Showing posts with label Telephone tapping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Telephone tapping. Show all posts

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Getting my Jam On! Interrupting Communications: Information for Writers

English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined...
English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined as a self-propagating transverse oscillating wave of electric and magnetic fields. This diagram shows a plane linearly polarized wave propagating from left to right. The electric field is in a vertical plane and the magnetic field in a horizontal plane. http://weelookang.blogspot.com/2011/10/ejs-open-source-propagation-of.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our guest today is Jeffery H. Haskell who writes as Cassandra Sky West. We'll start our interview with Jeff in his non-writer persona and then switch to get to know what Cassandra has been writing about. Let's take a moment to get to know Jeff.

Jeff, can you tell me your professional background and how your background feeds your prose - what do you write?

Jeff -
The two things I could really call 'my profession' would be the US Army, and a technical support agent.


I spent 5 years in the Army doing comms work before I left to go to school. I went to school for journalism, and even won some big awards, but the inherent dishonesty of reporting was too much for me. Plus, I suck at school.


From there I fell into working tech support. I was young enough that I knew more about computers than the people older than me and in the 90s that was enough.


I worked that until 2011 when illness prevented me from talking on the phone for very long. Most of my tech support was phone based, I worked in call centers.

So how does this feed my prose? When I was a kid... let's say 'I had a bad childhood' and I didn't really have parents in any meaningful way. I loved Spiderman and Star Trek, and I used to write what we call fan fic now, but back then with no internet, it was just me dodging homework to go live in another world.

Of course, I read everything. Sci-fi, fantasy, as long as it was fantastical, I loved it. A few years ago, after being out of work for 4 years, I decided to revisit writing as a career. Mostly thanks to Lindsay Buroker's blog.


I started ghost writing on Upwork for urban fantasy. I had never really stopped writing since I was a kid. I decided I could write urban Fantasy. I use my background, my experiences, and my ability to research to bring as much life to the worlds and characters as I can. 


Currently, I write urban Fantasy as Cassandra, and Superhero and Sci-fi as Jeffery H. Haskell.


Fiona - 
And along the lines of research and making things as life-like as possible, you are here today to help us understand communications and how to make them not communicate.

Can you give us a brief overview of how communications uses electromagnetic signals as a path to understanding how we can interrupt them in our plots?

Jeff -
We call them by different names, cell phones, routers, AM/FM radio, etc., but they are all the same thing. They all use electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to transmit signals. Antennas receive them.


When a EMR signal is transmitted there are several ways it can reach its target, either in a broad circular transmission that blankets an area (AM/FM radio) through a directed signal (satellite dish) or through bouncing off the ionosphere.


These signals all have their own wavelength, something layman refer to as frequency. They aren't exactly the same thing, but close enough.


Fiona - 
So let's say we're the CIA or FBI, and we have a warrant (ripping this article from the headlines!) how would they intercept those signals without interrupting the conversation?

Jeff - 
Bear in mind, they have highly specialized equipment, often stuff you can't even buy on the market.


Fiona - 
Gosh, I hope so!

Jeff - 
If you're talking about cell phones, there are a lot of ways you can hijack the conversation without interrupting it. The irony of cell phones is, they actually made it easier to tap phone calls than land lines.


In the old days, if they wanted to tap a phone, they would either have to go inside the house and implant a bug in the room or the handset. Or dig up the line and attach a bypass to it.


The easiest way for them to do it now, and I believe Wikileaks just confirmed this (not to be political), is to simply gain wireless access the phone itself. Use its own software to record and listen to the call.


Fiona -
So to interrupt - wire tapping is so last year ...well, maybe not last year as in 2016, maybe many many years ago. It just isn't done.

Jeff - 
No, they still call it wiretapping, but no, no one really does that anymore.


The other way to listen is by hacking the cell company (which apparently the NSA had been doing) and routing all calls through their government computers and recording them.


There was a brief time when the FBI or whoever would have a tech van with a dish on top, and they would scan for signals, decode them and listen in. You had to be in the area of the cell phone you wanted to listen in on, but you could do it.


Now the government doesn't do that even. They hack everything and plant software that lets them listen from the source.

Fiona - 
I see they make baby dolls that start recording the stuff that goes on in your house now. Have you seen that?

Jeff - 
If it is wireless, then just like smart TV's (see Wikileaks) they can use that to listen and watch.


Fiona -
That's so creepy!

Jeff- 
1984 seems like a fond dream compared to the reality.


Fiona - 
Okay, new scenario.


The good guys (we only help the good guys here at ThrillWriting) need to stop the bad guys from communicating. How could they do that?


Jeff -
If I didn't mention it, I know most of this because I spent five years as a 31 Kilo, Combat Signaler. I had a top secret clearance and (at the time) used the most advanced radios in the world. Jamming is actually a bit more tricky than listening. 

Fiona - 
How cool is that! I knew I was asking the right person to help me understand this.

Jeff - 
It sounded much cooler writing it than the actual experience.


Fiona - 
So go back, can you define Combat Signaler? What did your job entail?

Jeff - 
I spent almost a year at Fort Gordon, Georgia, home of the Army Signal Corps.

At the time they were just transitioning from the PRC-77 (fondly known as a prick-seven) which was an unencrypted radio from Vietnam (yes, this was 1992. The Army doesn't upgrade quickly) I was the very first to be trained on the new sincgars, multi frequency, encrypted radios. I'm not sure how much of this is declassified these days so I'll just say this, they were impossible to jam, and as far as I know, still are.

Combat Signaler just meant I was in charge of the radio. Before the sincgars that meant you were just the guy who go shot first.


Fiona - 
I got stuck at Prick 7. I so love that. I have to put that in a books somewhere. Next book, everyone, look for it!

Could you define singars

Jeff -
Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, is what it stands for Impossible to jam! This is important.

It was a universal radio that could talk to everyone. Believe it or not, up until that point the services COULDN'T radio each other.

Fiona - 
Wait - what?
Is that fixed now?

(Jeff takes a moment to go and make sure he isn't releasing classified information to me so the DoJ doesn't come knocking on my door. Not to say that I wouldn't love to meet them, just to say I don't want to meet them under those circumstances. And it looks like we are cleared to continue this conversation)


Jeff - 
The basic stuff is declassified. 


Up until the sincgars came out, the branches of the military couldn't talk to each other. Everyone used different radios made by different companies and each with their own encryption (if they even had any).


If you needed to talk to the Airforce you would call the rear echelon, and they would relay the message. Fun, huh? We fought 4 or 5 wars like that.


On to why they are impossible to jam. First, I am going to explain jamming.


Here is what you need to jam a signal:


  • You need to know the frequency. You need to be close to the source (remember, some signals travel by bouncing off the ionosphere which starts 50 miles up).
  • A power source more powerful than the one the transmitter uses and a larger antenna.
Fiona - 
How do you discover the frequency, just messing around with a dial?

Jeff -
Well, with the right antenna and the right computer program you could scan for freqs in use. Or, if it is something like a commercially made cell phone, the FCC has laws that restrict their freq use. You could google 'Razor flip phone frequency' and probably get it.

Once you have all those things (see how it is harder than listening in?) You have to be ABOVE them. This is important. EM signals travel at the speed of light. If you are trying to go for a 100% jam, you have to turn on your jammer before they connect their call, and for best results be higher than them.


Fiona- 
Physically - like on a hill or in a tower - or standing on your van?

Jeff - 
Yes, physically (for best results).


After that it is just a matter of 'keying the mic' to transmit. If you're 50w radio is transmitting and someone with a 2.5w cell phone tries to talk, the signal will be washed away by the 50w signal.

In the Army we had a special Humvee with two massive antennas on them and a 100kw generator. When we flipped the switch, NO ONE could talk. We would sit on hills and do it randomly for fun just to mess up training exercises

That's area jamming, by the way. There is such a thing as direct jamming, but it takes even more specialized equipment and a directional antenna. However, the benefit is you don't need as big a power source.

Area jamming is what I described first. You sit on a hill or a house and overpower everyone.

Directional jamming is when you use something that looks like a satellite dish and you point it at the target you want jammed
it has the advantage of being smaller, using less power, and it is far more mobile.


However, if your target were to go behind something resistant to EMR, they would be free of the jamming.


So there are trade offs.


Fiona

What surfaces would be resistant to EMR?

Jeff -
Anything that conducts electricity well. Copper, aluminum, gold, etc.


Also, lead. But that is because it is so dense the waves can't pass through it.


I say 'blocked' but some of these things absorb it, it amounts to the same thing.


There is also a way to seal your home or HQ by building a Faraday cage. Which is a thin wire mesh, like chicken wire, but made from copper. You put it in your walls and then run a low amount of power through it. No signal can penetrate it.

I wish they would put Faraday cages in movie theaters.


Fiona -  
Yes!
Why can't SINGARS be jammed?

Jeff - 
SINGARS can't be jammed. Essentially they don't transmit on any one frequency. While they are transmitting they change frequency 111 times per second. Of course, they have to be synced to another sincgar to do it. But because you can't know what freq their on, you can't jam them.

Fiona -
Thank you.

Here on ThrillWriting it is tradition to tell the story behind your favorite scar. Would you indulge us?

Jeff -
Sadly, most of my scars are less than fun stories. But if I had to pick a favorite... One time in high school a kid who hated me threw a quarter stick of dynamite at me. It went off an inch from my shin. Shredded my pants and dented my shin bone. The skin is still discolored and you can feel the indent behind it.

Fiona-

Kids in your school threw dynamite? What??? 

Jeff - 
I didn't like school, to say the least.


Fiona - 
Goodness. Well, since that time, now you are writing under the
beautiful name Cassandra Sky West. And your books are doing really well. One of them you've recently put on sale and our readers can snag it for only 99 cents!

WITH THE DAWN
Alexi Creed needs to know who murdered her, and why. When she wakes up with no memory of her previous life, the only clue she has is a sudden, undeniable thirst for human blood. She finds allies in a mysterious witch with an enigmatic warning of the future and a brooding werewolf in search of redemption. Together they must fight malevolent vampires, agents of the Arcanum, and the forces of darkness if she is going to uncover her past and save the world from a night that will never end. READ IT HERE


A big thank you to Jeff AKA Cassandra Sky West for visiting with us and helping us to understand this subject so we can write it right.

You can stay in touch with Jeff/Cassandra here:
http://cassandraskywest.com/  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I've Got My Eye On You: Surveillance Information for Writers w/ Jay Korza



________________________________________________________________________________

A 'nest' of surveillance cameras at the Gillet...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today on ThrillWriting we are answering a reader's questions about surveillance. To do this, I have invited our friend Jay Korza back to share his knowledge.



Fiona - 
Hi Jay, can you give our readers a little bit of your background? Why do you know how to keep track of people?

Jay - 
I've been in law enforcement for fourteen years now. I have worked on SWAT for eight. SWAT doesn't deploy the stuff we're talking about, but we work with the guys who do when we serve their warrants based off the surveillance.

I've also worked as a detective and in a special operations unit doing stuff with Border Patrol, Customs, 
ICE, ATF and other federal acronyms. So 
I've had exposure to what we're talking about.

Fiona - 
From an law enforcement point of view, what's allowed without a warrant and how does access increase with a warrant in hand? I'm trying to set the legal v. illegal perimeters.

Jay -
First, we need to clarify electronic surveillance can include GPS, wire taps, cameras, microphones, and other data collection methods. 

Let's start with the GPS - 
Garmin eTrex Yellow GPS acquiring satellite signal
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basically, law enforcement uses off-the-shelf products and nothing really fancy. I asked my buddy if there was really high tech stuff out there that we don't use because of cost, and he said no. Even your Fed agencies use the same basic stuff we do.

There are two basic monitors. One that is hardwired into the car's electrical system and one that isn't and has its own battery. Up until last year, you needed a warrant for the hardwired monitor but not the stand alone unit. Now the Supreme Court says you need a warrant for both types. The warrant must specify a length of time you will be recording data. At the end of that time, you must retrieve or attempt to retrieve the tracker.

Many of the GPS trackers are magnetic so you just roll under the suspect's car and slap it on to the frame.

The hardwired kind has more options. It can send a signal to say the vehicle was turned on or off. Both types have options that allow them to automatically turn on or off at certain times or not turn on until the vehicle is in motion. This is important because you can get a cell phone signal detector from radio shack and run it around your car to see if it's being tracked. But if the tracker won't turn on until there is movement, then you would have to do this while moving and that's not feasible.
 
Fiona -
Oh! Very interesting.

Jay - 
Wire taps need warrants, always.

Fiona - 
When you say wire tap - that is a phone line only?

What about sniffing the airwaves for wifi signal and cell phones?

Jay
In some states, to record a conversation, only one party in the conversation needs to be aware of the recording. In other states, both parties need to be aware. This generally only applies to non-law enforcement related stuff. For example if you want to record your neighbor being a jerk to you.

But for wire-tapping, listening in on hardline or cell phone conversations for law enforcement purposes, this requires a warrant.

Fiona - 

Found on my Facebook feed
That's audio - but video without the sound is legal, yes?

Jay - 
Photographing and listening devices can be placed anywhere in public without a warrant. Some states MAY vary with their own more restrictive laws so a writer would need to check their story's state for specific.

So I, as a cop, want to watch someone's property for drug traffic. I can put a camera up in a neighborhood on a telephone pole and point that camera towards their yard and not need a warrant to do that.

Warrants boil down to this basic concept: If you want to watch, listen, or search for anything, and what you want to watch, listen, or search for is in an area that ANYONE could access it, you don't need a warrant. If the person or item or whatever is in any location that a person believes is private and/or has an expectation of privacy in that area, you need a warrant.

There are obviously caveats and details that we can go into more specifics with, but that is the general idea.

Your backyard, isn't private. Your neighbor can look into it. Someone can stand next to it and listen in on it. So putting up a camera or listening device to do the same thing is okay without a warrant.

If you choose to conduct your criminal activity in an area where your average mailman, pool guy, weed guy, neighbor - has access to, then we don't need a warrant to watch those areas



Found in my Facebook feed.

Fiona - 
What if my character obtained the information illegally and sent it anonymously to the police - could they use that?

Jay - 
Depends.

Let's say a burglar, acting on his own volition, breaks into someone's house and steals a laptop. He leaves and finds child porn on the laptop. He turns it into the police. We can look at what he has already looked at and use that to get a warrant to search further.

That actually happened not too long ago.

Fiona - 
WOW that's an upstanding burglar with a code of ethics! 


Say our character "knows" someone is doing something wrong - maybe a wife who thinks her husband is having an affair. What are some techniques your average everyday run of the mill scorned woman might use to catch hubby with his hand in the cookie jar?

Jay - 
Facebook!

Fiona - 
Ha! I mean in terms of using apparatus.

Jay - 
There are programs you
HTC Aria android 2.2 smart phone review www.li...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
can install on smart phones that will track the phone without the owners knowledge. I don't know any specific names, but they are out there. I'm sure some work better than others.

You can easily get a GPS tracking device that attaches to the car. There are some that send wireless updates and others that you have to download the information later, and then you can see where it was but not as it is happening.

There are now a few products out that plug into the computer port on your car, the one they use to check error codes and stuff, and those can be made to do a lot of different things including tracking.

Fiona - 
Can she walk into court with that information? "He said he went to Maryland for business, he was actually three blocks over sleeping at my best friends house!"

Jay - 
You could call your cell service provider as the account holder and ask them to set up your husband's phone as a child account with tracking (if they provide this option) and then track his phone through the cell service.


For court use: It depends on the laws of the state. In general, yes.
There could be civil laws in some states that preclude that information.


Three blocks?! Stupid guy!

Fiona - 
That he's doing her best friend makes him the worst kind of stupid guy. But hey, it's not my plot line.

Okay what about the computer? She wants to see what hubby is saying to whom - how could she get that information on a PC? What about if it were a laptop and adding any plug ins would be more visible?

Jay - 
PC: There are programs that log keystrokes or ones that take video of the screen so you can watch the video later. There are plenty of options out there for that sort of thing. The main thing is the wife would need access to the computer as an admin in order to install the programs. So if the hubby uses a pass code, and she doesn't know it, she's locked out and can't do that. She'd need to set up a nanny cam to view the screen. If you're using Windows 8.1 you can set up accounts to monitored for their web and program history. It won't give you details like what was said in a chat, but you could see the general usage stats. That wouldn't help too much in this situation. It will tell you the site they went to though.

But when my kid logs into her account, it says "This account is being monitored". So that isn't too helpful.

Fiona - 
Well it stops your kid from going somewhere they shouldn't, so that's all good.

Jay - 
There are in-line keystroke loggers that plug into USB gadgets. They aren't obvious on an empty port. So you plug it in then plug the printer into it so it isn't an "extra" odd thing plugged in.

In the end, if you have access to the computer and aren't locked out, there are tons of apps that will watch the computer and report back to you. It's just a matter of finding the one that you like best.

Fiona - 
Go back to the key stroke logger. 

Jay - 
Keystroke loggers are great for showing one side of the conversation.

They could get pass codes and access the email, Facebook private messages etc.

Most people won't see a USB keystroke logger if you plug it into the back of their computer. Who checks the back of their PC??

But the crux is getting it there and getting it back. Not to mention you don't get real-time data, you have to wait until you retrieve it to get what you need. Unless you find one that sends out info via the computer's Internet connection.

Fiona - 

Exactly. But you would see it on a laptop. So is there something that captures keystrokes that have already happened? More importantly - would the police use something like that?

Jay - 
You can install software, but the police would need access to the computer AND a warrant.

We could take a phone or computer, get a warrant to install the software, then return the item under false pretenses. "Sorry we took this, we didn't mean to. Here you go. Have a nice day."

Fiona - 

That person would be an idiot to say - oh, okay officer - then I'll just go ahead and use this for my drug deals.

They are nuts. Sell the darned thing and buy a new one. Don't they read crime novels?

Jay - 
No they don't!!!

Fiona - 
Tsk tsk - not very competent criminals - hardly gives the police a challenge at that point.

Jay - 
I actually have plans to write a satirical book when I retire called "How to be a Criminal." Chapter one, don't steal this f*cking book! You aren't ready yet.

Fiona - 
Hahaha! LOVE that!

So someone with some computer savvy could take another person's laptop surreptitiously and install hardware, slip it back in place, and see live anything happening on the laptop?

Jay - 
Yes.

Fiona - 
What about if the police want to follow someone's movements within a building - a GPS would not be helpful for that - do you put trackers in people's shoes? Do you put cameras on their buttons so you can see where they've gone and what they've done?

Jay - 
GPS would be helpful in a building. We can pinpoint altitude (floor level in the building) and within a meter or two of their location. So we could track someone in a building just fine with GPS. However, unless we're talking CIA level investigation, there isn't a reason to in regular law enforcement to get that level of tracking of done.

But that's not true if you din't have access to the GPS and were, for example, following the pings from a cell tower to get generalized location.

Tower pinging is much less accurate. And it requires a subpoena or a warrant. We can ask for emergency pings without either, such as a kidnapping, suicidal subject, or other exigent circumstances.


Most tower pings are now actually GPS locate, it's just still called pinging the phone. The company knows your GPS location unless you have a really dumb phone with no extras on it. Then they actually use tower triangulation.

Fiona - 
What is a tracking issue that has bugged you (giggle) in a book or movie?


Jay - 
Movie and book issues: Tracking someone and looking at their tracking screen and somehow, their screen has an exact map of wherever the person happens to be. They ducked into an office building? No problem, my screen automatically downloaded the wire-frame blueprints of that building, and now I can see them walking up the stairs and into room 819. Nope.

Fiona - 
Boo! That sounds so awesome!

Jay -
One thing they do get right is the lag time. If you have someone tracking a person for you and then relaying the information to you, you are always behind the curve. You may miss the street they took and have to take the next one to catch up.

Fiona - 
How long is that seconds? Minutes?

Jay - 
Could be either depending on the equipment being used. It's worse when the information is going to a third party, say OnStar, then OnStar is relaying it to a dispatcher who then relays it to you. I had that once for a stolen vehicle that we were tracking. My dispatcher said, "Ok, they're stopped at a street just up the road from you and it dead ends." Nope! They were heading straight for me down that road.

Fiona - 
YIPES!

Can you tell our readers about your books?





Jay - 
Plot for Extinction: An ancient race created a species of warriors to conquer other planets/systems for them. A millennium after the conquering, the current Emperor wanted to end the tyranny, but even he couldn't do it. He would be overthrown. So he devised a plan to lead an expansion colony himself to an unexplored part of the galaxy, and then cut himself off from the Empire, letting it wither without him. Then, he would come back and rebuild things the right way. His plan didn't work.

A thousand years later, humans are exploring the galaxy and come across one of the Emperor's first colony sites in our region of space. The scientists accidentally set off a distress signal to the old empire and the warriors find out that the old Emperor had lied to them, and now they are coming to claim our portion of space. Two special forces teams will embark on separate missions to stop the threat.

Amazon Link $2.99


Fiona - 
Very fun! I have a lot of readers here on ThrillWriting who love to read and write sci-fi. You also wrote a zombie theme?

Jay -
My second book is called "This Is Not What I Wished For..." It takes place where the zombie genre is unheard of. A boy on his fourteenth birthday has his family wiped out by what he believes to be demons. He sees his neighbors and family eaten and killed in front of him and then turn into these demons. He flees and ultimately joins with other survivors and leads them to the epicenter of the outbreak, a hospital that is really a covert government lab that accidentally allowed this foreign contagion to escape their labs.

Fiona - 
A huge thank you to Jay Korza for all of his excellent insider information.


Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


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