DIY Wiretapping: The Ultimate Guide (and How to Fight Back)

Updated: May 18, 2009

Wiretapping is certainly a controversial issue today. Though it's downright creepy for a regular civilian to spy on his or her neighbors without a just cause, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), NSA (National Security Agency) and even business owners have been known to use wiretapping devices to learn more about criminal suspects, terrorists and their employees. Even if you aren't involved in a criminal case or illegal operation, it's incredibly easy to set up a wiretap or surveillance system on any type of phone. Don't be surprised to learn that virtually anyone could be spying on you for any reason.

In this article, we'll review several different ways you can decipher whether you're being wiretapped and what you can do to fight back.

How to Wiretap

Did you think wiretapping was just for the FBI and mobsters? It's actually so easy that we can show you how to install and manage different wiretapping systems yourself.

  • Tap in using your own phone: Listen to other people's calls through your own basic telephone by hooking up your phone to a part of the original line that runs outside the house of your target. By cutting one of the plugs so that the red and green wires are exposed, you can figure out which part to plug into your phone and complete the connection.
  • Disable the microphone: Remember to disable the microphone on your phone or tapping device so you don't have to worry about making any breathing noises which will give you away.
  • Use a recording device: Voice-activated recorders are easy to install if you only want to hear short conversations, because the tape inside the recorder will eventually run out. These recorders can be hooked up to the original telephone and hidden under a bed or even inside the bed frame or under the mattress.
  • Install a bug: One of the most popular wiretapping devices depicted in movies and TV shows is the bug. By installing a bug into the receiver of a telephone, you can route the electrical current which airs the phone conversation to a radio transmitter.
  • FM wiretapping: This system relies on an FM frequency to send a phone call to your transmitter or listening station.
  • Record a call from your phone: If your wiretapping mission involves recording a conversation between you and your target, you can simply record the call. All you have to do is dial an 800 number, such as the one provided by RecordMyCalls.com, and the number of the person or company with whom you want to record a conversation. The service is marketed toward businesses, salesmen and attorneys, but you can technically (but illegally) use it however you want.
  • Upload software onto a cell phone: Cell phone surveillance is a higher tech form of wiretapping, and it's even easier to do. Whenever you're around the person you want to spy on, take advantage of bathroom trips or any other circumstance that causes him or her to leave the room without his or her cell phone. You can quickly install a monitoring software program onto the phone which will record calls and text messages. If you're really devious, set up an alert so that you know when that person is on the line with a number you're curious about.
  • Use a cell phone as a bug: The Web site GeeksAreSexy.net discusses the "advanced eavesdropping" technique of using a cell phone as a bug. The service FlexiSPY allows you to dial the cell phone number of the person you want to spy on, and you'll be able to hear all that's going on in the room. The best part is that the cell phone never rings or vibrates, so no one knows you're listening.
  • Track someone's whereabouts with their cell phone: Without needing to break into someone's house or steal their cell phone for a few minutes, you can use World-Tracker to find out a person's whereabouts. The service currently only works for phones registered with U.K. phone companies, but is easy to use. Just type in the target's number, and World-Tracker finds the phone for you on a map.
  • Wiretapping VoIP: Though it's much more difficult to listen in on a call made over the Internet, it can be done. VoIP operates by digitizing your voice into bits that are transmitted over the Internet and are reconfigured, but are never actually turned back into sound waves. VoIP also runs on your ISP, which is more open than regular phone lines. A product called Cain & Abel was designed to record VoIP calls by by decoding the bits and turning them into WAV files. Cain & Abel is available here.
  • Buy a kit from Toys "R" Us: If you're too lazy to come up with any of these constructions on your own, you can always buy this wiretapping kit from Toys "R" Us, which helps you build a dime-size wiretapping device that can "fit into most telephone handsets."

Fighting Back

Defend yourself against wiretappers and spies by following these tips. You'll be able to determine if someone is eavesdropping on your home phone, cell phone or VoIP calls.

  • Listen for breathing: An amateur wiretapper may not have disabled the microphone on his or her device, so you'll be able to notice odd breathing on the line, especially if the person you're on the phone with is talking.
  • Listen for clicking: Hearing a clicking sound while you're on the phone is one of the most well-known signs that you're being wiretapped with a bug.
  • Determine if anyone has broken into your home: Look for broken locks, rearranged furniture and mussed up pillows or bedding (if your phone is on a night stand) to find out whether someone has been inside your home and messing with the phone.
  • Open up your phone's receiver: Pop open the receiver to see if there are any bugs, recording devices or strange wires inside your phone.
  • Check for any suspicious wires running from your phone: Spybusters LLC, a company that performs eavesdropping-detection audits, explains on its Web site the different types of wires your phone should have and which ones indicate wiretapping.
  • Look for a permanent splice in your phone wires: If you trace the entire phone wire, you should be able to find this splice, which indicates that someone has wiretapped your phone.
  • Look for any evidence that a bug was ever in your home: If you've made it known that you suspect someone has been spying on you, the perpetrator may have been able to get to your phone and remove the wiretap. Look for damage done to the telephone cable or receiver which could indicate a hasty removal of a wiretap.
  • Don't mess with the evidence: If you find a wiretap but are afraid of someone removing it before you have a chance to call the police, photograph the evidence.
  • Use an encryption VoIP service like Skype: Skype is an especially difficult service to tap, because of its encryption strategy. Slate reporter David Bennahum writes that "the company has built in such strong encryption that it's all but mathematically impossible with today's best computer technology to decode the scrambled bits into a conversation." You're more protected with this system.
  • Have your cell phone wiped clean: If you aren't sure how to delete the hidden software on your phone, you can take the phone to your provider's office, where they can wipe out any extra software.
  • Check to see if your phone lights up irregularly: If you aren't using your phone when it lights up, someone may be trying to listen in.
  • Get a wiretap-detection device: You can get professional help by calling a company that evaluates your phone for wiretapping evidence, or you can use a wiretap-detection device that monitors your phones for bugs and eavesdropping tools.
  • Call the police: If you're seriously afraid of someone infringing on your privacy rights, stealing confidential information or even threatening your well-being, call the police. Don't disturb any evidence of the wiretaps so that the police can evaluate the surveillance.