What are Bugs? Interview with Skipp from Sherlock Investigations

If you have ever seen a movie or television show involving police, drug busts, espionage, or anything surveillance related, you have probably noticed that a common motif involves a confederate wearing a covert listening device, otherwise known as a bug or a wire, which is used to eavesdrop on criminals. The use of these devices in the real world may or may not be as prevalent as they are portrayed on television and in the movies, but as the rate of technology increases and these devices get less expensive it has become more common to find these devices being used by civilians to illegally eavesdrop on other civilians. The general evolutionary leap forward in technological devices has harbored the way for the application of eavesdropping to no longer be contained solely in the realm of covert listening devices and has grown to include hidden cameras and the monitoring of your web activity.

An example of a covert way to get a web bug would be Google’s Chrome browser where web bugs have become an invasive part of the browser’s application store. There are many useful applications, many of which are created by reputable companies or people, but there are also copycat applications made by users for the possible purposes of collecting data about you on the pages you visit – Everything from banking to email can be accessed.

Sherlock Investigation’s founder and president, Skipp Porteous, is a Technical Surveillance Counter-Measure (TSCM) specialist trained by the World Institute for Security Enhancement. He has been performing investigative work since the 1960s to include undercover narcotics investigations, collections, and investigative research and reporting.

Skipp wrote Into the Blast: The True Story of D.B. Cooper, with coauthor Robert Blevins, and currently writes frequent articles on his daily experiences in the world of Technical Surveillance Counter-Measures. Skipp was kind enough to have an interview with us on the world of bugs and security:

Q: What is Sherlock Investigations and what are some of the main reasons for seeking the expertise of a Technical Surveillance Countermeasure (TSCM) specialist?

A: Sherlock Investigations, established in 1995, only does electronic bug sweeps, or TSCM (Technical Surveillance Counter-Measures).

People can do it themselves, but they usually don’t want to. For one thing, they don’t have the equipment or knowledge. We have up-to-date, sophisticated, modern equipment. If we do it, you can be sure it’s done right.

In truth though, most “bugs” and GPS units (on cars) are found with a physical inspection. You have to know what to look for, and where to look.

Q: In your work, what are some of the most common reasons that people are “bugged”?

A: Competition and jealousy. Often, dishonest employees will bug their own company. A competitor might bribe them to do it. Housekeepers, or cleaners, can be bribed, too.

We had a case with one well-known company in Manhattan that hired a former FBI agent (you have to retire at 55 at the FBI). The company suspected him of tapping all the phone lines, so they fired him. On the day he was fired, they called us. We came that night and found a sophisticated recording device in his former office.

In another case, we found a GPS underneath a woman’s car. Her husband apparently put it there because she was cheating on him. How do we know? Her husband came to the motel where she was cheating.

On another case, we got a call from a woman who thought her boyfriend was watching her on cameras he’d hidden in her studio apartment. We get calls from paranoid people all the time. She offered to pay me extra to come on a Friday night. Reluctantly, I did it.

Well, I found 3 hidden cameras in her studio apartment. When she went on vacation, her boyfriend, a contractor, said he’d fix up her apartment. He sure did!

Q: How and why do bugs go unnoticed?

A: Most of them are cleverly hidden. And, most people don’t expect to be bugged. The most common type of bug today is a simple cell phone. The eavesdropper can call it (it doesn’t ring), and listen to the conversation in whatever room it is in. Often, they’re hidden in a plant, or under a pile of papers.

You can buy bugs, including bugging cell phones, on the Internet. They’re all made in foreign countries; it’s illegal to bug someone in this country.

Q: What are some precautions people can take to make sure their home is secure?

A: Make sure they know everyone who comes into their home. If telephone company or cable company employees come, check their identification, or call the company to see if they belong there.

Do background checks on household employees.

Don’t accept electronic gifts, such as clock radios, calculators, or other instruments, especially from people you don’t trust.


Information is one of the most valuable commodities, the proof of which is demonstrated by people’s need to acquire more of it even if it means breaking the law. We are very thankful for Skipp to take time out of his busy day to spend some time shedding light on the world of illegal bugs and our security.

Posted on Friday, November 4th, 2011