Of course they're listening in



It's really not that difficult to intercept wireless signals--any idiot can learn how to do it. One of my favorite things in the world is to sit with all three of my police scanners on the back porch and adjust frequencies in order to pick up as much information as I can:
Integrity of the game dialogue often focuses on player conduct. But several NFL coaches and executives enter the 2009 season with wider inspection practices and more paranoid eyes.

Growing, probing technology is causing some in the league to consider if cheating is reaching unprecedented sophistication. They are on guard. They are insistent that NFL leadership be as vigilant.

This goes beyond old-school and novel concerns. They know that some teams hire personnel to scour the hotel rooms of visiting teams' coaches and players and postgame locker rooms in search of any scrap of game-planning that can be pilfered -- They can beat that. It has little to do with opponents continuously seeking ways to survey sideline coaches in hopes of cracking their signals and intended personnel groupings -- They can outsmart them there.

Even familiar charges of artificial crowd noise pumped into stadiums are relatively tame compared with the type of cheating that new technology can provide. So, too, are fresher concerns that some teams are focusing cameras on quarterbacks during his calls at the line of scrimmage, playing the images on jumbo, in-stadium screens, and seeking an advantage for the defense whether instant or later after analysis.

How about home teams showing replays of controversial calls instantly and repeatedly when they work to their advantage -- and never showing them when they do not?

None of this alarms NFL coaches and executives as much as this issue: Are communications involving coaches' headsets and those involving players' in-helmet radios being intercepted by opposing teams?

Some coaches and executives say they have heard enough cracking sounds, enough interference, enough odd feedback and experienced enough times when the technology simply did not work that they believe this issue is a paramount one that must constantly be examined in the 2009 season and beyond.

Static or interference really is not an indicator of being eavesdropped upon. Intercepting a wireless signal transmission from point A to point B isn't going to interfere with the signal unless active jamming is taking place.

Here are the basics:
Home intercom systems. Baby monitors, children's walkie-talkies and some home intercom systems may be overheard in the vicinity of the home in the same manner as cordless phones. Many operate on common radio frequencies that can be picked up by radio scanners, cordless phones, and other baby monitors nearby. If you are concerned about being overheard on one of these devices, turn it off when it is not in use. Consider purchasing a "wired" unit instead.

Speakerphones. If your standard wired phone has the speakerphone feature, be aware that some models may emit weak radio signals from the microphone even when the phone's handset is on-hook, (that is, hung-up, inactive). For short distances, a sensitive receiver may be able to pick up room noise in the vicinity of the speakerphone.

Wireless microphones. Radio scanners can intercept wireless microphones used at conferences, in churches, by entertainers, sports referees, and others. Fast-food employees at drive-through restaurants use wireless systems to transmit order information. Their communications can also be received by scanners in the vicinity. Scanners can also pick up conversations on some walkie-talkies.

Wireless cameras. Wireless videocameras have been installed in thousands of homes and businesses in recent years. The camera sends a signal to a receiver so it can be viewed on a computer or TV. These systems are advertised as home security systems, but they are far from secure. While they are inexpensive and relatively easy to install, they are also easy to monitor by voyeurs nearby who are using the same devices.

Images can be picked up as far as 300 yards from the source, depending on the strength of the signal and the sensitivity of the receiver. Before purchasing a wireless videocamera system, ask yourself if you want to be vulnerable to electronic peeping toms. Research the security features of such systems thoroughly. You might want to wait until the marketplace provides wireless video systems with stronger security features at an affordable price.

Air-to-ground phone services. Conversations on the phone services offered on commercial airlines are easily intercepted by standard radio scanners. They are a favorite target of hobbyists.

Essentially, all you need to know is the frequency that the helmet devices work on, and then you need to have someone monitor that frequency with a scanner. Attach it to a laptop, and you can then pull in the signal and decode it, if necessary, or even make audio files and retain it.

I own several police scanners, the kind that scan EDACS and trunked radio networks. I can sit at home and listen in as camera men, producers, and local television staff sit in their trucks throughout the Washington D.C. area and chat about things. I can listen to virtually anything, and I have a 75-foot antenna wired up at the home in order to help me pull in signals. The Washington D.C. area is a hotbed of signal activity, and your uncle Norman loves to write things down and keep records. All of it perfectly legal, of course.

I'll have to acquire NFL tickets, should we end up near a stadium this season. I'll take my handheld scanner and see if I can pick up some signal calling.