Michael Faraday was an English scientist and experimentalist who was best known for his work with electricity and magnetism. His achievements were many but the one most of us will be familiar with is his namesake invention, the Faraday cage. His work was during the 1800’s and as one of the world’s greatest scientific discoverers, terms such as anode, cathode, electrode and ion can be attributed to Faraday. Furthermore, the unit of electrical capacitance, the farad, was named after him.
A Faraday cage basically works wherein the charge on the outside of a container is cancelled out by the charge on the inside. The aluminium shell of an aircraft would be a good example of this as lightning strikes are dissipated and pass harmlessly back into the atmosphere. So if you have ever wondered why you cannot get a clear cellphone signal in an aircraft flying at a low altitude, this is the reason. The same concept applies to cars as they can shrug off lighting strikes with little or no damage. The reverse of this is the microwave oven, with the harmful electromagnetic waves being contained in the casing of the machine.
This blocking technology has now been adapted and fine tuned, transitioning from hard cages to flexible materials for everyday use. Faraday bags, as they are now called, come in all shapes and sizes. Law enforcement agencies use them to shield digital equipment in order to protect it from evidence tampering or data deletion by an outside source. Laptops, cellphones, tablets and smart watches etc can all be shielded from incoming calls, texts or emails. Remote services where a user can block or clean a device will be ineffectual, thus securing vital data on those devices being held in the bag.
Not all bags offer the same levels of protection. One brand, Mission Darkness, can block all types of signals plus protect against EMP (electromagnetic pulses). The most common form of natural EMP would be a lightning strike but large solar flares can also damage sensitive electronic equipment. Given our complete reliance on electronics nowadays, permanently storing backup devices such as radios and cellphones in a Faraday bag is not such a bad idea. If you are on a budget, Faraday fabric is readily available on Amazon and lining a cardboard box with it should do the trick. To test if it works, put your cellphone inside, close the box and try calling it with another phone. If it doesn’t ring then all is good.
But for those of us who are not Doomsday Preppers waiting for the apocalypse to be brought about by a passing Death Star, there are many good options out there to prevent the hacking of your gear or stop your personal data being stolen or cloned. There are now simple Faraday sleeves to hold your credit cards or a small pouch for your car keys, up to a huge duffel bag which will protect everything including laptops. There are even bigger options available which can best be described as tents. These are used to house large pieces of equipment and provide secure work space for the likes of intelligence agencies and defence contractors.
It’s a sad fact of life that despite denials from smartphone manufacturers, we are still at risk from our own cellphones spying on us. They give away our location without our permission and constantly call home. As we go more mobile and wireless, our devices are brimming with radios: 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G is coming on the market. Add to this there is WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth and GPS all off which represent vulnerabilities for bad actors to access our devices. If you don’t want your car stolen off your driveway, keep your keys in a Faraday Box on the hallway table. There is well documented evidence in the UK that thieves are able to this.
We laugh at tinfoil hats but we must not think it is a conspiracy theory that three-letter agencies are spying on us and phone companies are selling our data for huge profits. It is best to assume therefore that our phones are untrustworthy devices which we cannot run our lives without. By using a Faraday bag, we can limit the ability of the phone to communicate in both directions and gain back some form of control over it. Keep in mind that these bags only block radio waves and not sound. So our phone will still be able to hear what is being discussed. It will not be able to stream your private conversations whilst in the bag but could store the information and transmit it once it gets connected again. The refrigerator is still a great option to truly deafen your phone.
(watch this space for our upcoming article about which cellphone manufacturers are the biggest offenders. The Pinocchio Award for Doublespeak will soon be announced. Also, there will be some very surprising news about the cellphone maker that shines out by NOT spying on you. We have the indisputable evidence!)