Sneaky Spy Devices and Defective Detectors: The Ecosystem of Intimate Partner Surveillance with Covert Devices


Rose Ceccio and Sophie Stephenson, University of Wisconsin—Madison; Varun Chadha, Capital One; Danny Yuxing Huang, New York University; Rahul Chatterjee, University of Wisconsin—Madison


Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that abusers have begun to use covert spy devices such as nanny cameras, item trackers, and audio recorders to spy on and stalk their partners. Currently, it is difficult to combat this type of intimate partner surveillance (IPS) because we lack an understanding of the prevalence and characteristics of commercial spy devices. Additionally, it is unclear whether existing devices, apps, and tools designed to detect covert devices are effective. We observe that many spy devices and detectors can be found on mainstream retailers. Thus, in this work, we perform a systematic survey of spy devices and detection tools sold through popular US retailers. We gather 2,228 spy devices, 1,313 detection devices, and 51 detection apps, then study a representative sample through qualitative analysis as well as in-lab evaluations.

Our results show a bleak picture of the IPS ecosystem. Not only can commercial spy devices easily be used for IPS, but many of them are advertised for use in IPS and other covert surveillance. On the other hand, commercial detection devices and apps are all but defective, and while recent academic detection systems show promise, they require much refinement before they can be useful to survivors. We urge the security community to take action by designing practical, usable detection tools to detect hidden spy devices.

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@inproceedings {291027,
author = {Rose Ceccio and Sophie Stephenson and Varun Chadha and Danny Yuxing Huang and Rahul Chatterjee},
title = {Sneaky Spy Devices and Defective Detectors: The Ecosystem of Intimate Partner Surveillance with Covert Devices},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {123--140},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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