Eye In The Sky

Riverbank Ruminations; Observations from The Banks of The Technology River

Tom Evans ~  Ashton Engineer Emeritus

 

Eye in the sky

1982:

I am the eye in the sky

Looking at you

I can read your mind

I am the maker of rules

Dealing with fools

I can cheat you blind

And I don’t need to see any more

To know that

I can read your mind, I can read your mind

The Alan Parsons Project – “Eye in the Sky” (Actually written about surveillance)

2015:

Colonel Katherine Powell (Dame Helen Mirren) is a U.K.-based military officer in command of a top-secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill”

Movie: “Eye in the Sky”

Present-day:

Overhead cameras at a casino. Helicopters, satellites, planes, or unmanned drones. Any surveillance device that operates above the target.

It is no secret that there are all sorts of surveillance devices out and about. Traffic cameras, CCTV in stores, airports, and even at front doors all contribute to being watched. For the most part, we accept the need for this and are aware of it. Unfortunately, there are a number of instances where we could be (or are being) tracked without our knowledge or consent, and I am not talking about the government.

Most of us have some sort of online presence and we realize that that allows some tracking of our actions. Unfortunately, as we have more and more connected devices, those devices are giving away our activities. This article discusses how a researcher could ride around on a bicycle and collect data from Bluetooth devices, primarily headphones. The unique hardware address (MAC address) that all devices have is usually assigned by the manufacturer and can be used to identify the maker of the device. Due to the fallout from Eric Snowden’s revelations, manufacturers are starting to make devices that randomize the MAC address each time they turn on. Unfortunately, this may not happen for some time, depending on the manufacturer.

The article states that an important reason this matters:

“For people that are in a vulnerable situation, this is especially scary. This shows that it doesn’t help to just change your phone number. Somebody could just drive around and search for MAC addresses to fridges, laptops, smart TVs, and headsets”, Hegnes says.

This situation, as the article mentioned, extends to all sorts of devices. It’s one thing to know you are being watched, it is another thing entirely to be watched without your knowledge. Sad to say, these devices are consumer grade and thus price-driven. Security costs more money than most manufacturers want to spend.

Now that people are thinking more about traveling, another worry is the ‘eye in the room’, or hidden video cameras. Airbnb got some unwelcome press a couple of years ago when people started reporting discovering hidden video cameras in various rooms of their rentals. This article offers an easy way to use your phone to scan your room for cameras. I think I may start doing this any time we rent a room, even in a hotel or motel.

What if you are the one doing the watching? Home security systems, including cameras, are becoming more prevalent. Once you pay for the system and it is installed, you have the right to assume it is providing some protection. Unfortunately, some systems don’t pass muster when it comes to being secure. This article is somewhat technical but the takeaways are simple. The system described has a serious flaw. If you have one of these systems, there are some things you can do to help mitigate the weaknesses, but there will be some inconvenience. It appears the manufacturer is not going to do anything about the issue. It is a serious issue because it is trivial for a bad guy to turn off your alarm or do just about anything with the system that you could do. It doesn’t get much worse than an alarm system that can be turned off by anyone who wants to invest a little time.

The 1951 movie “The thing from another world” ended with Ned “Scotty” Scott saying “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”. Now the skies are watching us. We are being watched from all directions and our devices are helping keep tabs on us, whether we like it or not. Poor security in these devices makes it easy to be tracked in ways that are not intentional. Depending on your level of paranoia, you may want to give some thought to all the electronic things you have that can report on you to others.