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How to Spot a Spy?
How to Spot a Spy ?

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Are you living next door to a spy? Recently a number of Americans didn't realize that they were, as the FBI uncovered 10 Russian spies operating in the United States, all carrying on seemingly harmless jobs and leading ordinary personal lives. So it is possible that there are spies in your midst, blending in and going about their daily business just the same as you, only covertly, and probably with a lot more riding on the outcome than most of our daily toiling. It is equally possible, of course, that our wild imaginings are creating spies out of people and situations that are perfectly innocent or un-spy related. Methods for spotting a spy aren't scientific or foolproof, and possible signs of spying are not a reason for instilling relentless paranoia or reacting without cause. All the same, it could be helpful, and perhaps even fun, to have a basic primer in spotting a spy in your walks of life.
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Steps :

  • Know your spies. Some of the spies you might encounter include:
    • Government spies – whether from your own country or another country, spies are on the lookout to uncover illegitimate business, wrongdoing, and even other spies. There can also be spies for non-government groups such as terrorists, guerrilla fighters, liberation fronts, etc.; while they're not government spies, they're usually moving in the same circles and are targeted by government spies.
    • Industrial spies – these spies can range from spies involved in industrial espionage by stealing secrets, plans, or other workplace confidential information (illegal); corporate security surveiling employees and others for theft, moles, any "suspicious" behavior, or even "slacking off" (a gray area legally, as laws struggle to keep up with technology); to people who simply keep an eye on what their competitors are up to in a number of legal ways. Corporate espionage spies might take physical information or they might hack electronic data. The more legitimate side of industrial spying involves gathering competitive intelligence: for example, store or competitor checkers (including secret/mystery shoppers) might visit their competition to check out the layout, prices, styles, even the caliber of staff, etc., that their competitor has; in this last case, the spied-on store is very likely doing it back to its competition!
    • Cyber spies – they could be government-based, industry-based, vigilante-driven, individually sponsored, or part of a crime network. Cyber-spying can be located anywhere in the world, undertaken by anyone with the will and resources, and is usually aimed at obtaining proprietary information to sell to the highest bidder, or it could be spying for the purposes of blackmailing, trying to see if someone is cheating (usually a spouse/partner), or for cyber-stalking a person.
    • Detectives, police, or covert surveillance specialists – not so much spies as people whose operative work requires good hiding and detecting skills to unearth information for clients. Some of their work definitely includes spying and could be some of the more likely spying you might spot, such as seeing unmarked vans with camera equipment.
    • Journalists and activists – not actual spies but some investigative journalists and activists come close to spying (or actually are spying, depending on the perspective!) when working undercover to expose information that hasn't been made public.

  • Know your spy equipment. Knowing how to spot spy equipment goes hand in hand with knowing how to spot a spy! The trouble with using spy equipment to gauge whether or not someone is a spy, though, is that modern surveillance technology exists at affordable prices for any person keen to try it out. No longer merely the exclusive province of well-heeled spies, a booty of spy-related technology and gear sitting in your friend's bag or house might just be a sign they're a "wannabe spy" or they're massively paranoid! All the same, a little knowledge of what constitutes spy equipment might help you in your attempt to spot a spy, so some things to look for (if you even have a clue where to look!) might include:
  • Night vision goggles, unfamiliar or unusual technology, or technology that has been "transformed" in a custom-made way, hidden cameras in their home or place of work, listening devices (bugs), weapons, tripwires, drugging substances, long range lenses, top quality compact cameras, etc.
    • A little too obvious...
    • A little too obvious...
    • In terms of vehicles, the vehicle will usually be plain rather than obvious. Any vehicle kitted out with strange antennae and obvious equipment probably belongs to a hotted-up car, CB radio, or stereo enthusiast!
    • Read some books or websites that explain the intricacies of spy equipment to get yourself up to speed.

  • Think about how a spy might appear. Of course, it's highly unlikely that a spy will go around dressed like a ninja ready for a fight; most spies will try to blend in with their environment, meaning that looking like the person sitting next to you or sharing your lunch table would make an ideal cover. Clothing chosen usually represents the basics of the "workplace" assignment - work clothing, street clothing, professional suits, etc., although such clothing might require certain modifications to allow for hiding equipment/weapons, or for bodily protection. Naturally, cyber-spies don't usually get to be seen, so they're not counted for this step! Some things to consider include:
    • Look for optimal fitness and usually an age under 45–50. Government spies who are required to be in active service will usually be age-limited, it being less likely that they'll be spying once their physical ability declines. However, age isn't necessarily a telling factor.
    • Does the person have any physical evidence of having been involved in fighting? If there are no other reasons for scarring or wounds, such as sport or a car accident, it might be that this person has been involved in covert operations that got nasty.
    • Does the person seem to have flashier clothing and more expensive accessories than you might expect of someone in the job they say they have? This could be a sign of several things, from inheriting money, buying little but high quality, embezzling, or winning the lottery, but it might also be because they're a spy!
    • Is there anything out of character in the appearance or affectations of the person before you? You'll have to go with your own hunches here but it might help to read the article on how to detect lies.

  • Consider the educational and professional background of the person you suspect might be a spy. Many spies are well educated, physically strong, and for some roles, they will be highly intelligent. Many have military or police backgrounds, including for corporate security and espionage. Others might be well-versed in foreign affairs, law/law enforcement, or political theory, and may have worked in these fields prior to becoming a spy. They may have risen up the ranks in certain bureaucracies or they may have been hand picked from an early age. Lesser level spies might be recruited from people who have a low-value degree, poor money management skills, and have intermittent employment histories.
    • Spies required to undertake surveillance work using high-tech equipment will need a high level of ability using such equipment, requiring good intelligence and analytical skills.
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  • Look for signs. If you suspect that someone you know might be a spy, check for possible "spy signs". The signs are not foolproof by any means - there are plenty of people who see themselves as loners but don't end up as spies, for instance! And always be careful - nosing around in someone's life is undesirable at the best of times and if a person realizes you think they're a spy, you might have some very embarrassing explaining to do. Here are some possible signs, all with the proviso that these signs could mean many things:
    • Is the person suddenly difficult to get along with? Are there sudden debts, or embarrassing acts that cause the family to reject or ostracize this person? It is possible that the person has been asked to remove themselves from the family sphere to undertake deeper spy work.
    • Is the person not responding to communications from family members even though it is known that he or she is still alive? Some spies simply break off contact, move elsewhere, even overseas, and stop answering calls, emails, and letters.
    • Is your relative or friend always going on about "time spent overseas" but never actually says what he or she did there? This could be an indicator that he or she was once a spy.
    • Does your suspect love being alone? Spies are often viewed as loners, people content with their own company and are not averse to cutting ties with family, friends, or other relationships.
    • Listen for their language. If a person is claiming to be a native speaker, there may be occasional language oddities or incongruous phrasing that can alert you to this person not being a native speaker but trying to hide this fact.
    • Does the suspected spy ask a lot of questions all the time that seem to be about a particular person, place, or event? This might be a sign of something being up if the line of questioning is persistent and repeated.
    • Do your personal or workplace things appear to have been tampered with after a visit by this person? If you notice strange things misplaced, that could be a sign that a recent visitor might have been snooping.
  • Consider how an industrial or cyber spy might behave. If you run a business with highly sought-after or confidential information, knowing that there is an industrial or cyber spy in your midst can come in handy but it isn't going to be easy! An industrial spy might simply walk into your building unsuspected; perhaps dressed as a fellow worker, a computer repairer, or as a cleaner. Or they might simply pose as a friend of someone in the organization. Spotting people intent on spying can be difficult if your company doesn't have means for checking on who is entering and leaving a building. And there is always the possibility that you might have employed a spy without knowing it, or that a cyber spy is poking through your computer records unbeknown. Some methods for spotting spies include:
    • Check the credentials of people entering your workplace. Ask for ID and ask for the names of people who can verify who the newcomer is. You can even request a phone number of their employer and ask if it is possible to check the credentials on the firm's website. If the person claims to be a family member, have the requisite staff member verify this before allowing them free range in your building.

    • Watch for persons tailgating your employees. Employees huddling round doorways smoking, or employees returning from lunch, can serve as great tailgating cover. A casual cup of coffee in one hand and a smile on the face, could conceal a spy entering your building. Try to build a work environment where people are prepared to question the entry of those they do not know, not just leaving this up to the receptionist and security guards.

    • Inspect computers regularly for spy actions. Things to be on the lookout for include data theft, keystroke logging, phishing, unusual downloads of information by employees, etc. Use virus scanning tools to find vulnerabilities in applications that you use and keep all firewalls and virus software updated. If you do find evidence of spying in your computer network, report it to the police immediately and seek the help of computer security specialists.
  • Be alert for anyone spying on you. There are several things that you can do to keep your own awareness of being spied upon at a high level. Some of the main things to watch for include:
    • Are you being followed? While a spy is trained to not set off your sense of being followed, if you're alert enough, you should be able to sense being followed. Use your peripheral vision, check behind you occasionally (don't overdo this or it can make you seem scared), and vary your usual routine. In varying your usual routine, it should be easier to spot someone who might have started following you, as they'll have had less time to scout out hiding strategies and you'll also be more attuned to keeping an eye out. Read wikiHow's article on protect yourself if someone's following you home for more details.
    • Is anyone you don't know or who is situated away from you taking photographs of you? Not the usual tourist accidental inclusion shot but targeted photographing of you? While this sort of activity would usually be undertaken with subterfuge, given that almost everyone has a camera or a camera phone these days, it can be easy to blend into the crowd.
    • Has someone tampered with your phone? Listen for odd clicks, difficulty shutting down a cell phone, staying lit up or lighting up without being touched, hearing sounds that are not familiar, etc. Both landline and mobile phones can be targeted for bugging; even deleted SMS messages are retrievable with the right equipment! If you suspect someone is tampering with your mobile phone, return it to your retailer and ask for it to be wiped back to its factory settings, as this will remove any software placed on it.
    • Check obvious signs. There are some things that you'll know already from the movies, like the same car parked near your home with people just sitting in it, or somebody (not a kid!) observing your house with binoculars or a telephoto lens. While it is possible people in these situations might be spying on you, it is also possible that they're doing 101 innocent things like checking a map because they're lost, sulking after an argument with someone, testing out their new gear, etc. Look for repeated and suspicious activity, not one-offs.
    • Check your computer. There are many possible ways a person can spy on you using your computer and webcam. There are many things you can do, including checking for suspicious IP addresses, checking for malware, etc. This is a subject in its own right, but you can get started by reading How to know if you have spyware on your computer and How to clean basic malware infections on Windows XP.

  • Know the limitations of spy-spotting. Almost everything suggested in this article can also have perfectly innocent, non-spy reasons behind it. When trying to spot a spy, the idea is to "build a picture" from each of the steps rather than using any single step or sign on its own to reach an assumption. The more checks you can find, the better chances you might have of spotting a spy but even then, you could be spotting something else completely, from a kid playing at spies, to a criminal committing illegal acts of the non-spying kind. Keep in mind:

    • Use common sense, basic logic, good faith, and experience checks before jumping to conclusions.
    • Becoming paranoid or terrified that somebody is "out to get you" is an unhealthy state of being and one that is fed by the fear culture that benefits control freaks, spy movie makers, and spy equipment retailers.
    • If you really do have suspicions that somebody might be spying on you, it's probably a good idea to ask someone you trust what they think of your suspicions. If you can't do that, think about who else you might be able to contact, from your IT department for computer spy worries, to the police if you think you're being stalked.
    • Spy-spotting will remain in the realm of speculation for the average person. On occasion, the really important side of spotting a spy is usually in the workplace or on your computer, as doing so could prove very important for your firm or self if your computer or mobile phone safety has been compromised.

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