A low budget consumer hardware espionage implant (2018)

316 points17
airbreather14 hours ago

An even easier one would be a modified keyboard.

Anyone could fit an esp32 into a keyboard, swap it out, leave it lying around, sniff keystrokes, access with Bluetooth or WiFi, could have it only have the radio on for certain windows in time etc.

ttyprintk12 hours ago

The mouse is more commonly swapped in situations with physical access. Without physical access, those non-BlueTooth wireless mice (with their own RF dongle) are vulnerable to remote keystroke injection.

greggsy10 hours ago

Especially the pre-paired ones. I’m wary of older Logitech Unified dongles, but the newer Bolt platform offers a bit more comfort.

codedokode1 hour ago

Yes but giving a keyboard as a present is more suspicious than just a harmless data cable.

jbosh13 hours ago

Hard part there is getting the wear and tear from oils in your hand to look identical.

Although maybe most people don't pay attention to that.

Scoundreller3 hours ago

The other thing that’s hard to get right is the weight.

Hard to find material in most things today to remove to even out the added weight of an implant.

seniorivn13 hours ago

just put it inside the original keyboard

greggsy10 hours ago

Pop and swap the keycaps

gcr9 hours ago

Dirty keys on a pristine keyboard is a dead giveaway.

taf210 hours ago

Even better use esp long range and have a receiver device outside maybe powered via solar… connected to cell network… this way no additional networks exposed internally…

dako21177 hours ago

Isn't it way easier to get a target to use a usb device than a keyboard

playingalong4 hours ago

These days most keyboards are USB devices.

cheschire12 hours ago

If you have the ability to disassemble your electronics, do so! Do a DDG search for the identifiers on all the chips. You will learn a lot.

lioeters11 hours ago

As I learned when I was a child taking apart electronics, the hard part is reassembling them, haha. Taking photos of the disassembly steps can be helpful in remembering how the parts fit together.

bagels11 hours ago

Too many plastic enclosures are assemble-only, requiring destruction to disassemble.

bottom999mottob8 hours ago

The free market did a terrible job incentivizing disassembly... Can't count how many no-screw assemblies have triggered me.

The right-to-repair situation is a joke right now with automotive, consumer electronics, and appliances.

coupdejarnac8 hours ago

Assemblies with a lot of screws require manual labor, thereby increasing cost. I think what you actually mean is stuff that is specifically designed not to be serviced by being held together with glue, etc.

no_time15 hours ago

Using SMS as the control protocol seems like a bad idea. You are generating evidence with each command sent that may or may not be stored practically forever by the telcos.

gwbas1c10 hours ago

That's assuming you're using it for spying.

A completely honest use of this is to track your car, (or other device with a USB port) in case of theft.

If I had one of the Kias or Hyundais that were easy to steal, I'd totally slip one of these into the car.

jandrese6 hours ago

The caveat being that these things are only doing cell tower triangulation, and not even a good job of it. So all it will be able to tell you is that your car is somewhere on the east side of the city or so. Although you will be able to listen in on the conversations of the car thieves and might pick up a clue from that.

Realistically, these are 100% for stalking/espionage.

throwaway114605 hours ago

I took the exact opposite conclusion from this information. How is it useful for stalking if it doesn't give more exact location? On the other hand if I'm looking for my own car that somebody took out of the city, this at least gives me a general idea of its location.

jjk1664 hours ago
codedokode1 hour ago

It's packaging says "data cable", not a "car tracking device". Why would they use misleading packaging that the thieves would never see? Obviously it is meant to be used as a present, or for example, for an employee bringing this "cable" to work.

axegon_15 hours ago

That is valid for any centralized service in general. Fun fact: I am working on something in that field in my spare time(whenever I have both time and motivation) and I opted for LoRa instead specifically for that reason, even though it comes with a wide range of limitations: payload, range is determined by line of sight, no multiplexing and all that. But did make some real world testing late last year and the range I got was REALLY impressive. Easily 20% above what the manufacturer had put in the spec sheet - 12 and a half kilometers with an off the shelf dev board.

snovv_crash14 hours ago

The 900MHz bands also have much better penetration. But even the 2.4 LoRa are a huge step up from the other chips I've seen eg. TI CC2500.

axegon_12 hours ago

True, well I'm in the EU so 868MHz in my case. Still, it is very susceptible to external conditions. It truly is a hit or miss. Personally I host a things network gateway(indoors), I live on the last floor of a building at one of the highest points in the city and it is still very inconsistent when I've been fiddling with it. Back when I was doing my tests a few months ago I took a micro controller with a LoRa module up on the roof so those truly were ideal conditions. I have yet to test the CC2500.

pmx15 hours ago

Wouldn't someone using this sort of thing also buy a cheap burner phone and throw-away sim card? They're easy to buy with cash and you don't need to register them or anything to use them. Supermarkets in the UK even sell sims with credit already loaded onto them.

netsharc14 hours ago

I can't imagine the UK doesn't have laws to prevent anonymous SIM card purchases, because of terrorism fears.

Some duckduckgo-ing suggests it's possible, e.g. someone wrote just go to Tesco to get one and there are no ID checks (but this was written 6 years ago). In any case, just like teenagers buying booze, it's probably not that hard to pay someone off the street to buy one for you.

Crosseye_Jack14 hours ago

No ID is required to buy a pay as you go SIM card in the UK. Just walk into any supermarket or pretty much any corner shop and they will sell you a Sim for a quid at most. (You can also get them for free from the networks directly on their websites, but now they know the address the sim was sent too)

Top up credit is the same, ask the counter staff for £x on network Y and once you have paid they will give you a printed receipt with a code on it for your desired amount.

It’s not really seen as a “national security issue” because most people don’t practice perfect opsec and leave enough details and fingerprints behind.

And an ID check ain’t going to prevent anyone from getting hold of a sim via other means (like you said, pay someone on the street as just 1 example)

Now, try and access porn on that SIM card? Well hold on there, now we need to know who you are!!! (Though you can often blag your way around this via social engineering the CS agent on the phone. Or just bypass the block by using a VPN/Change DNS settings.)

Same for the phones themselves.

willcipriano11 hours ago
fullspectrumdev13 hours ago

You can literally go into almost any corner shop in the UK and buy a SIM with no ID and cash.

I do this regularly.

aembleton13 hours ago
eythian14 hours ago

It's very country dependent. In NL, NZ, and UK (as of several years ago when I last did that) for example, no ID checks are required. In AU they are.

grishka12 hours ago

In Russia they would ask for your internal passport (aka the "ID") and put your name, birth date, and registered address into their database. It's illegal to sell sim cards without that.

When I traveled to Europe recently and bought a French tourist sim, the carrier warned me multiple times that I need to provide my identity to continue using it beyond 30 days.

In UAE it's about as strict as in Russia.

bdavbdav5 hours ago

Yep. When I tried to get a SIM in India, it was a nightmare as a non-national. I had to get a local colleague to get one.

Mo314 hours ago
Maxious15 hours ago

Note that SMS is the protocol advertised to buyers but the unadvertised login credentials for the web portal let you manage the device without SMS

no_time15 hours ago

If I understand correctly you need atleast one sms to know the credentials to the web portal. that's probably enough to get caught if someone finds the device.

franga200015 hours ago

If you can get an unidentifiable SIM for the tracker, you can also get one + a burner phone for yourself. And if someone is stupid enough to not do that or to turn on either device in an identifiable location, they're beyond help.

thefz15 hours ago

> This means anyone with access to your login credentials can control your device. A device which original packaging nor manual make any reference to said website.


codedokode1 hour ago

Its packaging doesn't mention that it is a tracking device so I guess the intended usage is a present, for example, at a business meeting or to a child, a relative?

dang3 hours ago


Inside a low budget consumer hardware espionage implant (2018) - - June 2019 (43 comments)

Inside a low-budget consumer hardware espionage implant - - Nov 2017 (92 comments)

rbanffy15 hours ago

I’ve been playing with the idea of eye prosthetics for that purpose. At this point, a camera, battery, storage, and radio can all fit inside an aesthetic prosthesis and give it some functionality in itself or augmented by a smartphone.

deely313 hours ago

Something similar to this? Sorry for IG link.

rbanffy12 hours ago

That's very neat. The projector idea is particularly cool.

GordonS15 hours ago

Is there some kind of device that can detect bugs like this? (I'm thinking of the "bug sweepers" I've seen in films)

Cthulhu_11 hours ago

I posted this on my Discord, one of our members is a security guy and pointed out that anyone concerned about things like this would be using a device called a NLJD, Non-Linear Junction Detector:, which can detect circuit boards:

> The NLJD antenna head is a transceiver (transmitter and receiver) that radiates a digital spread spectrum signal to determine the presence of electronic components. When the energy encounters semi-conductor junctions (diodes, transistors, circuit board connections, etc.), a harmonic signal returns to the receiver. The receiver measures the strength of the harmonic signal and distinguishes between 2nd or 3rd harmonics. When a stronger 2nd harmonic is represented on the display in red, it indicates an electronic junction has been detected. In this way, a hand-held ORION is used to sweep walls, objects, containers, furniture, and most types of surfaces to look for hidden electronics, regardless of whether the electronic device is turned on.

GordonS10 hours ago

Exactly the kind of thing I was looking for! Although, I guess for a bug hidden within an electrical device (like that in the article), this approach wouldn't work?

I wonder how well these work against shielding? Might it be possible to build your own device like this?

lazide10 hours ago

It would ‘work’ - but not be useful, because you’d already expect a circuit in that location.

oasisaimlessly8 hours ago
jf15 hours ago

The article has a section on that very topic:

GordonS10 hours ago

Thanks; I did actually read the article, but missed this section (and likely some others) as the page doesn't work well on mobile.

pbmonster15 hours ago

The article covers that under the section "detection".

TL;DR: You can easily detect it while it communicates via GSM, and the device is also shielded quite badly, resulting in lots of easily detectable RF interference while it works.

All you need is a cheap RF detector. Having access to a full spectrum analyzer or a SDR will make this even easier.

All this gets much harder while the thing lies dormant, waiting for noise activation or commands. So the "quick bug sweeps" you see in the movies are more difficult.

ChrisMarshallNY14 hours ago

> So the "quick bug sweeps" you see in the movies are more difficult.

Not if the sweepers are talkative (assuming that the device is sound-activated).

alexey-salmin13 hours ago

Good ones record long spans of audio, then transmit them in short infrequent bursts outside of working hours. You can leave GSM recording equipment overnight and analyze logs, but even when you see it in the logs it'll be hard to locate the device physically when it's not transmitting.

Cthulhu_14 hours ago

We used to have keychain lights that would start to blink whenever a nearby phone went off, I can imagine it could be set off by a device like this lol.

lupusreal14 hours ago

> So the "quick bug sweeps" you see in the movies are more difficult

Isn't that what nonlinear junction detectors are for?

pbmonster12 hours ago

Sure, the question is if you're surprised to get a positive from a USB cable. Wouldn't be surprised to find a diode inside there...

lupusreal9 hours ago

When in doubt, rip it out. If you suspect bugs, then get rid of any suspicious cable you can't prove the provenance of.

throwawayqqq1111 hours ago

Would it be possible to shield the host device while frying the GSM antenna with selected frequenzies?

Kind of preemptive sanitization of new hardware.

jcims11 hours ago

Lots of cables have chips in them these days.

lostemptations56 hours ago

But not specific ones

vzaliva6 hours ago

In screenshots he uses Signal messenger to talk to the device. How this was achieved?

landgenoot5 hours ago

Signal supports SMS as well.

anigbrowl4 hours ago

Not since a couple of years ago, unfortunately. Now I have to use a separate app for SMS and often miss messages.

philprx9 hours ago

What are other equipments similar to this one but different?

There seems to have many GPS location trackers on the market, are they all based on the same hardware?

owl11015 hours ago

If not already out there, soon there possibly will be compromised cables with 801.11ah built-in. Given its low cost, low power requirements and the considerable range of the technology, it will be difficult to protect against unfortuantely.

lofaszvanitt14 hours ago

I always wondered what if an SSD can surreptitiously funnel out the data it has on a secure channel, unbeknownst to the owner... Maybe all that would indicate the backdoor is some slight (?) change in the throughput speed.

Cthulhu_11 hours ago

If someone has physical access to a device containing secure information, you're already boned. Thankfully, very few people are targets of surveillance / espionage like that.

lofaszvanitt3 hours ago

I mean it's built into silicon into all SSDs.

gruez11 hours ago

This is easily mitigated with full disk encryption.

lofaszvanitt3 hours ago

You don't get it.

huhtenberg15 hours ago

Needs (2017) in the title.

MandieD13 hours ago

I put (2018) because it was updated in January 2018.

PaywallBuster15 hours ago

can't find in aliexpress?

Cthulhu_11 hours ago

What is your question?

haunter11 hours ago

Where to buy one. The article says they bought it on Aliexpress but there are no sellers.

mkoryak9 hours ago

You did not look hard enough. Use search "GPS tracker charger" to get started. They still exist in there

throwaway627210 hours ago


rado15 hours ago

TLDR; a GSM listening and location device hidden inside the plug of a standard USB data/charging cable

morjom15 hours ago

So pretty run of the mill stuff for cable mods?