Landline Phone Security

IN Resources | 25/09/2012
Apart from keeping you in touch with the people that you know, mobile phones have completely changed the whole process of our communication. A report in The Hindu said that even if half of all Indians didn’t have a toilet at home, well over half owned a telephone. According to the report, 63.2 per cent of the households own a telephone out of which 53.2 per cent are mobile phones. According to Wikipedia, India has second highest number of mobile phones in the world only after China. Before mobile phones, fixed landline phones were the only type of telephones available. Now the number of mobile phones has grown far more because of being durable, cheap and easy to operate.
There are a few important things that need to be understood first:
  • The Central and the State governments have a right to tap phones under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. But before anyone’s phone can be tapped, the agency supposed to tap the phone has to get permission from the Home Ministry via an application which contains the reasons for the need of tapping.
  • All the service providers possess technologies that can tap phones. Government agencies mostly do the tapping through service providers. If you are under suspicion, your landline or your mobile phone can be tapped legally. So both the government agency and the service provider carry out the task collectively as each requires assistance from the other.
  • There are various reasons the government needs to tap phones ranging from threat to national security to tax evasions.
  • Tapping, by unauthorized parties or even government agencies which are not given the order to so, is illegal. A complaint can be filed in the Human Rights Commission. Also an FIR must be registered with a police station in case a person is caught tapping your phone illegally.
It is important to understand that it is almost impossible to tell if your phone is being tapped or not. But there are certain steps that can be taken as a precautionary measure to be sure if the phone is tapped. Also please note that most steps involved in trying to do so can be quite technical and may require you to physically dismantle your apparatus.
Frisking your Landline
We still use landline phones at home. They are fixed unlike cellphones and there is much more physical ground to cover if you are on a mission to check your landline for surveillance. Even though it is very difficult to cover all the ground, we can try to make sure that it is not tapped at home.
Detecting the Tap
Unusual noises can be an indication that your landline is being tapped but there are other things that need to be kept in mind.
  • Noise does not necessarily mean that your phone is tapped.
  • Most wiretapping devices do not produce noise or any other kind of sounds.
So if you are wondering, when can you know that the noise indicates a tap?
The answer is that if you are regularly hearing noises such as clicks, static or any other kind of odd but regular sounds. This is an indication that your phone might be tapped. So you would need to be sure about the kind of sounds that you hear that make you suspect that it’s a wiretap.
Here are the steps you need to take if you suspect your phone is being tapped:
  • Contact your phone company that provides you the phone services (BSNL, MTNL, etc.).
  • Ask them to inspect and analyze your phone line.
  • If any tap is detected, you will be notified whether the tap is legal or illegal.
Apart from tapping into your phone, you can be under surveillance even without wiretapping. Microphones and long range laser listening devices can be used to spy on your calls.
Now we will try to see how wiretaps can be detected with a hardware and physical examination.
To detect wiretap in your phone line
  • You will need a hardware known as TDR (Time Domain Reflectometer). This device gives you a graphic display of all the connections on a phone line going towards the phone company’s office.
  • It should show you each intrusion as a blip. These blips can be another phone, spare jack, answering machine, a splice or even a wiretap. So study each blip carefully so that your line check is effective.
  • These blips will be shown on your phone line all the way till the phone company office. Therefore you might require a phone man to properly check each blip which can be quite time consuming. Each blip may be hard to check and if any wiretapping is being done by a professional, it might be almost impossible to even detect such a physical wiretap.
What to do if you cannot check the phone line
It is indeed a daunting task to check the whole telephone line. There is a possibility that wiretaps may not be detected at all even if you hire professionals to check you telephone line. Also add how expensive and time consuming, it can get. So what should a person do if his or her phone is being tapped legally (in which you may never know of the tap) or tapped by a professional (in which case it may be hard to detect the tap):
  • Be careful of what you say over the phone. If you don’t want the conversation to be heard, try to avoid saying it on the phone. Look for other methods of communication such as encrypted email.
  • Do not record your conversations.
  • Be aware of devices that can be used around you such as wiretaps and microphones.
  • Use RF/IR device detector to detect devices that may be active around you when you are on a call. These detectors can check for RF/IR devices around you but may fail depending upon the range of such devices.
  • Beware of other objects near your telephone or in any other part of the room. These may be bugged. Most of the time bugs will be placed where they will remain disclosed from the plain line of your sight.
  • Beware of other phones and cell-phones around you that may be bugged. Your spouse’s cell-phone or your child’s cell-phone could be bugged (Cell-phones will be covered in a separate walkthrough).
  • Get your telephone handset checked from a professional for bugs. Here is a useful link that explains how you can do it as well.
  • Increase your knowledge of devices that can be used to eavesdrop on your phone conversations.
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