An Interview with Scott Schober: Cell Phones, Cell Phone Everywhere – And what is the risk?

Nov 28, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1)      Scott, first of all what is your exact title and what are you trying to promote?

Scott N. Schober
Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc.

For the past 38 years our company has provided niche design solutions many of which are focused toward the wireless industry.  We have had great success in developing a line of cell phone detection tools to enforce a no cell phone policy used in; secure government facilities, correctional institutions, Universities & schools during tests, as well as secure conference rooms.  These tools are mobile coupled with Direction Finding antennas so you can hunt down the target mobile phone.  We also developed several covert solutions where we imbed the cell phone technology into every day items such as a book, water bottle, or power strip.  We are even imbedding a small cell detector into a faux apple that would sit on a teachers desk to alert the proctor of an exam a cell phone is in use.

2)      In a Jerry Seinfeld skit, he talks about people texting while having a conversation, and answering a ringing cell phone in the middle of a conversation and laments the loss of courtesy. Your thoughts?

I find this very frustrating when someone is half listening to you in the middle of a conversation and they are distracted texting to someone with a mobile phone somewhere else.  Traditional communication has broken down to short fragmented thoughts where grammar/spelling/punctuation are not considered.  The world we live in has no patience and thus technology seems to provide instant gratification to basic questions that could wait until you communicate face to face.

3)      I guess a cell phone can keep a mother in touch with a baby sitter, and it certainly allows married couples to assist one another in times of need- but what are the down sides to cell phones?

a) Expensive:  Everyone is signing up for a two year contract- with unlimited texting, data plans, costs for calling etc… The average cell phone bill in the US is just shy of $50 per month.

b) Distractions: The cell phone is glued to everyones ear or they have a bluetooth earpiece growing out of their head.   People half communicate when ordering a cup of coffee and simultaneously talking/chatting/texting to a distant third party.   Even more serious is the Texting/Talking while driving where statistics have proven that someone operating a cell phone while driving is more dangerous than a drunk driver -sobering thought.

4)      We all know people who seem to have gone on a “ rant “ and lived to regret it. What is the concern about cell phones?

With the average person using a phone over 1 hour per day poses increased chances that the phone transmitting so close to ones brain could be damaging.  The phone manufacturers finally got smart and have moved the antennas to the backs of the phones and they have implemented some good power control which minimizes the transmitted radio frequency from a phone at lower levels (although this was really driven to preserve battery life of the phone but is guised as providers touting they have a safer product).  The biggest concern I see is with kids using phones as their brains are rapidly developing and their soft tissue more likely to have long term affects to the effects of radio frequency.  Since no long term conclusive studies provide concrete answers many of our mobile phone kids are the guinea pigs.

5)      What about cell phones in schools? Should they be banned ? What is a principal to do ?

Like all technology there is a place and time.  Phones have saved lives in critical situations where in our days children are abducted by radical extremists or pedophiles.  The phone may be the life line our child has to reach out and be found or could be the saving beacon that leads police to where our child is.  There is a level of comfort parents have knowing they can communicate with their child as they navigate this scary world.  Principals can enforce policy and procedures that allow students to carry on their person cell phones but use them on a limited basis.  During recess or lunch phones should be allowed.  If they really want to get on the same level as students they should require any students that bring mobile phones provide their phone number and send them occasional TEXTS.  “School closed due to snow storm or half day of school next week because of teacher conferences” Students will see the technology has benefits when used properly.

6)      In the movie Larry Crowne, George Takei catches Tom Cruise (I think you mean Tom Hanks) with a Smart phone during class and smashes it on the table- saying “ Smart Phones are not too Smart”.  Are they a disruption to academic endeavors ?

During an exam phones cannot be used as it is all too tempting to do a quick google search for the answer or text a ‘friend or family’ for that answer that slips our mind.   We have sold to University professors and principals of schools that use our cell phone technology to detect and locate students who do not adhere to school mobile phone use policies.  Often times we here back just the fact that they have outlined policies and have technology in place to monitor cell phone activity during exams has deterred the problem.  For the truly dishonest students the professors and teachers can use covert cell phone detectors we have designed to ‘sneak up’ and catch the cheater in the act.

As far as a distraction when a phone rings/beeps/vibrates it can be extremely distracting.  My wife’s phone has the ring tone of a barking dog go off when my ‘mother-in-law’ calls.   (hope she does not read this)   In a classroom setting half the time is spent baby sitting and the other half hopefully learning so to minimize any and all distractions is a good thing.  If professors/teachers announce please put your cell phones on vibrate or they will be confiscated then students will often comply.

7)      Now, why should the AVERAGE American be concerned about cell phone security ?

Since our cell phone is more than a phone.  The power of our cell phone exceeds that of a super computer a few decades ago.  Our mobile phones have GPS, cameras, microphones, speakers, lights, calculators, WiFi, Bluetooth, MP3 players, video recorders, optical bar code scanners, texting, email, web surfing, game machines, voice recognition….. oh yeah and can even make a phone call.   With all this capability an unscrupulous individual can easily hack a phone by stealing it or even remotely via wireless and install malware or some interesting viruse by s that can cause serious problems.  Since our phones data is sent over a combination of wireless connections through the cell tower network as well as many miles of telco lines there is ample opportunity that our secure data can be compromised by a disgruntled employee or a criminal looking to profile our habits and whereabouts to rob us blind.  Cyber security is huge concern especially now that we associate our mobile phone to our wifi connection at home with our computer and TV.  The security is certainly a huge concern now and going forward as our phones evolve yet further and become more powerful.

8)      I have to tell you, the re-charging of my cell phone is basically a pain in the neck- can any scoundrels get information from a poorly charged phone?

Sure, most phones have a little extra before the battery is completely drained.  Similar to the reserve light on our cars gas gauge.  As long as the phone has enough power to transmit (most mobile phones need three tenths of a Watt to transmit to a local cell tower then a criminal can take advantage if the phone does not have adequate security.  One of the best methods to prevent your phone from getting compromised is to have the simple access code set so the phone cannot be hacked.  Most smart phones have this and most users do not implement this basic security measure as it is pain to type in your passcode.  Eventually the cost of biometric scanners will continue to drop in price and I predict will become standard on all mobile phones.  Sounds a bit James Bond but your fingerprint is one of the best ways to uniquely identify you.  This could associate a mobile phone to a person and a place easily as everything is Geo-tagged these days.  For example I can sort my pictures by where they are taken on my iPHONE based up on the geo tag (latitude / longitude) where the photo was taken.  Regardless if your phone is fully charged or near dead a clever thief only needs a minute or less to compromise your phones security.  If someone really wants everything on you they can simply get their hands on a mobile phone forensics tool that can

9)      The big concern I have is when teenagers take pictures of each other naked- and then WHOA ! The pictures are downloaded to the world- What do people need to be afraid of in this picture?

Speaking from the mobile phone perspective – Sexting which is the act of sending sexually explicit pictures or messages between mobile phones is of great legal concern.  Laws vary from state to state and country to country but in general there have been numerous strict anti child pornography laws that come into play.  Pictures taken with a mobile phone are often geo tagged so one could know exactly where the photo was taken or originated.   Once the photo hits the web anything can happen.  Since photos can be manipulated and changed extremely easy a persons face/body could end up being put into inappropriate material that is sold for commercial gain on the other side of the world.    Videos/texting/voice/pictures are all being stored somewhere not just your mobile phone.  When you sync your phone or store things in the cloud you are storing them via the wireless connection on a remote servers hard drive.   Teenagers, bottom line turn your phones off and keep your clothes on.

10)   You were recently on Fox News – what was your topic of discussion?

I was asked to come on to Fox News and Fox Business News to discuss two hot topics.

1) Keeping America Safe with the focus of the Mobile Phone and how this is used to compromise security in secure federal facilities, correctional facilities, as well as corporate espionage.

2) I also was asked to comment on what we Berkeley Varitronics Systems is doing to preserve jobs in America, keeping things Made in America and how we compete with China.

11)   Big issue—cell phones in jail—tell us about this GREAT BIG MESS and what correctional officers need to do .

Prisons across the United States are struggling to prevent cell phones from falling into inmates’ hands. This trend is particularly troublesome as smuggled phones are often used to contact accomplices outside of prison to organize crimes or even to arrange murders or other illegal acts within the prison itself.   As cell phones become smaller, the numbers of smuggled phones has increased and it has become even more difficult to find them using traditional methods. The problem has become so pervasive that the infamous prisoner Charles Manson has been caught using cell phones to call people across the country twice. In another high profile incident, in 2008, a death row inmate in Texas used a smuggled phone to threaten Texas State Senator John Whitmire. To help correctional officials crack down on these contraband items, BVS has developed the Wolfhound PRO cell phone detector that can automatically alert prison guards when an inmate is making calls, sending texts, or has his/her phone on in the standby mode.   The Wolfhound Pro is used by correction officers to detect and locate contraband cell phones.

12)   In prisons, cell phones can be more dangerous than weapons- how so ?

Witness intimidation, orchestrate gang activity, get drugs and alcohol smuggled in, etc…  Many crimes can be committed or overseen by a criminal behind bars with a cellphone at their disposal.  They can have a person killed with a simple phone call or text such as a jury member, witness, lawyer, corrections officer, judge and someone on the outside takes care of it.  The mobile phone in prison is extremely hard to isolate and monitor conversations wirelessly, whereas the inmate land line telephone systems are monitored 100% and recorded so they can catch the inmates that are involved in corrupt activities.  Therefore, many criminals that are incarcerated gravitate toward contraband cellphones as their weapon of choice because they can still conduct ‘business’ behind bars with minimal chance of getting caught in the comfort of their cell.

13)   What have I neglected to ask ?

What is next for cell phone detection technology ? Berkeley Varitronics Systems is constantly integrated and reducing the size of the circuitry to the point where it is now feasible to integrate the technology into more covert solutions.



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