Remote Snooping 169

It is nine years since I published in Murder in Samarkand that the security services can listen to you through your mobile telephone, even when it is apparently switched off. You could only prevent this by removing the battery. Shortly thereafter many mobile phone manufacturers started producing sealed phones from which you could not easily remove the battery. That was not especially a result of my publication. But I know for certain that the western security services had cooperated with the mobile phone companies in securing the software backdoor which enabled them to switch on the microphone when the phone appeared to be off. I am therefore inclined to believe the development of phones where it was hard to take the battery out was also encouraged by the security services.

Knowledge of the remote switch on was disseminated more widely after I met Richard Stallman, a hero of mine, and was able to tell him about it. He publicised it to the tech-savvy community. Eventually Edward Snowden released precisely the same information, and the mainstream media finally started reporting it, seven years after I first published it. Now, the security services themselves have admitted to having this capability, rather to the horror of extreme right wing commentators.

I learnt that the security services can bug you through your mobile phone, even if it appears to you switched off, in the course of my official duties. I was among those allowed to know, and could tell it with 100% certainty.

I have now been told something new for which I cannot give a 100% guarantee of truth, though I have no reason to doubt the good faith of the person who gave me the information, and I can say for sure they would have the access to know this officially. I am told by a good source that the security services can now activate the microphone, even if the battery has been removed and there is no power source in the phone.

To a non-technological person like me, that sounds impossible. How do you remotely power something? If it is true, will I not need a cable for my television one day? I find the notion fascinating. I have taken on board that removing the battery may not be enough, but would welcome thoughts on the plausibility of this information.

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169 thoughts on “Remote Snooping

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  • lysias

    The Berlin police in 2007 arrested sociologist Andrej Holm for being a member of a terrorist organization. One of their chief pieces of evidence against him was that he had not taken a cellphone to a meeting they knew he attended. A German court then ordered his release because the case against him was so flimsy.

  • lysias

    If enough people do as I do and don’t use cellphones, any list of people not on their database will be too long to be useful.

  • Jives


    I realy couldnt care what you think.

    Some here will know what im talking about.

    If youre really interested though go and sift through the US Patents Office since 1966.You will find enough to join the dots if so inclined.

    Dont you understand that by being bound it might cause me much trouble to say any more?

    From Biafra in 68 through to Liberia in 79/80 i can assure you i am neither an attention grabbing child or lacking mental acuity.

    As you were.

  • Republicofscotland

    Very interesting article, if they can remotely activate a mobile phone without its battery that would be one hell of a leap. It makes you wonder what other smart devices they can remotely activate, for instance, smart tv’s or Xbox or Play station etc.

    Here Apple deny giving the US govsrnment a backdoor into their devices software.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita è bella)

    I got reproached by the Mods some time ago for adding “Are you a person of interest?” to my handle; this was felt by the Mods to be encouraging further the paranoia of some commenters on this blog.

    Might I suggest – gently – that Craig’s post seems to have had exactly the same effect?

    Judging by most of the posts, that is. 🙂

  • Kempe

    Lend the phone to somebody else or post it a friend or relative with instructions to post it on to somebody else etc.

    As already pointed using the phone as a bug could be countered by placing the phone in a metal container or wrapping it in foil to block the radio signals but for anyone to be able to switch the phone on whilst switched off the receiver circuitry would have to remain powered up which would drain power from the battery.

    So, does a smart phone battery lose power when it’s switched off?

  • Jives


    “It makes you wonder what other smart devices they can remotely activate, for instance, smart tv’s or Xbox or Play station etc.”

    For many more years than youd imagine.

    Consider : Did or does your landline ever require a battery?

  • lysias

    And if enough people do as I do, the companies providing cellphone service will lose enough money so that they will pressure governments to stop doing this, or at least to stop doing it unless they have persuaded a court to issue a search warrant.

  • Jives


    “A court to issue a search warrant..”

    Oh what a quaint and arcane notion Lysias -)

  • lysias

    Some people use education to learn to think independently. Others use it to learn the received dogmas the spouting of which will advance their careers. Which group benefits their country and humanity in general the more?

  • Republicofscotland

    “For many more years than youd imagine.

    Consider : Did or does your landline ever require a battery?”

    Yes Jives I have a cordless home phone,as do many folk, of which I’m aware, my conversations can be listened into. Thankfully I’m not that important, though I do recall the German Chancellor Angel Merkel had her mobile phone hacked, the US allegedly being the culprits.

    Another article I read the other day claimed that when you pass a phone mast it collects your phone data. I’ve no idea whether or not that is true.

  • Jives


    Cordless phones still require electricty and batteries.

    I was thinking more of yer actual old steam powered landline thingy.

  • Uphill

    “I always suspect the worst with technology.

    They’ve got it and they use it.

    They are not going to admit to it.

    Things that seem unlikely are very likely true.” -add justifying nonsense here, etc etc.


    Ok i’v had enough. You people are so out of touch and in your heads, how you link these random assumptions so conspiratorially.

    You obviously don’t keep up with OUR technology, knowledge, and act like there is ton of nonsense going on. It really detracts from the actual issues that exist, that you ignore over imaginings. .

    But what the hell, it’s your talking shop. All that matters ? Learn some stuff ffs.

    State of the Onion [32c3]

    And try this, Clue, it’s not lizard people…Who Runs Britain?

  • Clark

    Bait, 2:01 pm, I was replying to Ludwig’s comment at 12:34 pm. Dunno what you think I’m trying to obfuscate. I can see some ways that remote audio capture without the main battery could be done, with some ‘phones. And I think that such capability could be added by implanting software as needed, making it impossible to detect in tests of ‘phones without the implanted software.

    I agree with you that there are also many other methods of surveillance.

  • Uphill

    ps, Thanks jives, I will now totally ignore your utter nonsense, forever.

    I really don’t like cowards, but I suspect your not even that. Just a way to hide that your full of it.

  • Jives



    So pleased youre the King Of Rock and Roll.

    It really becomes your sense of balance.

    Best of luck old boy!

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Sounds quite likely to me.

    Why is the FBI so interested in opening the IPhone of that male San Bernadino shooter, claiming that it is only a one off, not an authority to generally do it in future?

    Seems it has the ability to do what Craig is suggesting.

    In future, the Bureau must have such threats on its radar, and then monitor not only the calls but also what is going on wherever the suspects is.

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    Based on the comments so far, I have two thoughts and a conclusion to offer.

    (1) As Sam Addison earlier pointed out, a microphone is a speaker in reverse, it converts external sound into an electrical signal, and it does so 24/7, regardless of whether the battery/simcard is removed. It would require very little (if any) additional power to store this audio stream on a memory chip. The time-clock battery could supply this if required, and the recording would be transmitted after the main battery was replaced. Controlled by software, no additional hardware or advanced technology required, very difficult to detect, and with about 40 hours digital speech per gigabyte of memory, there’s no problem storing everything recorded while the battery is removed

    (2) One of the problems of bulk surveillance is sorting the wheat from the chaff. By removing the battery/simcard from your phone, you flag yourself to the security services as a high value subject, worth allotting additional analytic resources to.

    Conclusion : It is counter-productive to remove the battery. Better to leave your phone in another room/in the fridge/next to the radio.

  • Alan

    You should be safe if you turn your entire home into a Faraday Cage. Richard Stallman does know what he is talking about.

  • Rose

    MJ at 12.41 – We were given one of these gadgets for Christmas 2 years ago and yes it worked a treat on top of the woodburner sending heat all round the room and beyond with doors open. A couple of weeks ago it packed up. I’ve lost the bumpf that came with it, so have no idea whether it’s repairable or even what could have gone wrong; it looks such a beautifully simple gadget. As we only burn wood, I can’t think the heat exceeded the recommended temperature. Any ideas?

  • Ben-Mysogyy is my name

    With tongue in cheek I suggest they’ve taken Tesla’s electric wi-fi concept because that would be the only way to power a device remotely….or maybe alien tech from their warehouses.

  • MJ

    Rose: It may be that battery thing has failed due to excess heat or that the motor has packed in. Both can be replaced. Make sure the wires are still properly connected. If it still works after a bit of encouragement with your finger then it may just need cleaning and lubricating (with graphite, not oil).

  • mark golding

    Put thick tape over the laptop camera and microphone which is easily switched on remotely through the operating system and the indicator (if fitted) disabled.

    Mobile Phone Prying (state of art):

    Call Intercept: This feature lets you listen in to a live phone call as it happens.

    Record Phone Calls: Remotely record all phone calls made to or from the target phone. All call recordings are uploaded to a program control panel.

    Record Surroundings: The phone’s surroundings are recorded and uploaded to a control panel as mp3s. You can even listen to it live while it is occurring.

    Spy on Passwords (Password Cracker): An industry first. This unique feature allows you to see all passwords entered on the phone. You can easily see the actual passwords they use for social messaging, emails and applications.

    RemCam: This feature allows you to take control of their phone camera remotely to take pictures which then are uploaded to your account.

    Instant GPS Locations: Getting the current GPS location, view the latest locates on a map.
    Remotely control the phone: Program allows you to make any changes remotely through an online web panel. This is something I haven’t seen in other monitoring applications.

  • Uphill


    “By removing the battery/simcard from your phone, you flag yourself to the security services as a high value subject, worth allotting additional analytic resources to.”


    Than how, pray tell, (unless i’m targeted, in which case a phone is the least of my worries) do they detect a phone battery being removed, or sim.

    Like this doesn’t happen millions of times every second. ? Have people on this blog lost all reason.

    I hope they are as stupid as this. I would remove stuff constantly just to suck up there resources.

  • Uphill

    If I didn’t assume better i’d say you are in with them, making people paranoid that “they know everything”, can do anything, like Alex jones.

    Engendering paralysis and fear. Get’s the punters in?

    Ether that or you are really dumb.

    Ps, and yea i’m generalizing, anyone not stuck in fantasy land, exclude yourself. Please fss do. Much of this tech is useful, can increase privacy, (as Snowden said) use it.

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