Being under surveillance by the police seems like something out of a movie, but it happens frequently. Today, we’re going to show you how to detect two types of police surveillance, plus how to boost your privacy with a VPN.
“Police surveillance” conjures images of men in fedoras and trench coats parking outside your house, making notes of your activity monitoring the phone they somehow managed to tap. While this makes for a great detective movie, the reality these days is rather more sophisticated.
To be sure, physical surveillance is very much alive and well, though these days network surveillance is another commonly employed and effective tool used by the police. In this article, we’ll teach you how to recognize the signs of both. Additionally, if you’re concerned about your privacy online, we’ll show you how to pick and use a VPN to boost your anonymity.
Please note: While we are staunch privacy advocates, we never condone criminal activity. It is up to you to understand and follow the laws of your country.
Truth be told, it is actually very difficult to know for sure that someone is monitoring your Internet connection. Thus, we can’t give you any signs to look for. Instead, we’ll equip you with the most valuable advice an Internet goer can hear: Always assume someone is monitoring your network!
This doesn’t mean you need to descend into the depths of paranoia, you just need to prepare your devices for anonymous usage. The single best way to do that is with a virtual private network, or VPN for short.
A VPN is piece of software which encrypts the data flowing through your network, so that anyone without the decryption key only sees a jumbled mess of nonsensical code. It also serves to hide your IP address (essentially your digital passport) by routing it through a remote server, located somewhere else in the world. If you’ve ever wanted to cover your tracks online, a VPN is the single best way to do that.
What data shows up on an unencrypted network
Here’s what the police (or anyone else for that matter) can see if you DON’T use a VPN:
- Personal identifying information and account passwords
- Credit card information you’ve used to pay online with
- Browsing history
- Communications with friends, family and colleagues
- Location metadata
- You, through your webcam!
Best VPNs to protect your privacy
VPNs are powerful, versatile, and secure. You can install them on your phone, laptop, gaming console, and even on your home’s router. Once activated, they veil your activity and hide your identity, so you can browse, download, communicate, and stream in peace.
Here are the top 2 VPNs for preventing network surveillance:
ExpressVPN is known above all for its incredible speeds, which are available through their robust network of servers numbering over 3,000 nodes in 94 countries worldwide. However, ExpressVPN is absolutely no slouch when it comes to privacy, with unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption anonymizing each packet of data that leaves your device, backed by a thorough no-logging policy which prevents records of your VPN activity from ever being kept.
We love ExpressVPN for how lightweight it is, you simply activate it, and it runs quietly in the background while you go about your business. It’s awesome for streaming and downloading, as the OpenVPN encryption protocol allows for high security and great speeds, something other protocols demand you compromise on. If you really want to be a privacy ninja, there’s a split tunneling option, which allows you to encrypt the traffic flowing only from specific apps, while everything else appears completely normal to anyone monitoring your network.
NordVPN is one of the VPN industry’s tested workhorses, and we recommend it readily to anyone searching for incredible utility. For starters, the server network is gargantuan; over 5,700 servers dot 60 countries worldwide, allowing you to spoof IP addresses from virtually any corner of the globe while guaranteeing access to a nearby server for optimal connection speeds. Not enough? Check out their array of specialty servers tuned for tasks like P2P, anti-DDoS, onion over VPN, and even double encryption for when you really need your connection to be uncrackable.
Most chalk a potential tail up to personal paranoia. But in an age where Big Brother is more fact than fiction, you may fears may be real. Here are three points to consider when determining whether or not someone, be it the police or anyone else, is on your case:
Check for tails
If you think that someone is following you, take a moment to consider that tailing a person is not as easy as it seems in the movies. Tailing requires a lot of resources and time, and the local authorities can’t waste their budget by just following an average citizen for a minor violation. If the authorities are showing a keen interest in you, then it is clear you have done something significant.
If this describes your situation and you suspect someone is physically following you, try the following tactics to get rid of your tail:
- First, if you’re walking, avoid looking over your shoulder and picking up your pace. It’s imperative to act like you are not aware of your tail. The same rules basically apply when driving as well. You want to assess how closely you’re being followed, and observe any patterns that can help you gain control of the situation.
- Second, try changing up your normal route. If you’re walking home, for example, try walking around the block a few times. Your tail will realize that something’s up, and may back off. Moving through crowded spaces can also help you identify that one person who always seems to be nearby.
- Third, make note of how your tail reacts to the above points. Police are likely to be undaunted, and may eventually make their presence known regardless of what you do. However, private investigators have no such jurisdictional confidence, and can be shaken if you assess the situation correctly.
- Finally, in any case, never panic. Reckless movement or driving can cause authorities (be it your tail or incidental officers) to seize you immediately, not to mention the physical risk to yourself and those around you.
Assess whether spyware is on your phone
Oftentimes, it’s cheaper and more effective for your tails to simply install spyware (or a conventional tap) onto your phone than to physically follow you around. Such tactics can easily reveal your location via GPS and check-in metadata, as well as your interests via Google searches and browsing history. Anyone trying to build a case on you can use this information to create a compelling profile.
Here are some signs your device is tattling on you:
Your phone is acting different than normal.
This can come in the form of random shutdowns, lighting up when you’re not using it, or even producing strange noises. You should know the quirks of your own phone well enough to discern any differences, so don’t dismiss them as random occurrence should they show up.
Abnormal battery consumption
Spyware still requires system resources to function, and thus drain the battery faster than normal. While all batteries do lose capacity over time, you can assess your battery’s health with built-in analytics (iOS) or third-party apps (Android). Compare your stated battery health with the average usage hours (you can find this information online), and if there’s a massive difference, it may point to spyware.
Increased data usage
Similar to the point on battery life, spyware needs to use your network to report back to your tail, incurring more data usage. Most phones have some form of data monitoring, but there are plenty of third-party apps to help you visualize this as well.
Strange noises during calls
Building off the first point, pay special attention to weird noises during calls. Clicking, beeping, and static are all possible signs of a tapped phone. If you hear anything out of the ordinary, be careful with what you say.
Check your SMS history for unusual texts
Many spy programs are actually controlled by coded messages, which appear as random strings of numbers and letters. If you see this, chances are good that your device has been compromised.
Bait your tail
Finally, you might try some counter-espionage of your own. Try calling a reliable friend, and tell them something which is not actually true that might incite a reaction from your tail. Just like a mousetrap, it can become quite clear that someone has been listening to your conversation using this method.
Secure your emails
Just like your phone, your computer is vulnerable to spying methods as well. Try these tips to ascertain whether this vector is being utilized to track you, and to secure your communications:
Install email tracking software
Services like GetNotify and ReadNotify allow you to see when someone opens your email, where it was opened, and for how long the email was kept open. You can even track the IP address of anyone who opens your email, allowing you to see if anyone more than your intended recipient(s) has read your email.
Set up an encrypted email client
This way, only recipients you designate will be able to decode your messages, allowing you to communicate in total privacy. It can be a bit labor-intensive depending on the level of security you’re going for, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.
Check for key loggers
If you’re unfamiliar, keyloggers are pieces of malware that record every keystroke you make with your keyboard. Passwords become trivial to guess, and even email encryption becomes useless. Keyloggers run in the background, and won’t simply display icons in the system tray. You may need to check your task manager for anything out of the ordinary, or even install some anti-malware software to root it out. Updating your operating system can also be effective at neutering keyloggers.
Police tailing comes in many forms in the digital age, so you need to know how to spot the signs. We’ve shown you a few of the most common methods authorities use to tail their suspects. Private investigators and even criminals themselves can also use these methods.
If you’ve done something wrong, please do not make a habit of dodging the police; it will only compound the charges against you. However, you should know how easy it is to compromise your privacy online and in real life. This includes a plethora of information about your whereabouts, activity, and interests.
A VPN can help shore up the deficiencies of your various devices. By wrapping each packet of information in a veiling layer of encryption, VPNs enable you to control your privacy online.
Have you ever had a tail, and if so what ended up happening? Let us know your story in the comments below!