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Real-life spy vs spy

Read time 2min 30sec

Be it a camera hidden in a tie, an audio recorder in a watch, or undetectable surveillance software unwittingly installed in a mobile phone or computer, according to director of SpyCatcher SA Etienne Labuschagne, corporate espionage is on the rise in SA.

"Devices that used to be the preserve of Q from the James Bond movies, are now easily available in the street for a few hundred rand," said Labuschagne, speaking at the ITWeb Security Summit yesterday.

"In actual fact, the things you see in the movies and online are possible and are being used in business.

"Surveillance and counter-surveillance are not only part of the shadowy worlds of politics and international relations."

According to Labuschagne, low-cost bugs are today efficient enough to help the average man in the street get the information he needs.

"Surveillance is not what it used to be - mobile phones can be bugged very easily. You can be sent a simple SMS asking you to update a service, and as soon as you open the link, surveillance software can be installed on your phone without your knowledge.

“Such software can allow the person behind it to call your phone, without it ringing, and allow them to listen directly to you and your surroundings."

Labuschagne said small recording devices are being used "everywhere where knowledge is power" and warned they can come in forms that no-one would never guess.

Corporate intelligence

In an example of some of the work Labuschagne has done in SA, he explained how a client who didn't trust his business partner approached SpyCatcher to rig a camera into a new flat-screen TV. He then gave the TV to his partner as a gift, and he could dial-in on the camera feed from anywhere in the world from his mobile phone. Another company bugged its own board members.

Labuschagne also described software products that enable one to record every keystroke and all activity on another computer, without being detected. "It's the equivalent of a digital surveillance system, enabling you to see everything your family members or employees do."

"It's not far from James Bond; it's real and it's happening."

Mission possible

"Counter-surveillance equipment is cost-effective and relatively simple for companies to protect their confidential information from prying eyes and ears."

Encryption systems can be bought for a few thousand rand to remove bugs that have been planted in an office or home. SpyCatcher has protection units designed to sweep for bugs, and provides a detailed security report on weaknesses and advises on upgrades.

"It is in every company's interests to protect their confidential data and intellectual property at every point where it is vulnerable. We're living in an age where all of this is possible."

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