Counter-surveillance Techniques

Now that you’ve learned how sensor systems work and what their capabilities are, it’s time to take a look at how to avoid, bypass, fool, and otherwise subvert these systems for your own ends.

One thing that people in our line of work quickly realize is that it is not only important to practice operational security when on a mission, it’s a good idea to keep a low profile as a matter of course in your daily life. The less info there is on you out there, the less can be used against you. If you practice the bare minimum of enhanced privacy precautions on a daily basis, it makes it that much easier to keep the routine going when it counts. One mistake is all it takes to ruin an op.

To that end, every Operative should be in the habit of operating in mesh privacy mode. This might make some aspects of your life inconvenient, when friends, families, and services cannot quite as easily locate you on demand, but it helps you maintain a low profile. If you must lifelog, don’t share it publicly— archive it in encrypted storage, and back it up. Forget about X-casting, you may as well ask Ozma to open an office inside your brain. Likewise, stealth your signals, fake your mesh ID, and use anonymous accounts, VPNs, and encryption. You never know when someone may take a closer interest in your affairs, and the worst time to find out that someone has been sniffing your comms for weeks is right in the middle of an op.

The drawback to covering your tracks like this on a daily basis is that it sometimes makes you look like, well, like you’re covering your tracks. People who engage all of their privacy functions sometimes stand out in a transparent society. It may make people suspicious, thinking that you’re up to something. If you’re only encrypting your communications with certain people, it sometimes makes it look even worse, like you’re collaborating—and it also pinpoints who you’re in cahoots with. So if you’re going to push ahead with enhanced privacy, do it across the board, in all aspects of your life. Create a cover for yourself while you’re at it. If you build up a reputation as one of those old-fashioned “privacy nuts,” people are less inclined to think you’re up to no good—they’ll just think you’re weird. If you have a good reason for the enhanced privacy—such as freelancing for a client on a top secret hypercorp project—even better. Then you have justification for protecting your affairs.

Sometimes a better option is to live the double life. Maintain a public presence, keep up a good transparent front, and very carefully practice your private biz in complete stealth mode on the side. This takes care and practice. Disposable ectos are essential to this sort of lifestyle. This also means having contingency plans in place for new communication channels when your secret lines and routines get accidentally or intentionally compromised.

If you need to spend credit without linking it to your ID, crypto-cred is your best friend. Cryptocred services are accessible around the solar system,making it easy and convenient to make completely anonymous purchases. Crypto-cred is growing increasingly popular in the inner system; many hypercorps take advantage of these services to make it harder for their competitors to keep tabs on them.

All of the methods above are useful for concealing your mesh activities, but they do little to protect you from physical surveillance. Maintaining privacy in public is quite challenging in an environment of ubiquitous surveillance. There are some options, however. In habitats where such things are acceptable and legal, personal privacy shrouds are an occasional sight. These smart fabric garments effectively block most sensors, preventing the person inside from being identified. Shrouds are growing increasingly popular in socialite and celebrity circles, as they foil the efforts of stalkers and voyeurs.

If you’re seeking a bit of in-person conversational privacy, many establishments offer private rooms that are scoured of listening devices and other sensors. Many private residences, business offices, and secure installations have “cleaning systems” at their entranceways that scour anyone entering of electronic snooping devices, including bug zappers to disable nanoswarms, specks, and similar hardto- spot spyware. Otherwise a set of access jacks and a fiberoptic cable are ideal, as external sensors can’t monitor mental communications (barring a cyberbrain hack). Line-of-sight laser communication systems are also good for countering eavesdropping, as tight beams are difficult to intercept, especially when used at short distances.

It is important that mesh privacy and physical privacy be practiced together. Using a fake mesh ID is pointless if you are running around with the same morph that your real name and mesh ID are linked to; eventually someone is going to correlate surveillance footage and mesh activity and link your face to the fake mesh ID. If you’re just seeking temporary privacy, this is not a big deal, but long-term data forensics is likely to uncover such poor practices.

Fake identities are standard fare in Covert operations. Handlers will often provide cover identities for operatives, but you are encouraged to have your own on hand. You never know when things will go awry or when old enemies may catch up to you. It is best to have multiple IDs at your disposal so you can burn and dispose of them as needed.

A good fake ID is more than just your brainprint with a new digital code stamped to it or a new nanotat ID for your morph. Though bare-bones fake IDs are cheap, they arouse suspicion by the fact that there is no history or data trail attached to them (though this can often be explained away as being a newly instantiated infugee). The best fake IDs are completely fabricated personas with detailed histories spread across multiple archives and habitats. They also come with pregenerated credit accounts and reputation scores in various social networks, so it doesn’t seem as if your identity suddenly sprang from nowhere just a few days ago. Criminal cartels that specialize in fake IDs can be very thorough with these backgrounds. They use multiple methods, from hiring people (or employing forks and AIs) to establish the transactions and data trails for multiple IDs over years to gaining backdoor entrances into linked databases and using these to insert new identities and carefully proliferate them to other archives. They take full advantage of the fact that habitats and polities do not collaborate on ID checking; many IDs in fact originate from shady habitats like New Sicily that seem to have an inordinate number of legitimate new citizens spring from nowhere on a daily basis. Rep scores are carefully established over time via sophisticated puppetnets, with thousands of fake IDs serving as an echo chamber with each other for the establishment of credible rep histories. The anti-counterfeiting algorithms employed by social networks prevent these fake rep scores from being elevated too high, but they do provide a starting point so that your new persona isn’t a complete unknown without clout.

After the Fall, countless infugees survived only to be locked away in cold storage, isolated to simulspace prisons, or enslaved in indentured data farms. Even a decade after the Fall, new infugees are being revitalized and re-instanced in new morphs. Many of these have no data trail or historical records attached to them, as this information was lost during the Fall. This is the perfect opportunity for anyone seeking a fresh start. Dump your morph, clean up your data signature, darkcast to a new location, and introduce yourself as a refugee from the Fall seeking asylum and a new life. Unless you make resourceful enemies, it’s not likely the deception will even be called into question, let alone researched. The trick is in picking a habitat that is open and friendly to new infugees and asks few questions. Though this is easy to find in autonomist space, there are inner system stations that are just as receptive.

Earning a new ID this way requires some finesse. Infugees rarely have resources at their disposal, so for your cover story to be consistent you may have to spend some time as an infomorph, perhaps taking on minor jobs to earn credit or reputation. There are ways around this—some infugees brought credit accounts with them or are restored to find inheritances waiting for them, tucked away in the mesh of other habitats by relatives that died during the Fall. With some careful pre-planning, a backstory like this can be established. Otherwise, this method can be time-consuming to pull off successfully.

Alternately, some infugees are more than willing to trade their backhistories and identities with someone else if the price is right. If your rep is low and you’ve made some enemies over the years, the prospect of surrendering your established identity may not seem so bad given the credit you would earn. Many infugees have lost everything—their friends, their relatives, their lovers, their homes—and have no qualms about surrendering their old identities and starting anew.

Reassigning IDs in this manner is not difficult, especially with the right underworld connections. In autonomist areas, it is often quite easy, assuming both parties consent to the switch and all of its ramifications. This option is a good one for sentinels who have real IDs—or even fake ones—that are essentially compromised. It is, of course, not recommended in situations where the traded ID may cause severe complications for the new owner. If you happen to have racked up some arrest warrants in the Morningstar Constellation, however, that is likely to be unimportant to an infugee who plans a new future in the Uranian autonomist colonies or, better yet, seeks to try their hand at gatecrashing and extrasolar colony life.

Stealing identities is always an option, especially if you only plan to use the identity for a short period and the original owner of that ID is far enough away and low profile enough to be unlikely to catch on soon. A sifter who has spent the past decade hammering rocks on Mercury is unlikely to notice that you’re using their ID to maneuver in the tunnels of Extropia without too much attention—at least until you start triggering lots of flags or otherwise drawing attention to yourself. Even if you rack up some arrest warrants, legal torts, fines, and reputation strikes, you are unlikely to do lasting damage to that fine sifter’s life as they should be able to easily and quickly deny responsibility—though you may cause that poor soul some unfortunate stress and inconveniences.

Various criminal networks excel at stealing ID information and selling it through black market channels, particularly the ID Crew. Purchasing a stolen and disposable ID of this type is often the best option for quick and dirty operations.

Operating under a fake ID is not always as simple as it seems. The drawback to using a fake ID is that you cannot rely on your own carefully built-up reputation and network of friends and colleagues. It can sometimes be tempting to take advantage of two identities at the same time, so that you can operate with some pseudonymity and still fall back on your rep, but you run the risk of linking the fake ID to your real ID in these situations. One mistake and the carefully constructed persona you’ve been operating will be useless—possibly endangering your real life ID in the process.

Fake IDs are also vulnerable to brainprint matching. If you happened to rack up a slew of heavy criminal charges on your last visit to Elysium, then even if you return under a fake ID, you may be nabbed. This is because your brainprint will still be the same, even if it is attached to a new ID. Brainprints are not always checked against similar prints in the system, but security and customs often doublecheck new arrivals against the brainprints of their most wanted or most recent criminal elements, exactly to foil this kind of thing. Luckily, brainprints change over time, so this becomes less and less of an issue, but a match still might be close enough to raise flags. Matching brainprints are not always uncommon given the proliferation of forks, but this is not necessarily an escape clause unless the fork happened to predate the criminal activity.

Some stolen and traded IDs run afoul of synchronicity. You may be in the middle of an op when you suddenly run across an old friend of your ID’s previous owner, forcing you to scramble for a cover story without triggering suspicion. Though rare, these sorts of situations have a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient times.

When it comes to countering physical surveillance, the first step is to be aware of it. It can be incredibly helpful to know exactly what type of sensor coverage is present in a particular area. An intersection that happens to only be covered by a few visual-spectrum cameras and microphones, for example, is an ideal place to try and stage a holographic illusion that would be foiled if other sensors are present.

The easiest way to catalog what sensors are at work is to simply ping the local public mesh. Most sensors, including private ones, will acknowledge their presence online. This will not list out any sensors that are operating in private mesh mode, but you can sometimes find these by searching for stealthed radio signals. If your primary concern is accidental viewing by a publicam voyeur, then knowing where those cameras are placed is half your battle.

Active sensor systems are easy to detect because they are transmitting signals. Radar, microwave, lidar, x-ray, and gamma-ray emitters are trivial to detect with the appropriate receiver. Nanodetectors will let you know about any lingering spy swarms. Passive cameras can be detected by lens-spotting systems that use lasers to illuminate an area and detect the reflections from the lens. If you really want to know what’s in a room, drop some smart dust and pick up the readings later. Nanoswarms are one of the most effective methods of cataloging all of the sensors in an area.

How do you move around in an environment of total surveillance without being seen? You find the blind spots in coverage—or better yet, make your own.

The process of ghosting—moving between gaps in the sensor coverage—requires a lot of advance preparation. If you know the route you need to take, you can map it out in advance, using the tricks described above to pinpoint all of the spimes and scanners. You want to do this without being obvious, so it may take several passes or a combined effort by a team. Alternatively, you can seek out blank spots in the surveillance coverage and look for ways to link them together.

Some areas are quite intentionally kept off the grid. Criminal outfits that don’t like people poking into their business quite often sterilize a surveillance-free zone around their holdings. Groups like Datacide or the Decepticons go out of their way to create blank spots in a habitat’s watchful eye. Some of these can be found online, if you know where to look or who to ask. Others are sold for a price. Clearing a path of sensors is high-paying biz for both tech-savvy crime cartels and private investigators or freelance security specialists. Some privacy-friendly establishments have secret and scanner-free entrances and exits, made available to favored clients at an affordable rate.

When all else fails, you can create your own blind spots. This involves dropping a saboteur nanoswarm on an area with specific instructions to target surveillance devices. Bughunter bots serve the same purpose. Used together, this is an effective way to clear a zone of unwanted spyware. The main thing to remember is that blind spots don’t remain blind for long. Repair systems and bots will revive or replace disabled publicams and other spimes. New sensors will be seeded in an area by people who notice the lack of coverage. Your clear zone will only remain safe for a short window of time, so take advantage of it while it lasts.

The trick to using blind spots is that your entrance and exit from the sensor-free zone must somehow be disguised. Otherwise you can still be tracked as you enter and leave the hole in coverage. This means that you must employ deception to lose your trail or otherwise trick the cameras before you take advantage of the blind spot.

If you have the resources, and the particular sensors you need to blind are privately owned, sometimes it is a simple solution to buy them out. If you own the scanners, you control when they are on and what they record, and it becomes much easier to fabricate recordings. This option generally only applies to private sensors in public areas, as few people are willing to relinquish ownership of the cameras in their own homes and offices.

Rather than destroying sensors, it is sometimes easier (and less incriminating) to temporarily jam or blind them. Radio jamming is only effective in scrambling radar, though it will disrupt any real-time feeds that any local devices are transmitting via the mesh. A similar mesh-jamming effect can be gained by launching a denial of service attack against all devices in a particular area or unleashing a batch of kaos AIs. Active sensors can sometimes be jammed or disrupted by tweaking one of the emitters in an area to generate so much background noise that it drowns out the other emitters.

Jamming mesh signals will not stop a camera from recording, but blinding it with a dazzler laser system will. Similarly, microphones can be drowned out with a white noise machine. If the sensor system you are worried about happens to be a person, that’s where prisoner masks (for biomorphs) and disablers (for pods and synthmorphs) come in. Some morphs are even designed with countersurveillance in mind and so come equipped with sensor jamming and blinding modifications.

When you can’t disable or blind a sensor, your path is clear: fool it. There are many methods for fooling publicams and other scanner systems, though the best option will likely depend on the situation at hand and your specific needs.

The simplest and crudest tools for camera deception are chameleon and invisibility cloaks. While these are effective, simple disguises are often even easier— or trivial if you happen to possess false face nanoware and chameleon skin. Disguises also have the advantage of allowing you to change your looks and pass as other people, which is sometimes more important than simply disappearing. If you are hoping to avoid facial recognition scans, the application of makeup, nanotats, or skin designs in specific patterns is enough to foil the pattern recognition algorithms by breaking up outlines and identifying marker points. This is also where biomorph clones with common cookie-cutter looks come in handy. Some morph models are quite common in large habitats and individuals in these morphs can quite easily be mistaken for each other. A clever team can take advantage of this by all choosing identical common morphs, thus foiling attempts to ID individuals by facial recognition.

The ability to switch morphs is a boon to sensor evasion methods, particularly with pods and synthmorphs, as an ego can evacuate from a cyberbrain quite quickly. Two synths, for example, seemingly passing by each other in a temporary sensor shadow, might actually be pausing just long enough to link to each other’s access jacks via fiberoptics and switch egos. In this manner, an ego can jump to an entirely different morph without leaving a mesh trail or doing so in front of the cameras. Do this several times, and it can become impossible to track where an ego originated with one synthmorph and where it disappeared. Synthmorphs, by their nature, have other advantages that can be used to foil tracking. A small synthmorph or biomorph can be hidden inside another synthmorph as it moves about, until it is carefully released in a sensor dead zone. Likewise, some synthmorphs are easily disguised as robots operated by an AI rather than an ego, especially if you take pains to conceal the cyberbrain within its carriage. The same trick used to switch egos between synthmorphs described above can also be used to pass an ego from a ghostrider module to a previously uninhabited synthmorph or pod—again, without leaving a trail on the mesh. If care is taken, it is even possible for an ego to take over a synthmorph by force. First, the synthmorph must be incapacitated with a disabler, long enough for the attacker to initiate a cyberbrain hack that forces the target ego out into an external storage device. The invading ego then assumes control of the cyberbrain and voila—they are in control of a new shell.

Swarmanoid morphs deserve special mention, due to their ability to scatter into smaller swarms and even individual units to evade detection. Individual bots from the swarm can take separate, discreet routes to a destination, hiding in people’s clothing, underneath vehicles, in luggage, and so on. The drawback to swarmanoids scattering for stealth purposes is that the swarm still relies on mesh communication to remain “whole” and act as a unit, meaning that they remain vulnerable to detection and sabotage. It is possible for individual swarm bots to be given preprogrammed instructions so that it may go mesh silent and act autonomously, but if something goes wrong it will be cut off from the rest of the swarmanoid’s distributed intelligence.

Almost all sensors are meshed, meaning they are vulnerable to hacking. A hacker who has accessed such a system can turn off recording, delete data, or replace it with falsified information. Turning a device off or leaving gaps in recorded memory are signs that someone has messed with a system, so the most discreet and effective method is to replace data with realistic misinformation. Simply looping previous recordings is not the best option, as archiving system AIs often scan recordings to look for exactly this sort of tampering. The best trick is to input data that is not just false but actively misleading, so that even if the hack is discovered the investigators may still be thrown off course.

Mesh system penetration can also play a critical role in ID checks. A skilled hacker providing overwatch on an operative may be able to get them through a checkpoint with a bad ID by infiltrating the ID scanner at the key moment and submitting false documentation.

One positive aspect to data manipulation is that it can sometimes be initiated after the fact, to clean up any traces an op might have left behind or to counteract anything that might have gone wrong. This is sometimes a tricky proposition, as data from meshed sensors may be archived in multiple places, so it may entail compromising multiple databases. Scrubbing the data trail left behind or the incriminating information linked to an ID can be a critical affair, however, especially if an operative needs time to extract themselves from a rapidly escalating situation.

If you can’t avoid detection for a crime, why not put that attention on someone else? In a high-surveillance society, it can be quite difficult to obfuscate all traces. Odds are that something will be recorded, and that evidence is going to get someone blamed. The clever operative makes sure that person is never them. This means throwing a patsy to the wolves.

Quite often a patsy will be somewhat aware of what’s going on, but they’re somehow misled as to who is truly involved or what are the exact details of the situation. This often involves scams where the patsy is hired by a misleading source to be in the wrong place at the right time. Other times it means betraying the fall guy at the last minute. Sometimes it involves a ruse where the patsy believes the whole fiasco is an accident and their loyalty and honor will carry them through whatever punishment might come.

The patsy may also be someone who is completely oblivious to the situation’s background—a stranger put in the situation by opportunity. An unknowing bystander makes for a great patsy, as even when questioned they’re unlikely to spill useful information given that they’re unaware of the context. The drawback here is that without some evidence of involvement, they may be difficult to properly frame. As the main point of using a patsy is to distract the opposition or authorities long enough for an operative to get away and/or clean up the trail, an uninvolved fall person may not consume attention for long enough.

On occasion it is possible to hire people as professional patsies. Some transhumans, particularly those comfortable with abusing forks, willingly subject themselves to the legal systems of various habitats, as taking the fall for someone else can pay rather well.

Usually these sorts of accomplices will dedicate beta forks to the task, resigning any likelihood of merging with the fork. Some criminal cartels are known to sell forknapped egos for exactly this sort of purpose.

In the same vein, an operative can set up one of their own forks to take the fall. This is best done with a beta fork that has had all potentially incriminating memories excised. Ideally, they will be sleeved in a morph without a cortical stack, so that if they are killed there will be no memories of the operation that can be confiscated and interrogated via psychosurgery.

The weakest link in many security and surveillance systems is the transhuman element. Unlike machines, transhumans are riddled with biases, prone to errors, and easy to compromise. In this vein, the best method for dealing with a surveillance network, especially a large or sophisticated one, is to go after the transhumans that watch over it. Why bother subverting several dozen types of sensor systems when you can just go to the person in charge of that network and apply some pressure via blackmail, bribery, or outright threats? Such people are also vulnerable to misdirection, confidence schemes, or other scams that might divert their attention long enough for your operation. It is not always necessary to go after authority figures; run-of-the-mill surveillance techs are often capable of turning off a system at the right time, modifying data, or otherwise compromising a system within, without anyone being the wiser.

These rules detail some of the tricks that may be employed to avoid or impair surveillance.

Knowing what sensors are out there enables an Operative to devise countermeasures. There are many tools Agents can deploy to map out the sensor coverage in an area: smart dust, lens spotters, electrical sense— not to mention just looking or pinging local wireless signals.

Sometimes defeating sensors is too risky. In this case, clearing a blind spot or route is an alternative option. Doing this without being recorded in the act can be challenging — but this is also what bughunter bots and saboteur nanoswarms are for.

People wishing to avoid recognition of their morph can deploy a number of disguise modifications. Skinflex (p. 309, EP) and synthetic mask (p. 311, EP) are by far the best options, but sex switch, gait masking, skeletal masking, and chameleon skin can also be beneficial, as well as standard Disguise skill. If acceptable to local customs, a shroud (p. 151) provides complete personal anonymity. For biomorphs, one easy way to change looks is a simple hour in a healing vat for facial bodysculpting (p. 326, EP). For those that want or have the opportunity to change their looks, there is one final option for avoiding facial recognition. The pattern-matching algorithms of facial recognition software are vulnerable to certain makeup or visual patterns (via chameleon skin), simply because the patterns foil their ability to make a match. Such makeup or patterns are visibly distinctive, however, and may arouse suspicion— though they are fashionable in some social circles, particularly among some media icons and celebrities that prefer to deter stalkers. When applying such makeup or patterns, apply a +20 modifier to Disguise Tests to avoid facial/image recognition.

Skipjacking is the art of using Infiltration skill to time one’s movements through a place that is under ubiquitous surveillance. This involves using other people, vehicles, and objects as cover, timing the movement of drones and cameras, and similar tricks to minimize one’s profile and exposure to sensors—all while avoiding suspicion. Skipjacking is quite difficult to pull off, especially in areas with crowded sensor coverage, but it may at least prolong detection or add uncertainty. Treat this as a Variable Opposed Test between the skipjacker’s Infiltration skill and the Perception of any monitors. Apply a -30 modifier to the skipjacker, perhaps less if the sensors are fewer or easier to avoid. If the skipjacker succeeds and the monitor fails, they avoid detection. If both succeed, the skipjacker has been detected, but not with absolute certainty.

Outside of quantum and encrypted communication methods, there are a few ways for individuals to communicate face-to-face without fear of eavesdropping: skinlink, a wired connection between access jacks, or tight-beam laser links or hypersonic communicators.

One trick employed by criminal groups and others wishing to foil surveillance and physical tailing is to use so-called “invisible doors.” These are physical gateways that use the same metamaterials as invisibility cloaks, literally bending light waves around the doorway. When strategically placed with crafty architecture, these can be made to look like a standard corner or alcove—only people can walk right through them. Others are cleverly turned to reflect light, making them look like full-length mirrors. In either case, these portals will not be physical to the touch. They can be detected with radar or x-rays, but are otherwise invisible to the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Counter-surveillance Techniques

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