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Spy Equipment - A closer look on the exciting world of spy gear

Spy Equipment - Introduction to Spy Equipment Classification 

Spy equipment is a type of professional equipment that often raises curiosity when brought up in a conversation. This article here serves the purpose of trying to bring that subject a bit closer to the reader. During the article, there will be links to the various products that represent the type of equipment that is being talked about, mainly for further explanation. 

From Crime Fighting to Media Production: The Many Roles of Spy Equipment

So whether we call it spy gear, covert surveillance equipment, or spy equipment, in essence, it is about gathering information covertly from the subject for various purposes. While spy equipment in the wrong hands can be used for illegal purposes, professional spy equipment is mostly used by private detectives, law enforcement units like police anti-corruption or anti-crime units, or government intelligence services.
There are also grayer areas such as the discreet recording of employees, night vision warehouse surveillance, and surveillance of private property that, if given proper prior notification about the possible installation and use of surveillance equipment, would become a legal activity in most countries inside Europe. Other than covert uses, due to their specific small size that allows installation in hard-to-reach areas, spy devices are used in the media sector by production companies, video, movies, and TV studios. For example, in-game shows where a small camera needs to be installed to see the reaction of a contestant or a hidden item somewhere on the set.

Beginners guide to spy equipment types

Depending on what we are using spy equipment for, there are multiple types. The most basic type of spy gadget is a small covert audio recorder.


Covert Audio Recorder – Small size and low consumption win the game

It is a basic audio recorder that is small in size and easy to hide. Its basic performance attributes are its size, length of autonomous audio recording, memory, and of course, the quality of the audio recording. Basically, the more professional a spy audio recorder is, the smaller it is in size. The LawMate AR-100 and LawMate AR-300 are classic examples of covert audio recorders.
Professional spy equipment has low battery consumption (Wh) and can record for longer periods of time while the device and its often largest component battery remain small. This is particularly true for audio recorders that, at their top end, can be as small as a ring or a bracelet. Other popular features include VOX (voice activation), AGC (automatic gain control), DSP technology (Digital Signal Processing), data protection from failure, encrypted memory, password-protected access, and other features. The cost of each device usually accurately reflects the quality, miniaturization, and available features that add to its ability to discreetly record audio from external sources.
From left to right: LawMate AR-100, LawMate AR-300

Covert spy bug - Upgrade Your Covert Audio Recorder with Transmission Capabilities

One of the favorite spy tools in the hands of our customers are spy bugs that either upgrade spy covert audio recorders with transmission capabilities or are just simply used to transmit audio directly from the sources to the operator that receives the audio on the other side.
A popular spy gadget, such as the Mriya GSM Bug, is available in many spy shops and ranges from basic models to more sophisticated ones. GSM bugs simply use a 2G GSM channel to connect the bug to the end user. Usually, there is a code or SMS text that is used to set up the device from a distance for it to start recording, transmit data, and turn on and off various functions already mentioned in the covert audio recorder part of this article as well as some additional ones like reconnecting to the base station, initiating delayed data transfer in Store & Forward devices, and others.                        
It is worth noting that GSM bugs are expected to be operational in Europe only for another 6-7 years, as the 2G GSM network is scheduled to be shut down around 2030, and as it has already been done in the United States. Still, due to their cost and ease of use, we think GSM bugs will be the best choice for covert spy bugs for at least a few more years.                        
In the meantime, aside from 2G bugs, there are 3G bugs such as the 3G Listening Device already available and possible to use in some countries, and while still not widely available, in the near future we can expect wider adaption of 4G, and probably soon 5G discrete recording devices that use more modern network interfaces, albeit at a steeper cost.   
Mriya GSM Transmitter in functional 5V/2A Travel Adapter

GPS Trackers and Loggers - Keeping Tabs on Your Target with a Magnet

When it comes to GPS Trackers and loggers, one of the most common types of spy equipment, the first thing is to recognize the difference between the two. A GPS tracker is a device that logs and transmits location data to a remote user, while a logger only logs the data on the device itself and needs to be physically accessed to retrieve the geolocation data. So one would say the advantage of the GPS Tracker is that the target can be remotely monitored; on the downside, the tracking device does transmit location data, usually through an integrated GSM/2G/3G/4G or 5G transmitter, and thus, when active, can be detected fairly easily by an RF detector. Take note that GPS loggers can also be detected with a more sensitive RF detector that is adjusted to detect the GPS frequency range, albeit a bit harder than the tracker. 
Both GPS Tracker and Logger typically come with an attached magnet or in a box with one attached to allow them to be easily placed on a vehicle that is being tracked by the tracking device in order to function as spy equipment. Because a GPS Tracker already has access to the GSM network, there is often GSM bug functionality included with external microphones that allows eavesdropping on the surrounding area in addition to the GPS tracking function. The same goes for integrated covert audio listening devices.                        
As with a variety of other professional spy equipment, the rule is that the best devices are the smallest, with very high-quality microphones and low consumption, allowing them to work autonomously for extended periods of time while putting all unnecessary functions of the spy tracking device to sleep.                       

Mini Spy DVRs with External Cameras - The All-in-One Solution for Covert Surveillance

Law enforcement and private detectives' favorite professional spy equipment, at least based on our experiences, must be mini spy DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) with covert external cameras. Having a really small DVR with multiple recording functions like schedule, motion detection, pre-event, and others that can be easily used to review the recording material after the covert surveillance operations are done, are nice to have. Combine it with very small (often used words at the high end of spy gear are micro, nano, or pico) spy cameras that can be used instead of a button, screw, or simply a small pinhole camera, and you have a nice all-around kit that can be used in almost any situation while recording both audio and video. These cameras sometimes come with night vision sensitivity in the IR spectrum, adding to the versatility of this spy professional's favorite piece of equipment.
The standard upgrade to the basic Mini DVR with a covert external camera is some kind of transmitter that allows it to live stream data to another agent or an office. As video is in question, the data is usually transmitted by a 4G transmitter or a small FICOFDM transmitter.
There are also options to use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for law enforcement video evidence that can be downloaded at a later time, while recording is usually no longer done.
One of the most popular consumer-to-professional-grade Mini DVR kits in production is Lawmate’s very own PV-500 Neo Pro Kit, take a look and explore.
From left to right: LawMate PV-500 Neo Pro with BU-18 Neo Button Camera, LawMate PV-500 Neo Pro XL Battery Set, LawMate PV-500 Neo Pro XXL Battery Set

Integrated Spy Gadgets vs. Professional Spy Equipment: What's the Difference?

A spy gadget most likely to be found while browsing big general shops like Amazon would be an integrated spy recorder; it could be a keyfob, an alarm clock, a clock, or a piece of home furniture often paired with a Wi-Fi connection that allows remote monitoring while connected to a local Wi-Fi connection.
Cheap spy gadgets frequently boast specifications such as 4K resolution, streaming capability, or autofocus; however, even at the highest-end equipment, digital processing resolution (Full HD, 4K, etc.) does not serve as a bottleneck for covert recording quality.
Let me explain: if the device is to be considered top-notch, it must have a small, miniaturized integrated spy camera whose recording quality is limited by the size of the integrated CMOS or CCD sensor. Such a small sensor simply cannot produce (nor is it usually necessary for the spy equipment purpose) a high enough quality image that would benefit from a 4K resolution, at least without a tradeoff in the size of the recorder, visibility of the lens and consumption of the recorder, which is the most important professional spy equipment attributes.

The covert surveillance camera's 4K resolution could be implemented by using a lower resolution sensor whose image is later upscaled to 4K, allowing for more detail to be captured. Even in that case, there would be a trade-off in terms of the camera's low-light performance, making it a viable option only in well-lit environments.

High-end spy gear typically makes use of existing micro spy DVRs with external cameras, which are then easily placed inside a regular item used in everyday life, such as a coffee cup, Coca-Cola bottle, tie, handbag, cap, watch, and other items.
Professional mid-range integrated covert DVR recorders such as the PV-900 EVO3, PV-RC200HD2, PV-BT10i, and others from suppliers such as LawMate that use the premises of 10 times or more expensive spy gear to offer affordable and reliable products for private investigators and law enforcement officers, can be found somewhere in the middle.
 From left to right: LawMate PV-900 EVO3, LawMate PV-RC200HD2 Classy Look, LawMate PV-RC200HD2, LawMate PV-BT10i

Ultra Long Life Spy Recorders – When You Need All The Recording Time (and a bit of history)

Popular video-only or audio-video recorders are types of spy equipment that are able to monitor and record an area for a very long period of time. However, before we go there, let me say a few words about their predecessor and still very active type of camera equipment: trail cameras.

Trail cameras were originally used in forests, mostly by forest preservation offices, hunters, and occasionally by Law Enforcement. By being placed in various environments, they expect wildlife to appear in order to monitor their presence and movements through the environment. Trail cameras are usually camouflaged in wildlife colors so they are harder to spot, equipped with an IR detector that fires off an image and, more recently, a video recording when an IR heat signature from a live animal or human is registered.
That allows trail cameras to significantly reduce their consumption and last for months at a time before battery replacement is required. They are often equipped with a Wi-Fi connection for easier download of data, and sometimes a 4G integrated module that allows remote download and monitoring.

Fast forward a few years, and a similar concept is now being used for covert surveillance with ultra-long-life spy recorders. Unlike trail cameras, which are camouflaged to blend in with the outside forest environment using standard camouflage colors, ultra-life spy cameras are covertly hidden as spy device in everyday common objects such as an air freshener, junction box, or PIR sensor.

Ultra-long-life spy cameras typically have a large capacity battery as well as multiple detection options such as motion detection and PIR that allow them to conserve battery life. Unlike trail cameras, which at first were used to deliver only an image, ultra-life spy cameras have delivered a video recording from their inception, and unlike trail cameras, their purpose is not to catch wildlife but to record thieves, trespassers, and criminal perpetrators. They are becoming more and more common pieces of spy gear used by both amateurs who wish to protect their belongings and professionals.

From left to right: STronic UltraLife Spy Camera in Air Freshener with PIR Sensor, STronic UltraLife Spy Camera in Junction Box with PIR Sensor, STronic UltraLife PIR Sensor Camera with 30 days Standby

IP and Wi-Fi Spy Cameras - The Evolution of Covert Surveillance Technology 

In the 1990s and earlier, the common way to transmit an audio signal from a variety of spy equipment was to use a UHF or VHF transmitter attached to the camera and a radio receiver on the other side. For audio and video signals, dedicated high-power transmitters from 1W to 5W that worked on multiple channels around 1.2GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies were mostly used.

Of course, with the widespread adoption and low cost of GSM networks, Wi-Fi, and later, 3G, 4G, and 5G high bandwidth networks, as well as new transmitter regulations in Europe prohibiting higher powered devices, older types of transmission were quickly phased out in covert surveillance work in favor of easier to use and more widely available new technology.

Currently, the most common way a network is used with spy cameras is Wi-Fi (and sometimes Bluetooth) to setup remotely with a smartphone app and quickly download information from either a covert (i.e., in a cup, thermometer, or a book) or a hidden from plain sight spy camera solution.

On the other side, there are also IP-enabled solutions that either have an integrated 3G or 4G transmitter or the capability to connect to a mobile or static 3G or 4G router through an IP connection that then allows it to connect to the internet. Once online, it can be accessed via a dedicated Android or iOS app or via a web application within a PC or Mac browser like Chrome, Safari, Edge, and so on. In any case, it is usually a very simple setup that allows remote covert monitoring from anywhere in the world.
From left to right: LawMate PV-1000 EVO3, LawMate PV-FM20HDWi IP DVR Clock with IR, LawMate PV-CC10W Coffee Cup Covert Wi-Fi DVR, LawMate PV-500 Neo Pro Wi-Fi DVR with reinforced locking plug

Counter Surveillance - The Anti-Spy Solution

Counter-surveillance equipment, while in essence being the opposite of spy equipment, is often bundled together and sold in similar places. It does make sense, as in order to be able to offer and receive advice on counter-surveillance, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of the surveillance and covert surveillance spy equipment product portfolios within the industry.
When it comes to detecting various sophisticated or basic spy equipment, it is first necessary to determine whether the spy equipment emits radio frequencies or is simply a stationary recorder. The next question is if the emission is happening all the time or just occasionally in the case of store-and-forward devices; further down the line, it can also be important to know if the transmission is using a special modulation such as COFDM; and the last question is if the device has a visible lens that can be detected with an IR lens detector.

From left to right: iProtect 1217 Detector of mobile and wireless signals, Protect 1207i Multi-Channel Detector, WAM-X25 Handheld Wireless Activity Monitor 0-14 GHz, PRO-SL8 Pocket Bug Detector 0-8 GHz

Lens Detectors - A Simple and Effective Way to Detect Covert Cameras

Starting with the last option, let me say a few words about the simplest yet surprisingly effective form of counter-surveillance detection. It is usually an IR emitter with a cutoff to reduce reflection and a small hole for the eye that usually has a slight magnifier that makes it easy to spot a reflection from the covert camera lens hidden somewhere in the environment. It is a very good way to spot cameras that do not have an RF signature, however, it will not work on a microphone and might have a limited reflection when it comes to pinhole cameras that do not actually use lenses.

RF Detectors – Leave No Transmission Undetected

RF detectors are the most common type of counter-surveillance equipment. The basic idea is that everything that sends a live signal must have an RF emission, so they are ideal for very commonly used GSM or 3G bugs or the detection of Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, and 5G covert cameras.

They come from a very cheap Chinese-made one, usually unable to detect any frequency apart from very strong transmitters at quite close range. The most usual ones are quality detectors with an in-built attenuator and a special focus on detecting cellular, Wi-Fi, and BT ranges, as those are a bit harder to detect. Some detectors in this range have the ability to detect the exact frequency that is being used for a transmission nearby.

In the end, we have very sophisticated and sensitive ones that are able to detect exact frequencies over a larger range, find the direction of the signal, analyze the complete Wi-Fi network signature in the surroundings, and even have recorder histories in order to recognize the use of the store and forward devices in the vicinity. One could argue that with sophisticated devices detecting a wide enough frequency range, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any transmission to leave the premises undetected.

From left to right: iProtect 1216 3-band RF detector, LawMate RD-30 RF Wired and Wireless Camera Detector and Scanner, CAM-GX5 5G Ready Handheld Cellular Activity Monitor

Digital Spectrum Analyzers - Recognizing Transmitters with Signal Histogram Analysis 

Spectrum analyzers have been traditionally used in a variety of applications,  including telecommunications, radar, and audio engineering. They were an essential tool for anyone working with RF signals and could help identify and troubleshoot problems in a system. They have begun to produce and use them for specifically counter surveillance services due to their excellent ability to represent the magnitude and frequency of the signal through time on an LCD screen.

While their complexity varies from a fairly simple representation on a hand-held screen to a bit more sophisticated software programs made for them, they are usually used by professional TSCM agents in the field who want to make sure not only that there are no hidden storage and forward devices but that any signal, including COFDM, is properly identified. It will also detect signal wires from AC, telephone, alarm, and other wires, as well as IR range emission, which is used infrequently by occasional eavesdropping solutions that use probes.

While a high-end RF detector will detect any signal, an experienced user of a spectrum analyzer will be able to recognize the exact transmitter that is currently being used based on the analysis of the signal histogram.

From left to right:  Delta X G2 Handheld Counter surveillance sweeping system, HSA-Q1 Handheld RF Spectrum Analyser 1 Mhz to 13.44 Ghz

Non-Linear Junction Detectors – A Must-Have for Professional TSCM Agents

When a covert spy gadget such as a covert audio recorder is hidden somewhere invisible and unreachable to a hand, like inside a wall, desk, or a shelf, and is not transmitting any signal then the only way to detect is through the use of a Non-Linear Junction Detectors.

A non-linear junction detector (NLJD) is a device that can detect the presence of electronic components in a micro recorder, such as
transistors, by illuminating a small region of space with high-frequency radio frequency (RF) energy and detecting the harmonic signature produced by the non-linear junction of the electronic component. This signature is generated when RF energy is absorbed by the non-linear junction of the electronic component and then re-emitted at a different frequency, thus allowing detection.

The usual frequencies used by NLJDs are 8, 24, and 36 GHz, with lower frequencies offering more penetration and higher frequencies offering better detection and distance from the object, albeit less penetration.

It is important to note that there are multiple suppliers of NLJDS on the market, with the Russian ones being both hard to acquire due to the war in Ukraine sanctions and often too powerful for EU CE certification. On the other hand,  US ones from companies such as REI and UK ones from companies such as JJN Digital are widely used in the EU market.


From left to right: EDD-24T NLJD for Active and Passive Devices, Lornet 36, Lornet 24

Other TSCM equipment - Outsmarting Eavesdroppers at the Source

Now that we have covered detectors of covert spy equipment, the next step is to also mention the kind of TSCM (Technical Surveillance Countermeasure) equipment that is used to prevent eavesdropping at the source. So other than finding the devices, we can prevent the devices from actually recording. For that purpose, we have loud wide-frequency emitters of sound, which basically loudly imitate the human voice, thus disabling audio recorders and any post-processing tools to discern human voice from recording. There are also white noise generators that emit white noise in the whole room, preventing eavesdropping, and devices that use headphones to secure conversations between multiple subjects.
As cell phones can be either compromised by hacks and spyware or used intentionally for recording, there are a few tools that can be used to encapsulate smartphones during meetings, as well as audio jammers that emit a type of noise that prevents recordings from happening. In our experience, such jammers, unlike other counter-surveillance equipment mentioned so far, do not work very well in practice.
As an honorable mention, I would like to say a few words about actual high-powered RF jammers that, unlike detectors, are able to completely suppress big chunks of the frequency spectrum in the area. They vary from small jammers that will disable nearby cellphones to large military ones that can jam communication as well as drone use in the military field.
Jammers, due to their active nature and high power (even the small ones), are illegal for use in the EU, and thus further description is beyond the scope of the article.


I hope that through this article I was able to describe and satisfy some of the curiosity of the reader who happened to have an interest in this, in my opinion, very interesting and dynamic niche of products. There is still a lot of depth, detail, and product peculiarities left out. Some of it can be found in the descriptions of the individual categories or in the descriptions of the products.
There are also many subjects not covered in written form on our website, and sometimes on the internet in general. If you are interested in more details you can always contact me or my staff at [email protected].
Until then, all the best.
Damir First
Owner and Manager of SpyShopEurope.com with many years of passionate experience in the counter surveillance and covert surveillance niche working on small and large projects with a wide variety of customers from local PIs to government institutions

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