) -- For decades, audiences have thrilled to the exploits of Bond, James Bond, as the cinematic secret agent used an array of fantastic devices to hunt down megalomaniacs.
One may not have much need to penetrate a supervillain's volcano lair. But you don't have to be with MI-6 or the CIA to be in the spy game.
In the 1960s, only James Bond and Her Majesty's Secret Service could afford high-tech spy devices. These days, a 99-cent iPhone app may be all you need to find what you want to know.
Parents, fearing for their children's safety, look to keep tabs on their whereabouts, text messages and Web browsing. Jilted lovers flirt ever closer with anti-stalking laws as they look to confirm their jealous suspicions. Companies are routinely hacked by corporate spies for profit motive and bored kids out for "the lulz."
A survey late last year by
, a consumer electronics shopping and review site, found that more than a third of respondents (33%) admitted to checking a boyfriend's or girlfriend's email or call history on the sly. Thirty-seven percent of married couples admitted to spying on their spouse; 60% of parents with teenaged kids admitted to an intentional privacy intrusion.
As technology keeps getting both more sophisticated and cheaper, those looking to spy, or protecting themselves from prying eyes, have more options than ever.
For decades, specialty "spy shops" have brought secret agent swag to the masses, catering to professional security personnel, private investigators and a "gotta have it" subset of shoppers.
These businesses have grown in recent years, mainly online. The syndicated television show
, known for using hidden cameras to spy on unfaithful couples, has branched out into the world of online retail and has a
with such shopping categories as "Catch A Cheating Wife or Husband," and "Retrieve Deleted Texts."
There are, of course, legal limits to how such technology can be used. States have an abundance of harassment and wiretap laws on their books, which is why in an interview with
, Bobby Goldstein, a co-creator of
, described his store this way: "We are very cautious about how we market our products. We're like a liquor retailer in that we want our products to be used responsibly."
We took a look at some of the items snoops and countersnoops are using.
Look around your room or office. Odds are there are plenty of great places someone could hide a camera.
Keeping tabs on a nanny or looking for a suspected thief are why some buy hidden cameras -- at least, it's what they might claim.
Among the many ways to sneak a peek of an unaware subject are such items as one billed by San Francisco's International Spy Shop as
"Crouching tiger, hidden DVR,"
an AC-adapter DVR with an MSRP of $799 (it can be found on sale for as $295).
It may look like a regular everyday AC adapter plugged into the wall, but the high-grade covert camera has a DVR built into the unit and is motion activated. Insert an SD card, plug it in and you are ready to cast a prying eye.
include variations that come concealed in a clock, smoke detector, book, air purifier (one of the more expensive variations, with an MSRP of $649) and VCR. The last item, however, might draw undesired attention -- who still owns a VCR, anyway? It's so 1990s.
The thought of a camera concealed in a
, well, that just gives us the creeps.
If you prefer to carry the tools of your covert operation, $300 will get you a camera camouflaged as a
and $600 for
-- a Buffalo-based spy tech seller that has had products featured on TV shows
-- sells the
a $70 item that looks just like one of those iconic "Have a Nice Day" smile face pins but can record audio and video and take still images.
Behind closed doors
What goes on behind closed doors might be an open book for those with the right tools.
A sneaky peek of your company might need only go as far as infiltrating your mailroom. At about $20 a can,
will let you see what's inside an envelope by making it temporarily translucent. Once dry, it leaves no trace of snooping.
Every picture tells a story, but perhaps not always as effectively as sound.
Someone intent on hearing your innermost secrets, stealing your privileged business information or trying to catch the milkman crawling through the bedroom window can use such devices as
, a device that allows you to listen to sounds up to 300 yards away.
There is also that old-fashioned standby of bugging a room by placing a recording device inside a telephone handset or stashing a transmitter the same way a camera might be concealed.
The world of corporate espionage is also leading some -- perhaps as much out of paranoia as to protect trade secrets -- to take on a bit of countersurveillance.
, for example, is a broadband receiver designed to detect and find all major types of electronic surveillance devices including room, phone, body bugs, video transmitters and tape recorders. It's everything needed to perform a professional sweep and fits inside a standard briefcase.
Personal RF Detector
, which costs between $500 and $600, is a handheld model for finding transmitters or bugging devices in a room or automobile.
More expensive, advanced bug sweepers come with jamming technology to prevent conversations from being heard clearly.
Man of many voices
If you need to make a call but don't want to be identified -- say, for some insider trading, tipping off the press or telling a millionaire where to leave a bag of ransom or blackmail money -- the
attaches to a phone and lets you increase or decrease the pitch of your voice.
A top-quality voice changer, good enough to even change what gender you sound like, will run as much as $600. A cheaper option, at 16 cents a minute, is the prepaid calling card
. Placing a call with it will alter the sound of your voice and display a fake phone number on caller ID system -- perfect for either a shakedown or prank-calling pizza deliveries.
The ability to slap a tiny device to a car bumper and track the route of an escaping foe was once standard, but make-believe, spy movie fare. Now, thanks to uniquitous GPS technology, anyone can follow another's whereabouts.
bills itself as the "smallest real time tracker with 16-satellite global positioning." The unit is self-contained, with no external antenna, and sends detailed reports of where it's been via text messages or
Earth. Battery life is one day.
Selling for between $179 and $289, the
ITrail GPS Travel Logger
-- magnetized for easy car tracking -- records location, speed, time, and displays the information on an interface powered by Google Maps and Google Earth.
Browsing your browser
Purveyors of spy tech target three particular camps when it comes to computer surveillance: parents who want to know what their kids are up to online; employers convinced Sal from accounting is spending more time on porn sites than with Excel spreadsheets; and suspicious minds convinced their lover has done them wrong.
It is with these
in mind that logging software has become commonplace.
Just like in the movies where a tiny flash drive steals away vital data, there's the USB plug-in
, which installs a small piece of keylogging software enabling you to keep tabs on the Web browsing habits of your kids, spouse or employees -- all for less than $200 and just one of a wide range of similar USB devices and software packages designed for the task.
The spy in your pocket
Smartphone users have been understandably unnerved in recent weeks by revelations that their data is easily mined by manufacturers and the apps they install.
The capability your phone has to snoop out your comings and goings really shouldn't have come as a surprise. As long as there have been smartphones, there have been those who found ways to turn them into handheld spy tools.
's $49 software for Android, Blackberry and iOS phones offers the ability to secretly view call logs; read any text message sent or received by the target phone (even if those messages have been erased); record and upload GPS locations; track browsing, email and contact lists; and sneak to you any photos taken by the target phone.
After installing it on any phone given to a family member or employee, you can monitor what it is done with it remotely, via Web site.
"Find out if your partner is cheating on you! Make sure your child is where they say they are. See exactly what your employee Is really doing when they call in 'sick.' See if your friend is lying to you," its online marketing boasts. The company says the program runs undetected and is "completely legal as long as you own the phone or have authorization to install SpyBubble on it."
is another remote-monitoring tool aimed at folks who want to keep tabs on their kids or a spouse. A pro version retails for $349 a year by the FlexiSPY company, which claims to have "invented the commercial spy phone in 2004" and offers "professional-grade spy phone software that secretly captures all cellphone communications and lets you view or listen to all of this from anywhere in the world."
"In other words, it lets you become a fly on the wall knowing their every move," it adds. ""Are you serious about uncovering your cheating partner? The only way to be sure is to spy on their cellphone."
Once captured, the communication data is sent to your private Web account and GPS locations are displayed on a map tracking location and movements. FlexiSPY also boasts of being able to "intercept actual phone calls, so you can listen in on a live conversation, and remotely activate the target cellphone's microphone so you can listen to the phone's environment -- just like a bugging device."
, an iPhone app, lets you seek out online mentions and photos of anyone on your contact list.
Take a quick look around your room or office. Odds are that there is a great spot for a hidden camera, and another 99-cent app,
, lets you use your iPhone's built-in camera as a sound-triggered monitoring device.
Use the "Find My Phone" feature and you can even use a hidden iPhone to track someone's whereabouts.
Apps such as
let you take smartphone pictures discreetly, masking the fact you are doing so with dummy screens designed to throw off shoulder surfers.
Alas, for many of these uses, one could easily replace the work "spy" with "pervert."
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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