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Reports | Review: The Red Balloon DVD - A look at espionage, wiretapping, and other surveillance techniques
{1st Jun 2005}
The Red Balloon fills a hole in the market for information on the TSCM (Technical Surveillance Countermeasures) field. It covers a broad range of topics including eavesdropping bugs, wiretapping, finding a TSCM service and legal issues of interest to security professionals, company directors, and citizens concerned about their privacy. Although the $99 price tag will likely deter the latter.

The video comes on a factory pressed DVD with a basic red on black cover and insert containing a detailed listing of information held in each chapter which are designed to be viewable separately. Chapters largely consist of the presenter talking direct to camera, in-between pans of various photographs illustrating the topic being discussed. Some may prefer to skip the first three dealing manly with statistics, and go straight to the technical information.

Chapter 4 features a rundown of audio bugs from hobbyist build it your self devices, to professional units, along with regular consumer / office devices that can act as bugs unbeknown to their users. These include baby monitors, radio microphones, and cordless phones. For the more technically inclined there is a brief introduction to "Carrier Current Transmitters" (which work over power cables rather than the airwaves), spread spectrum, and frequency hopping devices.

Chapter 5 calls into question the effectiveness of phone / bug detection devices sold to unsuspecting consumers, and demonstrates how various types of bugs can and can not be detected. It features some easy to understand technical descriptions, however the issue of VoIP (usage is which is rapidly growing) is raised, but poorly addressed with no mention of services such as Skype which do encrypt voice calls, and may therefore be more secure than regular POTS lines depending on the individual situation. Chapter 6 provider further information on telephone bugging possibilities.

Chapters 7 details some of the more low tech eavesdropping methods, and raises the issue of cheap wireless "spy" cameras. It also mentions that it is possible to buy encrypted cell/mobile phones (such a device is available from http://www.cryptophone.de/). The issue of computer based eavesdropping is briefly discussed, before a recommendation is made to contact a specialist in the field, however perhaps the topic should have been left out completely.

Chapter 8 covers information useful for calculating threats faced by businesses. Chapters 9 gives a list of professional detection equipment (read expensive) noting the good bad points about each, and including one designed for use by companies themselves. Chapter 10 gives advice on hiring a TSCM specialist, and what to look for.

The video is geared toward the US marked, therefore mentions of pricing information in dollars, and US specific examples / acronyms will need the viewer to find their local equivalents however the concepts are largely similar. Chapter 11, a discussion on legal issues will not be relevant to those outside the United States. The viewer will need to check they have an NTSC compatible DVD player.

Unfortunately the marketing video (downloadable from the website) closely resembles selling techniques featured on the American shopping channels, which immediately put off a British reviewer, and do the video a disservice that the James bond type introduction sequence also does not help.

Overall, the presentation style takes some time to get used to however it successfully accomplished the task of educating the viewer about the basics of the TSCM field, and as far as I am aware there are no other videos that do the same. The presenter Charlie Taylor appears very knowledgeable in the field, and the stories from his personal experience when conducting sweeps add extra value to the DVD. If you are just getting interested in the field, and can justify the cost, or are looking to hire a specialist I would recommend purchasing a copy.

"The Red Balloon" is available from http://www.tscmvideo.com/

The reviewer has a computer security background, and can not vouch for the technical correctness of content.