Credit Card Information Isn’t the Only Data Hackers are After


There is no doubt hackers are interested in stealing credit card information from retailers, but it’s not the only information they want. While credit card theft gets the majority of the media attention, other data is also at risk. Hackers can use the personal information they steal from retailers to commit identity theft. Once they have the victim’s name, birth date and contact information, they just need a Social Security Number to start posing as that person. Let’s look at two sources of valuable personal information that are often overlooked.


Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs reward customers with discounts, special promotions and other rewards in exchange for giving the retailer their personal information. Many retailers keep customer names, email addresses, physical addresses and birthdays on record to send promotional materials and encourage repeat purchases. Retailers either maintain their own customer loyalty databases or contract a third-party company to keep track of the information for them.

In November 2013, a European company that tracks rewards programs for many different retailers was hacked and exposed the information of 1.5 million customers. Some profiles included credit card and security information, and the company warned customers to be suspicious of charges dating back up to two years.


Employee Records

Employee information is even more appealing to hackers because the retailer already has the employee’s social security number on file. Employee databases are also more accurate, since customers sometimes give false or incomplete information or don’t update their profiles when they move.

While there haven’t been many hacking attempts aimed specifically at stealing retail employee data, organizations in other industries have been targeted by hackers for years. In 2013, the University of Delaware was hacked and exposed the personal information of approximately 72,000 employees and student workers. Just last month the Archdiocese of Seattle reported the information of up to 90,000 employees and volunteers had been compromised.

Retailers cannot afford lax security on employee data. The February 2014 arrest of three corporate Home Depot employees for stealing employee data and using it to open bogus credit card accounts should ring alarm bells for the retail industry.

While credit card fraud is costly for businesses, from the victim’s perspective the aggravation is temporary and goes away once they get a new card. The effects of identity theft are more serious, longer lasting and more troublesome for victims to resolve. Retailers owe it to their customers and their employees to keep all of their personal data safe.


Heartbleed: What You Need to Know About the Latest Web Security Threat


On April 7th, Google and researchers from the defense firm Codenomicon dropped a bombshell on the web community when they announced the discovery of a flaw in the security software that makes webservers safe from data thieves. Here’s the lowdown on this latest security threat, and what users can do to keep their data secure.


What is Heartbleed?

Heartbleed is a programming bug in certain versions of the OpenSSL encryption software that runs on as many as 2/3rds of the servers on the web. Servers use OpenSSL to safeguard passwords, emails, banking information and other sensitive data. Each server has two encryption keys, a public key known to everyone and a private key known only to the recipient. When you log into a server that uses OpenSSL , the server and your computer or mobile device use it to set up encryption so no one can read the data while it’s in transit.

On servers affected by the Heartbleed bug, a flaw in the programming allows hackers to retrieve the data from a random 64 kilobyte chunk of the server’s memory. Since the attacker can’t control what area of memory the server reads from, they are basically playing roulette.  They may get nothing, but they could also read secure data. In the worst case scenario, the hacker hits the jackpot and gains access to the server’s private master key, allowing them to decrypt any traffic sent to or from the server.


What Software is Affected?

OpenSSL is used in Apache and nginx, two of the most popular open source webserver operating systems that together comprise 66% of all webservers on the Internet. The Heartbleed bug affects all versions of OpenSSL 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta. The affected software came into widespread use on March 14th, 2012.

There is no way for users to know if an attack exploiting the Heartbleed bug has occurred in the past, but analysis of server logs has uncovered indirect evidence that hackers may have been using the bug for at least five months.


Fixing Heartbleed

Operators must update to the latest version and replace their SSL certificate. If a server has been compromised, the attacker could have gained access to your sensitive data during the time the bug was active. If hackers have access to the server’s private master key, they can keep stealing data even after the patch if the operator does not change the SSL security certificate.

Large companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and eBay/PayPal have publically stated they are aware of the issue and their users need not worry, but it will take time for smaller providers to update their software and change their security certificate. The process of changing the security certificate is slow and expensive, so some companies may just update the software and leave their possibly compromised keys intact without notifying their users.


What Can Users Do to Safeguard their Data?

Now that the bug is out in the open and widely known, more hackers will be looking to exploit it before operators can patch their servers and close the loophole.

If a server has been compromised, the attacker could have gained access to your sensitive data during the time the bug was active. Since the problem is so widespread and smaller providers may be slow in replacing their keys, it’s very important for users to change their passwords on any account they want to keep safe. This includes banking sites, email credit card sites and web mail.

Some client software also uses OpenSSL. If you have received an SSL certificate from your hosting provider, have them send you a new certificate after they have patched the bug and updated their key.



6 Ways Small Retailers Can Keep Their Point-of-Sale System Safer

Cut Target Card

Point-of-Sale (POS) computers are an increasingly attractive target to hackers. The security breach at Target during the 2013 holiday season was the most serious in recent memory, but Target is hardly the only victim. It seems every week there’s a story in the news about retailers getting hacked and exposing their customers’ credit card numbers and personal information to data thieves.

Smaller retailers don’t have the resources of large chains like Target, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do to make their POS machines more secure. Let’s look at some simple strategies retailers can use to keep their customers’ personal data under wraps.


1. Keep POS Machines off Your Public Network

Many small businesses offer internet access to customers over a WiFi connection. Public WiFi and POS computers don’t mix. Hackers can use the shared connection to attack other computers on the network, so make sure your POS computers are set up on a separate connection.

Free Public WiFi

Never Use POS Over Open WiFi


2. Treat Your POS Machines Like Cash Registers

Don’t use POS computers for opening email, browsing the internet or running other programs. POS computers should only be used for POS-related functions.


3. Keep Your POS Software Up to Date

Apply patches and upgrades as soon as possible. If the POS software developer has fixed a loophole, you can bet cyber criminals already know about it and are looking to exploit it on machines running the old version.

Card Skimming

Card Skimming Keypad

4. Secure Your POS Hardware

While malware-based attacks are more common, criminals can also steal credit card information by attaching their own skimming devices to credit card readers. Be aware of what your machines look like, and have employees report anything strange or different about their POS workstations.


5. Get Serious About Passwords

Just one compromised account can give cyber criminals an open door into your network, so require strong passwords on all user and administrator accounts. Hackers can crack weak passwords of 6 characters or less in under a minute. Strong passwords should be at least 15 characters and contain a mix of numbers, symbols, upper-case and lower-case letters. Encourage employees not to choose passwords based on personal information such as their family members’ names, pets’ names, school mascot or birthday. In today’s world of social media, this information may not be as secure as they might think.


6. Disable Remote Access on All POS Computers

Remote access allows users to log into the computer from another part of the network without being physically present. Once a hacker has access to a machine on the network, they can use remote access to install malware on your POS computers. If you need to enable remote access for a legitimate reason such as a technician performing troubleshooting, be sure to disable it immediately afterward.

Customer and credit card data breaches can have disastrous consequences for businesses and consumers alike. Taking these simple steps will go a long way toward keeping your retail business out of the negative headlines.

Meet the Wireless Security Watch

Here at BVS, we’re focused on making the best wireless detection tools on the market. We’re making some changes, so we decided to take this opportunity to let you know what kind of things are in store.

We are delivering a weekly blog with a broader range of topics. It’s called Wireless Security Watch because that’s our focus. We’ll still be covering important issues like keeping the public safe from prisoners and commercial drivers with cell phones, but we’ll also be looking at other topics that relate to wireless security. Wireless communication is becoming an ever bigger and more important part of our lives. As more devices go wireless, they become more attractive targets for hackers. Expect to see posts on wireless retail security, securing your wireless network, keeping students and employees from using their devices to cheat on tests and more.

It seems every week there’s a story in the news about companies exposing customer or employee data to hackers, malware attacking wireless routers and other ways the bad guys are breaking into wireless networks. When a big story that involves wireless security breaks, look here for actionable information and steps you can take to help ensure it’s not your company in the news next time.

Why are we making these changes? We want this to become your source for timely, insightful news and information about wireless security. There are a lot of hackers and cheats out there who are looking for soft targets or the easy way out, and the stakes are getting higher all the time. Wireless security breaches can be a public relations nightmare and a financial disaster for both organizations and their customers. We want to make sure companies of all sizes have information that’s useful for keeping their data, their good name and their customers safe.

Check back here on April 1st as we take a look at what small retailers can do to keep their customer data secure from attacks like the ones that have been hitting retailers hard recently.

Can New Cell Phone Blocking Technology Keep Prisoners Off the Line?

Can New Cell Phone Blocking Technology Keep Prisoners Off the Line?

Contraband cell phones in prisons are a major threat to the safety of the public, prison staff and other prisoners. Inmates with access to cell phones have used them to run their criminal empires, coordinate riots, intimidate witnesses, order hits and plan escape attempts. There has been a lot of media attention on Managed Access Systems (MAS), a new technology that promises to neutralize contraband phones. But is it the perfect solution for every prison? Let’s take a look at MAS, how it works and the limitations.

Managed Access System

What is Managed Access?

MAS can prevent unauthorized cell phones from sending and receiving calls, text messages and data by taking advantage of the way they connect to the wireless network. When a cell phone is powered on, it scans for compatible signals from all the towers in the area. When it finds the signal from the correct carrier, it locks onto the tower with the strongest transmission. The process is automatic, and there is no way for the user to choose which tower the phone selects.

The MAS is a network of small cellular sites within the prison walls. This network transmits a signal that is stronger than the carrier’s towers, causing all cell phones within the covered area to connect to the prison network instead. The system can identify individual phones and SIM cards using information sent by the phones themselves. Transmissions from authorized devices are passed on to the carrier’s network over an internet connection. Transmissions from unauthorized devices are denied and the user receives a recorded warning when making calls.

Facebook From PrisonFacebook postings direct from prisons have become commonplace with the ubiquity of contraband cell phones.

What Are the Limitations?

MAS signal problems are far from theoretical. On February 9th, the Baltimore Sun reported three drivers outside a Maryland prison equipped with a MAS experienced problems making calls. In 2011, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder in a Mississippi prison covered by a MAS was able to post pictures on Facebook using a contraband smartphone. Let’s examine why these events occurred.

Cost – While Managed Access is effective, it is also expensive. The state of Maryland has a $5.4 million contract that only covers two facilities for two years. The cost is simply out of reach of facilities with smaller budgets.

Signal Strength – Part of the reason for the high cost is a MAS is not something prisons can just set and forget. Carriers are always building new tower sites and tweaking their networks for better coverage. If the signal from a wireless service provider outside the prison is strongest, unauthorized cell phones will work normally. An detailed indoor site survey is necessary at the start, and the prison must continually search for areas where the signal from outside sources overpowers the MAS. If the MAS ever stops transmitting, all of the phones inside the prison will resume their normal operation.

Signal Bleed – The MAS can interfere with cell phones outside the prison if the signal goes beyond the prison boundaries. If the carrier’s signal is weak and the prison is in a developed area, phones outside the facility can connect to the MAS instead.

Administration – The MAS operates using a whitelist, so an administrator must enter each authorized device and SIM card. Unfortunately, prison staff at multiple facilities have been caught allowing prisoners to use their phones, and a MAS would not prevent these devices from working. If a device goes missing, someone must manually remove it from the system.


The Effective Alternative

Even in prisons equipped with a MAS, officials cannot afford to relax their efforts to keep cell phones out of inmates’ hands. In the past, detecting and locating phones has been challenging as inmates have come up with a variety of ways to conceal their devices. Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS) manufactures a full line of cell phone detection equipment designed to help prison staff sniff out contraband cell phones.

The SentryHound, Manta Ray and Mastiff help prevent phones coming in by scanning visitors and their possessions without invasive and time-consuming searches. All three units can find phones that are powered off. The Mastiff can even detect devices concealed inside the subject’s body.

The PocketHound is the perfect covert cell phone detection device. The PocketHound is portable, silent and about the same size as a deck of cards, so a guard can walk down a row of cells and scan for devices without anyone knowing. The WolfHound-PRO is a larger but more powerful unit that includes a direction finding antenna, can detect phones up to 150 feet away indoors and allows the operator to locate the contraband phones in use.

The EtherHound and WatchHound are automated detection devices that form a perimeter of protection and help staff monitor areas where they think inmates may be using phones.

BVS stands ready to help prison staff guard the safety of the public, other guards and even other inmates by keeping cell phones away from criminals behind bars. Whether administrators are searching for an alternative to Managed Access Systems or looking to augment one, BVS can help solve prison contraband cell phone issues at a much lower cost.

Contact BVS for more information on stamping out contraband cell phones.

TransitHound Eliminates Operator Texting On Commercial Vehicles

TransitHound is a distracted-driving watchdog.

TransitHound is a distracted-driving watchdog.

Cell phones are an essential part of everyday life, but they’re a hazard when used behind the wheel. Many commercial vehicle owners have policies against using cell phones while operating their vehicles, but texting while driving continues to be a problem. The TransitHound cell phone detection device helps owners flush out operators who use their phones in commercial vehicles. Let’s look at a real accident the TransitHound could have prevented.

In May 2013, a semi truck driver was checking Facebook on his smartphone when he failed to notice emergency vehicles responding to an earlier accident. He struck several police cars and a fire truck at full speed, killing a police officer. The smartphone using driver had avoided previous detection by using his wallet to block the dashboard camera.

Why is the TransitHound Necessary?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found commercial drivers were 23.2% more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event such as lane deviation, crashes and near-crashes. Texting drivers took their eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 MPH a vehicle would travel 371 feet before the operator even applies the brakes, the approximate length of a football field.

A 2006 study by the University of Utah found drivers using a cell phone were just as impaired as a drunk driver with a .08 blood alcohol level. The study also found drivers using a cell phone were 9% slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24% greater variance in following distance and were 19% slower to resume normal speed after braking.

When the texting driver is operating a public transit vehicle such as a bus or train, passengers can use their own cell phones to record the driver. If the footage is sent to the media, it can cause a public relations firestorm even if no accident is involved. In situations where the driver is alone, the first sign of a problem is often an incident that puts lives and property at risk.


Commercial Driving and Cell Phone Regulations

Federal regulations prohibit operators from using cell phones in commercial vehicles such as buses, trucks and trains. In addition to federal laws, many states have passed their own legislation against cell phone use for both commercial drivers and the general public.

In 2010, the United States Department of Transportation enacted stiff penalties for cell phone use by commercial vehicle drivers. The operator can be fined up to $2,750 and the owner fined up to $11,000 for “reaching, holding, dialing, texting or reading” a phone while driving.

Major railway companies are already using the TransitHound to comply with FRA regulations against cell phone use.

The Federal Railroad Administration prohibits railroad workers from using any electronic device that interferes with safety-related duties. This includes the engineer, crew on the ground and workers getting the train ready for movement.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 2010 crane standards prohibit crane operators from using cell phones during a lift unless the phone is used for signaling purposes.

Operators can go to great lengths to hide their activities. The major difficulty in enforcing the policy is catching the violator in the act. There hasn’t been an easy way for owners to catch operators using cell phones, until now.


Your Anti-Cell Phone Watchdog

The TransitHound cell phone detector is designed to sniff out commercial drivers who use cell phones behind the wheel.  It features a receiver capable of picking up signals from North American and global devices. It is triggered by a sudden increase in RF activity and can detect phone calls, text messages and data transmissions. The TransitHound adapts to the background RF noise level and the sensitivity is adjustable, minimizing the chances of false alarms.


The TransitHound is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and can be discreetly mounted in a concealed location such as under the seat, under the headliner or in a control box. It can receive power from any DC power source from 12v to 50v, making it ideal for a broad spectrum of vehicles and heavy equipment.


It features a USB port to record data on a storage device and dry contacts to trigger other devices, such as a hidden camera focused on the driver’s seat. The time stamps on the data can be compared to video footage or still camera photos to determine whether disciplinary action is necessary.


Put the TransitHound On Duty in Your Fleet

Don’t risk public safety and your organization’s valuable personnel, equipment and reputation on an operator violating your “NO WIRELESS” policy. The TransitHound is an essential enforcement aide to any commercial vehicle owner’s efforts to eliminate distracted driving on the job.

The TransitHound Guards Against Operator Cell Phone Use In:

• Boats

• Buses & Vans

• Construction Vehicles

• Cranes

• Earth-Moving Equipment

• Motorized Farming Equipment

• Semi Trucks

• Trains

Contact Berkeley Varitronics Systems today for more information and a quote for your fleet of vehicles.

Statistical studies quoted in this paper made available upon request.



Cell phones are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, but they aren’t welcome everywhere. They can be a problem in criminal courtrooms, concert halls, high-security areas and facilities where workers have access to restricted information. Just a few years ago, cell phones had low-resolution cameras and were used primarily for sending and receiving calls and messages. Today, cell phones are basically handheld computers. Smartphones are able to store large amounts of data, access the Internet and take high-resolution photos and video. Keeping them out of places they shouldn’t be is more important than ever.

Metal Detectors Aren’t the Solution

Detecting cell phones with traditional security equipment is challenging. Walk-through metal detectors just give a beep that doesn’t tell the operator where to find the device. Wand metal detectors allow the user to locate the cell phone, but scanning a subject with a wand is time-consuming and unsuitable for areas with high flow rates. Some phones are largely made of plastic, and may not have enough metal content to sound an alarm with either type of detector. Security-conscious organizations need a cell phone detection solution that’s easy to use, fast and reliable, has high accuracy and can help the operator zero in on where device is located on the subject’s body.


SentryHound Sniffs Out Cell Phones


The SentryHound is a di-pole detection device built specifically to sniff out cell phones. It consists of two 75” poles separated by a 33” anti-slip mat and can detect phones whether they are ON or OFF. The SentryHound is so sensitive, it can even find cell phones with the battery removed. The width is compatible with average doorways, turnstiles and security checkpoints. The SentryHound allows people to pass through the poles in single file at normal walking speed, causing minimal impact on foot traffic and crowd flow rates.


Technology Behind the SentryHound

Most cell phone detection equipment relies on radio frequency transmissions, but these detectors can only find cell phones that are switched ON and transmitting. They cannot detect phones that are powered OFF, set to airplane mode or have the battery removed. The SentryHound detects cell phones using the presence of the ferromagnetic materials in the microphone and speaker.  When the SentryHound is switched on, it scans for static ferrous-magnets in the environment and disregards their signal. Only introducing a new source of magnetism such as a cell phone can trigger the alert. In some cases, the SentryHound will trigger an alert for guns or knives, but it is not intended as a replacement for a walk-through metal detector. The SentryHound is not triggered by non-ferrous materials such as precious metals found in jewelry and watches.


SentryHound is Versatile

The SentryHound’s ruggedized aluminum housing, gasketed connections and stainless steel hardware allow for indoor and outdoor use. Owners can install the SentryHound permanently, or use it for portable anti-cell phone security. The device is powered by a standard 110v wall socket, or it’s rechargeable internal 12v battery for up to 10 hours of continuous use. It’s lightweight and can be set up in less than 10 minutes by one person, making it perfect for temporary installations at events such as concerts, fairgrounds and tent shows.


SentryHound is Adjustable


Like all scanning devices, the SentryHound is sensitive to background interference. The SentryHound will automatically calibrate itself when powered on, or an operator can manually calibrate the unit at any time. The calibration process takes approximately five seconds. The operator can choose ten levels of sensitivity using weatherproof illuminated buttons on the base of the unit. An electric keylock allows security personnel to configure and lock all of the settings.


SentryHound Finds Cell Phones Quickly


With the SentryHound, a glance is all it takes for the operator to find the phone in an instant. Each pole is equipped with six independent sensor zones that cover the entire area between them from the ground up. When a subject walks through the SentryHound and it detects a cell phone, it sounds an audible alert and illuminates the strobes and a row of LED lights in the sensor zone closest to the phone or phones’ location. Security personnel can see and hear the alert from anywhere in the area. An external speaker jack located on the base, allowing owners to wire remote speakers. A dry contact trigger located next to the jack can be used to trigger a security camera/DVR when a phone is detected. The SentryHound can detect phones hidden under clothing and footwear, and inside bags such as purses, backpacks and briefcases.  It can also detect multiple cell phones in different areas, such as a phone in the subject’s pocket and another hidden in a backpack.


Your Reliable Cell Phone Detection Partner


Since 2010, Berkeley Varitronics Systems has designed and manufactured a full lineup of quality cell-phone detection systems made in the USA. BVS detectors are trusted by local, state and federal correctional institutions, military installations and private businesses across the United States and around the world. BVS cell phone detectors are low-cost compared to other detection methods, and do not require extensive training to use. Contact BVS for more information.


The PROS & CONS of Cell Phone Detection Methods

Contraband cell phones are one of the fastest-growing problems faced by corrections officers and prison officials. Prison systems in California saw annual cell phone confiscations increase from 1,400 to over 15,000 from 2007 to 2009. A basic cell phone that sells for $15 to the general public can go for 100 times that amount on the inside, creating a massive incentive for trafficking cellular devices. Smartphones pose an even bigger threat, allowing inmates to take photographs, create video and access Internet resources such as online maps, social networking and phone directories.

Prison exterior

Inmates use these unmonitored phones to threaten lawmakers, prosecutors and prison staff, intimidate victims and witnesses, run their criminal enterprises and communicate with associates both inside and outside the penal system. In 2008, Texas death row inmate Richard Tabler called state senator John Whitmire from a contraband phone and told him he knew personal information about the senator’s family. In 2005, Tennessee inmate George Hyatte used a cell phone concealed in a jar of peanut butter to orchestrate an escape attempted that resulted in the murder of corrections officer Wayne Morgan.

 The Challenges of Dealing with Contraband Phones

As cell phones become smaller in response to consumer demand, they also become easier to hide and smuggle into the prison system. Prison officials have found cell phones concealed in bars of soap, shoes and even footballs. Phones also make their way into prisons thanks to visitors and staff. Prison employees have been charged with selling phones to their inmates. A California correctional officer resigned in 2008 after he admitted pocketing more than $100,000 selling contraband cell phones to inmates.

Phones Can Hide Inside Common Items

Once a cell phone is on the inside, preventing their use is very difficult. The Federal Communications Commission bars the use of cell-phone jamming equipment because it can interfere with 911 calls and disrupt public safety radio communications. Cellular dead zones in a prison would also make it difficult for corrections officers to communicate during emergencies.

The only solution is keeping contraband phones out of the hands of inmates. Prison officials must intercept phones making their way into the prison and confiscate any phones that have managed to make it through security. Let’s look at some of the methods penal systems are using to tackle this problem, and the pros and cons of each.


Cell-Phone Sniffing Dogs

Cellular phones have a distinctive scent thanks to certain materials commonly used in their construction. These scents can be picked up by specially-trained search dogs, similar to dogs trained in sniffing out narcotics. Some inmates store their contraband phones and drugs in the same location, so occasionally dogs will find both items together. While dogs are very effective at finding cell phones, they have several drawbacks.

Cell Phone sniffing dogs

News travels fast in prison, and there’s really no way to hide the presence of a search dog. As soon as word gets out, prisoners squirrel away their devices in the hopes of keeping them secret. The canines require lengthy and expensive training. The Florida Department of Corrections paid $6,500 each to train two cell-phone sniffing dogs in 2009. The process can take up to nine weeks, and not all dogs will pass the training. The dogs also require a handler, adding to personnel costs.


Managed Access Systems

A managed access system consists of a network of localized cell sites placed around the prison grounds. Since cell phones prefer the compatible site with the strongest signal, phones within the prison will automatically lock onto the signal originating from inside the prison instead of the nearest cellular tower. Authorized phones are whitelisted and passed off to the cellular carrier, while unauthorized devices are rejected or redirected. These systems are still in an experimental phase, and there are several downsides that make them unsuitable as the only method of countering the problem.

Every part of the prison must have adequate coverage. If an inmate with a cell phone discovers an out-of-the-way corner where the signal from the system is weak or nonexistent, their phone will connect to the carrier’s tower. Improperly placed transmitters can “leak” outside the prison, interfering with legitimate cell phones on the outside. If the system goes down or one of the sites malfunctions, all of the cell phones in the area will revert to working off the carrier’s tower. Even if the system is functional, if an inmate has access to a whitelisted phone they can still make calls.


Metal Detectors and X-Ray Systems

The major advantage of metal detectors and x-ray systems is they are already installed at most correctional facilities. While these devices excel at finding metal objects such as knives, they are not as effective at finding cell phones.


Many cellular devices are made almost entirely out of plastic and may not have enough metal components to trip metal detectors. X-ray operators might accidentally overlook a cell phone concealed inside another electronic device. For the best results, correctional facilities should turn to devices made specifically to detect cellular phones.


BVS Cell Phone Detection Devices

Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS) offers a full line of cellular phone detection equipment for keeping visitors and employees from smuggling phones in, and finding devices already inside the prison. BVS devices are designed and manufactured in-house in the USA, and can detect cellular devices using both domestic and global frequencies. They are low-cost compared to other detection methods, and do not require extensive training to use. The SentryHound, Mastiff and Manta Ray can detect phones ON or OFF, even with the battery removed.


The SentryHound™ is a stationary walk-through system, similar to a standard metal detector. It can differentiate between phones and non-target items such as keys, belt buckles and watches. LED lights show where phone is located on the subject, eliminating guesswork and reducing search time.


The WatchHound™ acts as a silent witness to anyone entering the facility with a cell phone that’s powered ON. Officials have the option of disguising the unit as a thermostat, and can network multiple WatchHounds to set up a wireless-free perimeter. The WatchHound keeps track of each reading, and the logs can be reviewed via optional PC software. The software also gives time stamps for each detection event.


The Mastiff™ is a stationary chair that can quickly scan seated visitors and inmates. The Mastiff can sniff out devices concealed inside body cavities, reducing the need for time-intensive strip searches and expense of body x-rays.

Manta Ray

The Manta Ray™ is a portable close-proximity handheld unit, useful for scanning people in areas where permanently installed detection devices are impractical. It can also be used to scan personal belongings and packages, and locate cellular devices hidden under mattresses and inside briefcases, backpacks and purses.


The PocketHound™ alerts the user to the presence of cell phones that are powered on or in use. Its small size and vibration alert make it ideal for the stealth approach. An employee can walk the prison with the PocketHound concealed in their clothing and detect active cell phones within 50 feet, without anyone realizing a cell phone detector is in use.


The WolfHound-PRO™ is the ultimate long-range cell phone detector coupled with a direction finding antenna for pinpointing cell phones. This portable unit can find powered-ON cell phones indoors in a 150 foot radius. Outdoors it has a line-of-sight detection range of up to a mile. It can differentiate phones by frequency, and point the user in the direction of the detected device.

PocketHound Sniffs Out Cell Phones

Many people carry their phones with them wherever they go, but there are some areas where cell phone use is prohibited. Prisons, closed courtrooms, movie theaters, confidential meetings and educational institutions all have restrictions on when and how cell phones can be used.

The PocketHound is a cellular signal detector that helps the user locate cell phones and other devices that use a cellular signal. This includes smartphones, feature phones and cellular modems for computers. It helps the user catch cheaters and find contraband devices. But how does the PocketHound work? In order to explain the process, it’s important to understand how cellular devices work.


How Cellular Devices Give Themselves Away

When a feature phone, smartphone or cellular modem is in active use, it is constantly sending and receiving an RF signal that is picked up by the PocketHound. Devices from North America use different frequency bands than most of the rest of the world, so the PocketHound includes PC software allowing the user to switch between U.S. and international bands (Euro, Asian, Australia, New Zealand, Canada & Israel) all with one unit. That covers a lot of phones. But what about devices in standby mode?

The cellular transmitter sucks up a lot of juice, which is one of the reasons cell phone talk time is so much shorter than the standby time. When the device is in standby mode, the transmitter is off much of the time to conserve battery power. Eventually the transmitter will wake up and communicate briefly with the tower to check for incoming calls or messages. If it doesn’t find anything waiting, the transmitter shuts down again. The exact time frame varies depending on the device, but in most feature phones it’s around five to ten seconds.


Cellular modems and smartphones communicate much more often and for longer periods, since they usually have programs or apps running that initiate frequent updates from the Internet. Examples include social messaging apps like Facebook, weather updates and email programs. Now that you know how cellular devices work, let’s take a look at the PocketHound itself and how to use it.


PocketHound Impressions
As the name would indicate, it’s easy to conceal in a pocket or small handbag. The unit is small, about the size and shape of a deck of playing cards or pack of cigarettes. The construction is solid and rugged, with no screen or external parts to break. There is no noise or give when you try to squeeze or flex the unit. The plastic housing has a textured surface and scooped sides that make it easy to grip.
The front has a puffy label with the name and logo, and the back has four rubber feet to keep it from sliding around on your desk. Also on the back is a quick reference guide that gives instructions on how to turn the unit on, the meaning of the status LEDs, and how to adjust the sensitivity. If you need help, the support number and email address are also listed.

There are five colored indicator LEDs located on the top edge of the PocketHound that tell you the power state and approximately how close you are to the device emitting the signal. The left side edge has the USB charging port and a toggle wheel switch that serves to turn the unit on and off and adjust the sensitivity.


PocketHound Setup
The PocketHound uses an internal battery, so you’ll need to charge the unit when it arrives. It comes with a retractable USB cable and a charger with a USB port. The charger is very flat and has a pivoting plug. You can use it flat against the wall, and when plug it into a power strip, it won’t block other outlets. You also have the option of charging the PocketHound directly from a USB port on your PC. A full charge takes approximately nine hours, but a quick charge will get it up and running within two hours.

The PocketHound comes with an SD card that contains the drivers and instruction manual, so no Internet connection is required to install it on your PC. If your PC doesn’t have an SD card reader, there’s no need to worry. An SD-to-USB adapter is included with the packaging. The driver installation is simple, straightforward, and takes less than a minute.


Sniffing Out Cellular Signals
There are very few living places without some level of background RF noise from radio and cell phone towers, airports, Wi-Fi networks and other sources. When you turn on the PocketHound by holding in the toggle switch, it will automatically scan the RF activity in the surrounding area to establish a “baseline” noise level. You can adjust the sensitivity by briefly pushing in the toggle switch and adjusting it up or down.

The antenna in the PocketHound is semi-directional and is located under the front label. This means you can read the instructions on the back while you scan for sources. The indoor range of the PocketHound varies depending on the number of walls and the construction of the building, but in an open area the detection range can extend as far as 75 feet in front of the unit.

When the PocketHound picks up a cellular signal, it will vibrate and the blue LEDs on the top will light up. During a test of the PocketHound’s capabilities, it reacted almost instantaneously when accessing the Internet or making a call.

The stronger the signal, the more LEDs will appear. It’s important to note that some devices have more transmitting power than others, so the number of LEDs don’t necessarily indicate how close you are. By simple triangulation, it’s possible to home in on the nearest source.

A word of warning specific to smartphones… They have a mode intended for use on airplanes where the cellular antenna is off, but they can still be used as a PDA. Since the devices aren’t transmitting or receiving an RF signal, the PocketHound will not detect them. If cheating is a concern, it’s still important to watch users closely so they don’t try to access information previously stored on their devices.


Why the PocketHound?
While BVS offers cellular detectors with greater range and the ability to identify individual phones, the PocketHound fills a unique niche in being small, unobtrusive and relatively inexpensive. The user can locate a cellular transmission source simply by following the PocketHound’s vibration alerts, without the owner of the device even realizing they’re being tracked.

The cost for the PocketHound is under $500 and made entirely in the U.S.A. This puts them in the cost range of smaller businesses and educational institutions. Check it out if you need a way to control the use of cellular devices on your premises.

Distracted Driving Continues to Kill

This week delivers two new horror stories. Many lives lost and the only connecting thread between these 2 stories is that both operators were on their cell phones at the time of the accidents.

A distracted bus driver lost control resulting in the death of an 8 month old.


78 people died at the hands of a distracted train engineer.

Human behavior dictates that this is not the last time we will hear of tragic stories like this.  Smartphones are only increasing in features and widespread use – thus increasing the distractions. With over 200,000 miles of train tracks throughout the US and over half a million buses on the road each day, the potential for operator distraction is enormous. To patrol this by people would be a daunting if not impossible task. A solution cannot come soon enough but from where and how?

TransitHound is a distracted-driving watchdog.

TransitHound is a distracted-driving watchdog.

TransitHound cell phone detector is one such solution that promises to police the problem of distracted driving. This device is installed to monitor train or bus operator cell phone use from the operator’s position. This ensures that any cell phone text, voice or data will be detected and trigger alerts. When the TransitHound detects a cell phone, the integrated trigger will turn on a camera/DVR to record the activity so there is clear evidence of the abuse.  Monitoring is a deterrent when operators know their job is on the line and more importantly, the passengers’ safety.