Spy versus Spy: Surveillance Protection for Sex Workers
I love Edward Snowden. This guy deserves a medal for having the guts to expose the NSA’s highly unethical global spying protocol, where they conducted surveillance on just about everyone in the world, without valid reason. In 2013 he released numerous classified documents to journalists from The Guardian that outlined several programs used to spy on US and international citizens. Plugins such as GUMFISH (for webcams) and CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE (for microphones) allow the NSA to enable your laptop camera and microphone and record you without knowing. Ever see people with tape over the laptop cameras? Now you know why.
It’s all bad enough the NSA wants to spy on the entire world, but clients of sex workers also want a piece of the action. I was recently witness to a disturbing revelation the other day; a client had accidentally left a “pen” at a colleague’s incall and wanted it back. Upon further investigation, the “pen” was actually a secret recording device, and my colleague was secretly filmed. Luckily she still has said pen, and has control of her footage.
This isn’t an unusual occurrence in sex work, unfortunately. I routinely hear of escorts getting filmed without their knowledge by clients using various spying devices. Usually these are small cameras discretely located in seemingly innocent electronic devices, phones or watches in discrete locations that are recording without someone’s knowledge, or laptops left open. We all know the consequences of secret sex tapes, so here’s an overview of what to look for and how to protect yourself.
If a client has their laptop open upon your arrival, ask them to close it. Even if you don’t see the light activated, the camera can still be working. Laptops can also record you even if the mic is muted, so powering the laptop off and closing it is a good way to protect yourself. Stick it in a drawer or closet, far out of sight.
Even if a laptop isn’t present, cameras can literally be found in all kinds of objects: pens, watches, phones, USB chargers, walls screws, clothing hooks, buttons, within bookshelves, mounted as room motion detectors, in electric shavers, lighters and lights… the list goes on.
If you’re walking into a client’s location, it never hurts to do a scan around the room to check for unusual items. Knowing what to look for helps you spot anomalies, but if you really want to get technical, you can pick up a bug detector here, which will detect audio bugs and GPS trackers, along with wireless hidden cameras. If you do find something, my suggestion is to get out because the client is clearly not a trustworthy individual.
Phones and Watches
A client’s camera phone can easily be enabled to record without you knowing, and even watches can have hidden cameras. The best thing to do is make sure these items are out of sight during your visit. Put them in a drawer or separate room (or in a microwave, if you’re really neurotic).
Down the Rabbit Hole
If you’re like me, you’ve watched one too many documentaries on surveillance and are paranoid as fuck (Citizen Four, about Snowden, is an awesome one). You’ve already taken measures to protect your online security as outlined in my previous article, and now reading this article has made you even more suspicious. Awesome. Read on, friend!
For the scopophobic among us, there are some ways in which you can detect bugs, cameras and tracking devices around a home and car, and on electronic devices.
1) Cell Phones, Tablets and Laptops
A cell phone that’s been bugged with spyware exhibits some of the following behaviours, such as randomly lighting up or making noise, a battery that drains way too quickly, shuts down randomly, hearing static, clicking, beeping or voices in the background during a call, getting text messages with random numbers and symbols, or data usage that is way over the top.
Some apps can be installed on your phone without your knowledge, they can be invisible so you aren’t aware of their presence, and many do not require your phone to be unlocked (or jailbroken) to do so. These apps can record phone calls, look at your social media and emails, record keystrokes, access photos and videos, and browse through various text messaging apps like WhatsApp. mSpy can be installed remotely, although the person would need access to your iCloud credentials if you’re on an iPhone (easily done), and direct physical access for Android users. TheOneSpy, FlexiSpy and MobiStealth require physical access to your device, but if you leave your phone unattended and your passcode is weak, someone could easily break into it. Spyera is the most concerning of all these apps, as it’s remains hidden on your phone and can’t be detected and can control your phone remotely.
If you do find out your cell phone has been tampered with, a factory reset can rid the phone of any spyware — just don’t automatically restore all apps because you could be placing the spyware back onto your phone. You could also enter the phone’s file system and manually remove any apps that look suspicious, although this can be tedious, especially with an iPhone. Certo is an app that can detect bugs on iPhones and iPads.
Protecting your cell phone is better than trying to fix a problem, so ensuring you have a strong passcode, using an app to open your phone, or installing an AppNotifier’ (which alerts you when new software is installed on your device). Enabling two-factor authorization for programs on all your devices is another way to protect yourself.
It’s a little easier to detect spyware on your laptop, but you still need to take some steps to ensure it’s clean. Along with installing anti-virus/anti-spyware programs, do a dig into your system’s task manager or activity monitor to search for programs you don’t recognize or remember installing. Pay attention to programs such as VNC, RealVNC, TightVNC, UltraVNC, LogMeIn and GoToMyPC. Check ports and TCP connections to determine how spy programs may be gaining network access to your computer. Uninstall any programs like these or ones you don’t recognize (GIYF).
2) On Location
Recording and monitoring devices can easily be placed inconspicuously around a person’s dwelling, so a rule of thumb is to look around you for inconsistencies or anything that seems odd when entering a new place (or your own home). Bugs can be placed just about anywhere, so look out for inconsistencies such as paint discolorations, unfinished drywall in random areas, or furniture or objects that look out of place.
Devices will need to run power somehow, and common ways are batteries, stealing power from other devices, being installed on an electric switchplate, or installed with things like light fixtures, alarms, smoke detectors or clocks.
(NB: I fully recognize the strange looks you might get upon entering a client’s home or hotel room and doing a scan for monitoring devices.)
I know some of you will read this and think I’m one paranoid broad, but the truth is that there are malicious individuals in the world, and sex workers are particularly vulnerable. Protect yourself by being aware of your surroundings and getting out when things don’t look right.
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