's reportedly a CCTV camera for every 14 people. Police helicopters circle our skies. Phones are tapped on a routine basis and your information is harvested by nefarious forces intent on stealing your identity.

Perhaps modern society isn't quite so dystopian, but we're not exaggerating by much. Thankfully there are ways to protect your anonymity. Over the next few pages we'll train you in the art of counter-intelligence. We'll show you how to use technology to protect yourself and give you the tools you need to get your privacy back. Failing that, we'll at least help you figure out if you're simply a paranoid schizophrenic.

How useful you might find these tips and gadgets depends on your attitude to surveillance, and let's face it, your mental health. Nevertheless, there is a burgeoning anti-spy market and the products out there range from real conspiracy-theorist stuff to genuinely sensible privacy precautions. We've included a handy Paranoia Rating -- out of five tinfoil hats -- to help you judge their usefulness and practicality. -Rory Reid

The number of security cameras in the UK is astonishing. The UK has 1 per cent of the world's population and 20 per cent of the world's CCTV cameras. Croydon, believe it or not, has more cameras than New York City -- although that's fair enough, given how rowdy Tiger Tiger can get on a Saturday night. Some believe CCTV is a great way of keeping the peace, while others, like us, think it's far too open to abuse. Exercise your right to anonymity using these techniques:

Essentially an elastic headband with a circle of infra-red LEDs at the front, the I-RASC headset sounds silly, but the light it emits is blinding to CCTV cameras. Better still, it's invisible to the human eye, so nobody will notice anything suspicious. Apart from the stupid-looking headband with tiny bulbs at the front. Unfortunately you can't buy these yet, but it doesn't look that difficult to knock one up in your shed. Buy the LEDs off eBay and the headband from NikeTown, and Bob will be your very anonymous uncle.
Do it yourself
Paranoia scale: 5 tinfoil hats out of 5

SpyFinder Hidden Camera Locator
If you don't want to hide from the cameras, you should at least know where they are. The SpyFinder helps you find hidden cameras, whether they be CCTV, camcorders or those sneaky spy/pinhole models used by the secret service and Top Gear's James May. Like the I-RASC, it uses a circle of ultra-bright LEDs, which in this case are located at the front of a viewfinder. Look through this viewfinder and hidden cameras in the field of view will brightly reflect the light from the LEDs, exposing their position. Knowing where cameras are can help you stay hidden, or at least arm you with the knowledge of when not to pick your nose.
£110 from Tom's Gadgets
Paranoia scale: 4 tinfoil hats out of 5

Up to 12 million people in the UK have their Web surfing and email monitored by their employers, according to the Policy Studies Institute. That means they know when you're doing 'Web-based research' on YouTube. They know when you're 'forming important business relationships' on Facebook. Hell, your IT manager is probably checking his logs right now, reading your IM conversations, looking at your browser history, and recommending your dismissal to HR. Stop him in his tracks!

Virtual keyboard
Some companies use keyloggers to record every button you press, so don't press any buttons! Fire up the On-Screen Keyboard application in Windows by going to Start, All Programs, Accessibility. From there you can use your mouse to click on letters as a means of inputting data -- and best of all, nobody can read your keystrokes. We discovered this technique back in 2004 when we began writing this article and we haven't looked back since.
Free with Windows XP/Vista
Paranoia scale: 4 tinfoil hats out of 5

Anonymous Web surfing
Web sites such as the Cloak or beHidden can help you browse anonymously -- and those cheque-signing morons upstairs won't suspecting a thing. They work by acting as a proxy, or middle man. You tell them what sites you want to visit, they download the info, process it, encrypt it, then send it back to your PC anonymously. Titles of pages are hidden, as is all the traffic, so you're well-protected from monitoring tools. Just remember to use the virtual keyboard to input the Web address -- so as to avoid those pesky keyloggers -- and you're in business.
Free at beHidden.com
Paranoia scale: 3 tinfoil hats out of 5

Hide and monitor your emails
Some emails should never be sent from your work address. That's why webmail was invented. Unfortunately your employers can gain access to this too, if they try hard enough. So it's always a good idea to secure your private mail by using something such as Readnotify. This clever online app lets you view when, by whom and where your email was opened -- thus enabling you to see if it was intercepted by 'The Man'. It'll also tell you how long the message was read for, how many times it has been opened, and whether it's been forwarded to another address or opened on a different computer. It'll even have your messages self-destruct after a certain amount of time -- just like in Mission: Impossible.
Free at Readnotify.com
Paranoia scale: 2 tinfoil hats out of 5

Most of us think bugging only happens in sci-fi movies. But most of us are poor, deluded fools. It recently emerged that in the UK, upwards of 1,000 people a day are being bugged by the government, intelligence services and local councils. Those being bugged vary from suspected Al-Qaida operatives to illegal fly tippers, and many innocent citizens are being bugged due to administrative errors. Don't be a victim -- protect yourself using these easy-to-follow techniques.

PR5000 Bug Detector
If someone's planted a listening device in your home, chances are you'll find it using one of these. This bad boy detects any VHF, UHF and microwave transmitter chattering in the 3MHz and 5GHz frequency, which is most bugs. If it detects anything suspicious, it'll beep or vibrate. You can even pinpoint the exact location of the bug thanks to the 10-LED indicator. The closer you are to the listening device, the more LEDs light up. It's that simple.
£645 from edirectory
Paranoia scale: 4 tinfoil hats out of 5

AJ34 White Noise Generator
Not all spies use traditional bugs. Some will literally park outside your home or office and eavesdrop using giant directional microphones. Obviously a bug detector isn't going to help you against these devices, but you can protect yourself using a white noise generator. While you're busy talking, these generate background noises that vary in frequency and amplitude, making them almost impossible to filter out. White noise works against RF transmitters, tape recorders and hard-wired microphones and will protect a room of up to 14 sq m.
£229 from edirectory
Paranoia scale: 5 tinfoil hats out of 5

Securephone Encrypted GSM phone
If you use a telephone, there's a good chance people can and will eavesdrop. A trained spy can clone your mobile phone or lock in on your conversations with relative ease, which is why you might want to use the Securephone. These are loaded with encryption software that scrambles your calls and texts using military-grade techniques. All calls are made using strict verification procedures and layered encryption, based on AES, Serpent and Twofish ciphers. At least two phones are required for encrypted voice and data communication, so you'll need to buy one for each and every trustworthy person you talk to. The hardware is an otherwise basic Qtek 8500 Musicphone, which features email, a dedicated music player, quad band, EDGE/GPRS and MSN Messenger.
£1,051 from Spycatcher
Paranoia scale: 5 tinfoil hats out of 5

Identity theft costs the UK economy £1.3bn every year. In fact, someone's probably cloning your credit card right now. Oh look, that little piece of crumpled up paper you threw in the bin -- the one that looks like rubbish but is actually a bank statement -- yeah, that's on its way to your friendly neighbourhood refuse collector, who'll use it to clone your identity and buy himself a new TV. Here's how you can stop him.

Encrypt your data
Even if you believe nobody will gain access to your PC, it's always worth encrypting your files. All it takes is a little misplaced trust and an intelligence operative masquerading as your spouse/mother/offspring to blow your cover. Software encryption with applications such as AutoCrypt is a good start, but you're better off using hardware-based encryption such as DESkey. This can scramble your data and only unscrambles it when you insert the accompanying DESLock USB dongle, which you keep on your person.
£120 from DESkey
Paranoia scale: 3 tinfoil hats out of 5

Clean up your hard drive
Many of us sell our PCs on when they become too slow to tolerate. Many of us even have the good sense to delete their private data and format the hard drive before doing so. But even this method isn't enough to stop a determined hacker from restoring and accessing your files. That's why we recommend DriveScrubber. This software wipes all your personal data by overwriting them with gibberish multiple times. It's like spilling multiple buckets of paint over a confidential sheet of A4 paper -- the resultant cornucopia of mess leaves your old files unrecognisable and unrecoverable.
£15 from iolo
Paranoia scale: 1 tinfoil hat out of 5

Stay off Facebook
It goes without saying: leaving your information on social networking sites is like airing your dirty laundry in public. Dirty laundry with pockets stuffed full of cash. Spies can steal your identity with little more than knowledge of your name and rough whereabouts. All it takes is a quick Google search, a look at the Yellow Pages and a bit of imagination. If the pull of social networking is too strong, we recommend keeping your profile hidden from search or at the very least restricted to friends -- and no, rough acquaintances you met briefly at a party don't count. Keep anyone you don't know properly restricted to a limited profile and never, under any circumstances, add any applications. Any idiot can make a Facebook app and they all get full access to all your private information.
Facebook privacy
Paranoia scale: 2 tinfoil hats out of 5

Sometimes knowing you're safe from spies isn't enough. Sometimes the only way to feel better about someone trying to invade your privacy is to fight back, get even and engineer a situation where there's a high likelihood of kneeing the sneaking scoundrels in the goolies. Or turning them into the authorities, whichever works best for you. Here, friends, is how you can create such a scenario.

Move 8
This is a portable unit you can place inside a briefcase, car or other valuable item, and it'll alert you by text message when your property is being tampered with. You can even call it from a phone to listen in on whatever people are saying in its vicinity. Hide it in your car, in your own home, or in your boss's office to discover the truth about what's happening when you're not around. Once you know who's messing with you, you can open up a can of industrial-strength whupass.
£495 from Spycatcher
Paranoia scale: 2 tinfoil hats out of 5

Nokia Cellular Voice Changer
Picture the scene: you know exactly who's spying on you and you want to confront them. So you call them up, use a voice-changing system to pretend you're a hot chick, then invite them to a cozy little back alley that's just big enough for three: you, the perp and a dirty great baseball bat. But violence doesn't solve anything, kids, so we're sure you can come up with all manner of uses to entrap and annoy people with this Cellular Voice Changer. Just choose whether you want to sound male or female, then place or receive a call as normal. It even functions as a standard hands-free kit.
£9.95 from Spycatcher
Paranoia scale: 4 tinfoil hats out of 5