Cell phones are a wonderful tool for workplace productivity and for social interaction. However, in the wrong hands and in the wrong place, they can also be a menace. There are now reported to be something like 1.4 billion smart phones in the world. They are relatively inexpensive, so price is much less of a barrier to ownership than it used to be. They are increasingly powerful and sophisticated and, in the United States, there are more smartphones than “dumbphones” (phones without touch screens, wireless internet capability or an operating system to run applications). In other words, it is quite likely that most employees on and visitors to any business premises will be carrying a smartphone. And if you are responsible for the security and safety of those premises, it is important to understand the threat smartphones can pose and how to detect cell phone signals in order to guard against unauthorized use.
The Smartphone Threat
There are many situations in which a cell phone can raise security concerns. For example, participants in a meeting may discuss proprietary or sensitive matters that should be limited to the people in the room. An unauthorized cell phone could be used to record the discussion, broadcast it in real time to a remote listener, or to take photographs or video of slides with sensitive information. Likewise, owners of research labs or facilities that house proprietary manufacturing techniques need to guard against unauthorized recording and distribution of information from these sensitive areas.
Here are just some of the ways in which unauthorized use of a smartphone could threaten your business
- Eavesdropping – a cell phone user in a meeting could use the phone to relay audio from the meeting to an unauthorized listener at an outside location. That listener could also record the conversation.
- External prompting – a person who is supposed to be isolated from the outside world could use a phone to obtain information from the outside. To minimize the possibility of detection, this could be done either via text or through a discreet Bluetooth earpiece. This could compromise the integrity of an examination or a test of a prospective employee’s knowledge or capabilities prior to a hiring decision.
- Audio recording – most smartphones can record audio, either as a standard feature or with the aid of a third-party app.
- Still or video camera recording – there are many situations where photography or videography can be problematic. Someone might photograph sensitive design documents, for example, or video a proprietary manufacturing process or a presentation that includes confidential material that is supposed not to leave the room.
- Data transfer – a phone can be hooked up to a computer, bypassing any firewall or other protections put in place by computer security personnel. The phone could then be used to copy data and take it out of the building, or could introduce malware that could allow external access to sensitive systems, for example.
Mitigating the Threat
Given this litany of possible risks, it is clearly vital for those in charge of security to know how to detect cell phone signals. It is not enough to hope employees and visitors will voluntarily turn off their phones or not take them into a restricted area. Rather, it is important to monitor for cell phone transmissions using security hardware designed specifically for the task.
Some factors to consider when selecting a cell phone detector are
- Ability to detect a full range of cell phone signals: the detector should work with all cell phone protocols (such as 3G, 4G, CDMA, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi etc.) and all kinds of cell phone signals, including standby mode, as well as phone calls, text and data transmissions.
- Wide range of alert types, including immediate audio and visual alerts, alerts relayed to a remote monitoring location, and silent logging.
- Adjustable detection range, with the ability to limit monitoring to a small room, or extend to a larger area, as required.
- Ease of deployment and ease of use: a detector that confuses its operators will not be used effectively and will be worse than useless, giving a false sense of security.
- Minimal false positives: a detector that is well designed for the specific purpose of detecting cell phone signals will provide the best possible detection accuracy, giving virtually no false alarms.
It is more likely than not that anyone on your business premises will have a smartphone, and the numbers and sophistication of devices are increasing rapidly. It is therefore increasingly important to be aware of the threats these devices can pose to your security and safety, and to know how to detect cell phone signals in order to counter the risks they can pose.