Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) services are conducted for the purpose of locating active and passive electronic surveillance devices used to collect private, confidential or proprietary information. TSCM services should also identify both existing and potential non-technical and cybersecurity weaknesses related to the protection of privacy and information.
Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM), Counter Surveillance (CS), Counterintelligence (CI), Technical Security (TS), Communication Security (COMSEC), electronic debugging (bug sweeps, eavesdropping and wiretap detection) may be familiar terms. However, most businesses and individuals do not possess a strong understanding of TSCM services, what is involved in a proper TSCM survey/inspection, or who to contact when these services are required. Because of this, most businesses do not have the ability to properly monitor and assess or evaluate the services being performed.
To make matters more difficult, TSCM service providers come with a variety of backgrounds, experience, training and equipment, offering various types of service levels and operational setups. Knowing which operator will best serve your particular requirements is not an easy task.
It is no secret that eavesdropping, spying and theft of information are growing problems. Whether it is due to business, legal or personal matters, sales of devices for the purpose of conducting surveillance and gathering information or intelligence has become a multi-million dollar business in North America. Losses due to the theft of information are estimated to be in the billions of dollars while causing irreparable damage to businesses and individuals.
Electronic devices can be quite small and easily hidden and designed to collect audio, video or data information. They can be sound/voice, light or motion-activated, pre-programmed to turn on and off at specific times or controlled remotely in real-time. Some devices will transmit intermittently while others transmit signals that are hidden within stronger signals or frequency bands to mask their presence. Others are hard-wired and do not transmit RF signals or simply record audio or video for retrieval at a later time. There are devices that utilize Wi-Fi or cellular-based technology and can be controlled from a computer or a telephone anywhere in the world to record or transmit stored data on demand, or monitor activity in real-time. In addition, there are devices that utilize ultrasonic, laser, infrared (IR) and visible light technology to transmit audio information. Portable and cellular devices have also become threats with the ability to record and transmit both audio and video.
Electronic surveillance devices have become more sophisticated, affordable, simple to use, readily available and pose a significant threat. But they are not the only way of obtaining private or confidential information. Many times, compromise and information loss does not involve technical devices but is the result of poor policy, physical security weakness or human error. These factors have contributed to the increased targeting of cellular communication equipment and software as well as computers and networks as selected methods for obtaining personal, confidential or proprietary information.
There is a wide variety of sophisticated electronic equipment utilized in the TSCM service industry. Some examples of common equipment used during TSCM services are spectrum analyzers, communication receivers, Wi-Fi network analyzers, telephone analyzers, broadband receivers, non-linear junction detectors, optical lens detectors and thermal imaging cameras.
However, it is important to remember that while electronic equipment is vital for detecting and locating devices used for eavesdropping or surveillance and is a necessary part of proper TSCM services, all equipment has limitations. No one piece or type of equipment can do everything, and in no way can the results obtained from any equipment be considered a guarantee as to the presence of electronic devices.
The time a service performed, type of device, placement of a device, control of device or remote operation, device installation, physical security, physical on-site limitations, skills of the eavesdropper as well as skill level of the TSCM operator are all factors that can limit or even nullify the effectiveness of TSCM inspection equipment. Add to this the fact, that in many cases the sweep being performed is not a secret and has been discussed with other parties, seriously affects the covert nature of TSCM services and possibly alerts an eavesdropper in advance.
The physical search is another critical element of any TSCM service and an area that should not be neglected. Cursory checks in obvious places performed as part of a limited physical search can result in trace evidence or other details being missed that may indicate either past or present compromise. Not only does the physical portion of the service account for the detection and location of many surveillance devices, it also uncovers important non-technical issues responsible for the loss of information.
As our use of technology continues to grow and our means of communicating, sharing and storing information expands, electronic surveillance devices have become just one of many avenues with which information can be obtained. While the threat posed by electronic surveillance devices is significant, TSCM service providers are faced with many other methods being utilized.
TSCM is not an exact science and is always affected by many factors and circumstances both physical and electronic. However, TSCM services can provide an added layer of protection when combined with other elements of security and when performed regularly or periodically as part of an ongoing program.
Unfortunately for potential clients, while deciding whether or not to have TSCM services performed is difficult, deciding on the right service provider is often the toughest part of the process.
* Waypoint Counter Surveillance is committed to educating our clients about TSCM services with honest accurate information, while providing effective counterintelligence solutions.