Matchstick Bugs

First of all, it seems I really didn’t give yesterday’s link enough credit. It turns out the NSA has a 15 year retention period for ALL YOUR METADATA, anywhere, anything… which is more or less equivalent to having someone following you around for the last 15 years and noting everyone you’ve ever communicated with… and every piece of data about yourself you’ve ever entered into any system they can track.

Things like:
“…public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents.[…]

the agency looks for 94 “entity types,” including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses. In addition, the N.S.A. correlates 164 “relationship types” to build social networks and what the agency calls “community of interest” profiles, using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs.”

A 2009 PowerPoint presentation provided more examples of data sources available in the “enrichment” process, including location-based services like GPS and TomTom, online social networks, billing records and bank codes for transactions in the United States and overseas.”

And they do this for absolutely everyone.

It’s been said a billion times, but the American espionage complex has surpassed all the repression apparatuses of the Iron Curtain states and the Nazis and Italian Fascists… combined!

(The Wachowskis weren’t kidding when they characterized the ’90s as “the peak of your civilization.” Frankly, I miss the ’90s, when Windows’ bugginess was fresh and inventive, the Iron Curtain’s fall had everyone opening about espionage technology — some of the Scott French/Lee Lapin books made for fabulously entertaining reading — and computers were neat gadgets you could play with but didn’t devote your life to sitting in front of.)

Right then. In other news, a Dutch defense contractor has developed a matchstick sized bug that can be dropped anywhere and will pinpoint in three axes exactly where the sound is coming from.

It can hear conversations from 20 meters away.

Remember how I highlighted all the acoustic phased array work that spy contractors were doing, and that Wikileaks had kindly allowed us to catch a glimpse of?

Well, instead of a Beowulf cluster, imagine an array of these things in a similar setup. Since each sensor gets vector as well as scalar information, you have MUCH HIGHER spatial resolution per sensor element and array size… filtering out ambient noise and selecting just the conversation you want becomes absurdly easy, even if you only have two or three sensors in range!

(in fact, the benefits of many sensors in one place go down a lot, and the incentive is more to do a synthetic aperture-y thing with a handful of sensors widely spaced.)

Now it becomes possible to scatter the things along a path, say, and just track the conversation as people walk past. It might not even matter if the path is right next to raging whitewater rapids. With enough spatial resolution and dynamic range on the sensor+audio chain, you just filter based on angle.

Defensive aspects… well, don’t have your conversations where you’ve ever had a conversation before, or where people commonly have conversations 😦

Or maybe work out the bugs on the telepathy thing!

“Carrying out covert audio surveillance along a city street or a wooded path, say, currently requires parabolic microphones, which look like large, clear salad bowls and need a direct, unobstructed view of the subject. Hardly 007 territory.

Now, a Dutch acoustics firm, Microflown Technologies, has developed a matchstick-sized sensor that can pinpoint and record a target’s conversations from a distance.

Known as an acoustic vector sensor, Microflown’s sensor measures the movement of air, disturbed by sound waves, to almost instantly locate where a sound originated. It can then identify the noise and, if required, transmit it live to waiting ears.

Conventional microphones work when sound waves make a diaphragm move, creating an electrical signal. Microflown’s sensor has no moving parts. It consists of two parallel platinum strips, each just 200 nanometres deep, that are heated to 200 °C. Air molecules flowing across the strips cause temperature differences between the pair. Microflown’s software counts the air molecules that pass through the gap between the strips to gauge sound intensity: the more air molecules in a sound wave, the louder the sound. At the same time, it analyses the temperature change in the strips to work out the movement of the air and calculate the coordinates of whatever generated the sound.

Until now, the military has been using an early version of the sensor to pinpoint enemy planes and rockets. A single sensor can track and identify multiple distant jets, mortar rounds and sniper rifles in any environment.

Earlier this year, Microflown’s researchers discovered by chance that the device can hear, record or stream an ordinary conversation from as far away as 20 metres, says Hans-Elias de Bree, the firm’s co-founder. Signal-processing software filters out unwanted noise like wind or traffic commotion. Work is now underway to increase the range.

Given a battery and a tiny antenna, the sensor could be attached to traffic lights, a shrub or park bench. Such systems can be teamed with surveillance cameras. Detecting a shout or a gunshot, the sensor can direct the camera to the precise location of trouble, the way our ears work with our eyes. It can then start recording everything that is being said in that location.

A number of countries are now testing the matchstick sensor attached to drones and crewed vehicles, says de Bree. He foresees governments placing them on small dirigibles that tail suspects or hover over political rallies.

“Not only could this work, it has worked,” says Ron Barrett-Gonzalez at the University of Kansas. He has helped boost the sensor’s range by 28 per cent to more than 25 metres. It will be possible to record a parade of people on a busy sidewalk all day using a camera and acoustic sensor, and tune into each conversation or voice, live or via stored files, he says.

Security technologist Bruce Schneier says this new capability is unwelcome – particularly given the recent claims about the NSA’s success at tapping into our private lives. “It’s not just this one technology that’s the problem,” Schneier says. “It’s the mic plus the drones, plus the signal processing, plus voice recognition.””

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