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Surveillance Questions and Answers

Hello all you dudes and dudettes playing cops and robbers out there in radio land.

This is the first installment of what will be a regular column in Police & Security News. The prime focus of this column will be to answer questions submitted by you on various topics relating to technical surveillance. Submissions will be by email, and I will print the most interesting and universally useful questions and answers here in this column.

We need to get some basics out of the way, and I'll keep them short. Many of you, especially if you have been reading this magazine since it was a baby, may recognize me from other articles on surveillance and communications I've penned in these pages. Each article generated comments and questions, sometimes dozens, and we figured it would be more appropriate to answer them in a public forum so all could benefit.

So, here's the process: If you have a question on any aspect of electronic surveillance, radio communications, optics, countersurveillance or related technology, email it to me [email protected] I'll acknowledge submissions fairly quickly, although it may be from a hotel room or tent in some country currently in the headlines or on the cover of National Geographic. I'll answer, or research the answer, as quickly as I reasonably can, and squirt the info back to you. If the question is of general interest, it's potentially subject matter for this column, with your permission and sanitized as necessary.

If for some reason you do not have email, and as a last resort only, please fax your question to my office in Maryland at 4108361190. It's a lot more convenient for me if submissions are in electronic form. My voice number in Maryland is 4108794035, however I spend a lot of time on the street so you'll likely talk to voice mail.

If I can't answer your question, I'll be the first to admit, and unless the topic is sensitive, I may,

with your permission, put it to our brothers and sisters in this forum for their input. As the Bible

says, "In a multitude of counselors there is strength.".

OK. Here's a question submitted by Dan:

     Does anyone know of software available that can be installed on a computer that      searches for any spyware that might have been installed without the users     knowledge?.

Answer   John Dvorak reviewed a program called Adaware in the Feb 26th 2002 issue of PC Magazine. It is available from www.lavasoftusa.com. It is shareware, meaning you can download, run and use it, but if you continue to use it you are morally obligated to make a small donation to the company who wrote and supports the software. Details are on their webpage.

Dvorak recommends it highly, and so do I after using it. Symptoms of spyware include longer than normal boot times (although boot times normally increase the longer you have your computer and the more applications you install filling the registry full of crap. Long boot times also can mean an impending hard disk failure). Other symptoms can be loss of bandwidth, meaning your Internet connections are slower than they should be, because the hidden software is sending information out of your computer and taking up resources. Also seeing modem activity when you don't expect it (if you have lights or something) can mean something suspicious, and general overall poor or unreliable system performance.

All these signs also can have other, normal, causes though, so use them as a guide only.

Adaware, written in Germany, found 26 (yeah, TWENTY SIX) keystroke loggers and spyware programs on Dvorak's computer when he first ran it. And he knows what he is doing and specifically looked for stuff and didn't find it on his own or using other antikeystrokelogging software.


These pieces of spyware install themselves when you run other programs, especially the kind of crap people new to the web mail to each other all day long, and occasionally by visiting infected websites. Yeah, there is a reason some of those sites have free pictures! To protect yourself, NEVER run an executable file (any file with a .com, .exe or .bat extension, or any other file you feel unsure about) someone sends you, unless you are willing to trust them with your computer. Guess wrong and you get to lose everything on your machine and start all over again with a nice fresh empty hard drive. Backups may do little good even if you have them, which I know you don't, because you would have been backing up the spyware along with your good files so when you restore, you'd restore the spyware right back to the clean hard drive.

I did not find anything on my machine and did not expect to since I am fairly paranoid about the network, having a full time connection to the web.

Adaware is easy to download, and easy to run. Follow the instructions which come with it and you'll be protected. And pay for it, of course. There are updates released periodically, and the website tells you how to make sure you have the latest version.


Another one:

 Subject: Garage Door Openers  Suggestions

     Any thoughts, suggestions with regards to handling (for use in opening) garage     door openers for the Service of Process, Court Seizures, Repossessions, etc.???     We have heard that there "may" be a universal remote which covers all      frequencies used by one or more of the major Garage Door opener companies.

Answer   You acknowledge you are aware of the legal ramifications of opening someone else's garage door without their knowledge or permission. This would be no different than jimmying a lock and going in through the front door in any instance I can think of.

Anyway, there were universal openers around which worked for a while. Until fairly recently (10 or 15 years ago), almost all garage door openers used one of two different transmitters. One

transmitter had 128 different codes, and the other 256 different.

The universal openers merely packaged one of each transmitter in a plastic chassis with a clock stepping through each of the 128 or 256 digital codes on each transmitter. Each transmitter was on a specific frequency slightly above the 300 megacycle band, but used separate digital encoding to allow the use of multiple transmitters on the same frequency.

You had to step through at a proper rate. To cover all 256 codes took about 15 minutes from when you first turned on the device, or on an average, half that time. For the 128 bit transmitters, half these times.

The two transmitters covered 90% of all door openers.

We used to build the things, and they worked fine.

Then, hackers started building "code grabbers" which would capture transmissions from nearby garage door openers and also car remote controls for car alarms, and grab the particular code used. The hacker could then retransmit out that same code and open the same device as the legitimate remote.

The only appropriate use other than law enforcement I saw for the car alarm universal remotes, which were functionally nearly identical to the garage remotes, was for repo techs or car repair or used car dealers to be able to make a proper remote for a car coming in the lot which used a remote but the remote was not available.

To defeat the code grabbers, nearly every remote sold now, whether for auto or garage, uses a "rolling code" technique. This changes the code with every transmission, and the receiver and transmitter must be set up to rotate according to the same algorithm.

In the process, the digital coding was made more complex, and the number of combinations is in the many thousands, not small numbers like 256. Cheap digital and microprocessor circuitry makes this cheap and easy.

So universal remotes now would be nearly useless. It is not practical to scan the much larger number of, and more complex format of, control signals for garage door openers or car remotes.

Some spy shops still claim to sell universal remotes, but they will not work on any newer system. They may work on 15 or 20 year old garage doors, but I wouldn't even count on that. The ones I have seen were completely phony, but looked impressive.

Hope this helps.

Regards ... Steve


I think that's enough for this issue. You get the idea.

Please forward your questions. If you need to deal with an issue, chances are pretty good your fellow tech guys will need to also.

I'll say this once for those of you who don't know me. I've been in the industry 30 years this year as owner of SWS Security. We manufacture electronic surveillance, intelligence gathering and communications equipment for law enforcement and military. Our company headquarters are in Maryland, and we maintain facilities in ten countries. We don't publish a catalog as the majority of our work is custom. We also provide services allied to our product line, worldwide. I'll share tidbits I've picked up off the street over the years in future articles. I've published 313 articles in various technical magazines since 1972, virtually all on topics relating to technical surveillance or communications.

You're welcome to visit my website, which admittedly is a mess, at www.swssec.com. Check the Articles section for copies of articles previously published here in Police & Security News.

See y'all next time.

Clip this and tape it to a Rolodex card against future need:
Electronic Surveillance questions and answers
Police & Security News
Steve Uhrig
SWS Security

[email protected]
Phone/Fax 410.879.4035

Copyright (c) Feb 2004 by Steve Uhrig, SWS Security. All Rights Reserved.