Phone tapping
September 30, 2007 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Paranoia filter: is there a way to see if one's phone line is tapped, without calling the phone company and asking them to come look? I live in an apartment building in Brooklyn and have access to the phone cables outside the building. I'm not particularly paranoid, but I'm having a dispute with the landlord and I wouldn't put this past him.
posted by Ollie to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
While this question is in the technology category, might I suggest a more lo-tech method? There's probably a better term for it, but the closest I can think of is "entrapment".

Basically, arrange a staged phone call where you casually mention something incriminating, and see if he/she takes the bait. Off the top of my head, you could claim that you left a nice "surprise" in a potted plant etc. and check back later to see if it's been disturbed. This is of course not the best you could come up with.

Obviously, for it to work it has to be:
1) in a controlled environment where you can verify if it worked
2) something your landlord really cares about
2) something that's not too extreme so your landlord doesn't wise up to your shenanigans
posted by kyp at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2007

Or, you could switch to Skype.
posted by tracert at 10:47 AM on September 30, 2007

I don't think there's a good (technological) way to do this. You could, say, use a TDR to look for things attached to the line, but telephone lines are so full of random weirdness that I think you'd be drowned in false positives. A reasonably knowledgeable electronics hobbyist could make a tap that doesn't affect the line enough to bother DSL or to trip the tap-detection techniques one reads about in old BBS text files.

I'd go with a visual inspection of the lines— just check for anything funny attached to them. Of course, you'll have to know enough about legitimate telco equipment to know what to ignore. As a first cut, maybe, look for anything on your line that's not on everyone else's line?

Kyp's social-engineering approach seems better. You must have some reason to suspect your landlord is listening in, anyway; perhaps you can approach this from that angle. Also, are there ways your landlord could have known whatever he knew without tapping your line?
posted by hattifattener at 11:42 AM on September 30, 2007

Not if it is a decent tap - such won't affect the phone line. It depends upon how technically sophisticated your landlord is.

You could examine the phone cables from where the enter the building on the outside, where they enter the basement to where your phone line branches off.

If the landlord (or an accomplice) lives in your building there is one simple hack to look for that can give him access to your phone line. Most interior phone wires contain 4 wires which means they can handle 2 different phone numbers. If the landlord has an unused pair he can connect them to your phone line at the place the line enters the building.

Of course there all sorts of ways to tap a phone. And have you considered voice bugs in your rooms?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2007

Do you have reason to suspect you're being listened to?

Have you considered whether you use a cordless phone or baby monitor? Older ones, especially, are easy to intercept with low-cost equipment.
posted by dhartung at 12:36 PM on September 30, 2007

It is fairly simple to use an inductive loop to tap an analog phone line. The resultant loss isn't going to be something you can test for even with the cooperation of the telco. It's too bad an encryption standard wasn't pushed forward after the steaming pile that was clipper failed.
posted by Mitheral at 2:21 PM on September 30, 2007

Yeah, even a high-Ω linesman's handset tap will be nearly undetectable unless you're the CIA, and an inductive tap is even better (as a tap, worse for you).

I'd go with a social engineering approach, and then be very sure to document everything and turn this guy in. Tapping a telephone line is a pretty serious offence.
posted by Skorgu at 2:26 PM on October 3, 2007

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