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Security Toys IT

Hollow Spy Coins 322

Bruce Schneier's blog links to a few sources for hollow spy coins, one being BoingBoing's Bazaar — where a nickel that can hold a microSD card costs $27. Another is Slashdot's sister company ThinkGeek, where you can get hollow quarters and half-dollars in the low 20s. As if corporate and government security geeks didn't have enough to worry about.
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Hollow Spy Coins

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  • This is just a slashvertisement for hollowed-out coins. I would really consider them "spy coins" as the title is selling them to us. A "spy coin" should actively do some spying, really. I could just as well call my wallet a "spy wallet", as it can hold mico-SD cards too.
    • by Infiniti2000 ( 1720222 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:46AM (#31451502)

      I could just as well call my wallet a "spy wallet", as it can hold mico-SD cards too.

      That analogy doesn't work unless you're suggesting that you wouldn't use your wallet as a wallet. In this case, the coin is not really a coin. It's a fake, intended to deceive. On the other hand, I do agree with you that it seems like a slashvertisement.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      If I put one in a vending machine maybe I'll finally get to see how they really work. And for only $20! Such a deal!!
      • by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:08AM (#31451772) Homepage
        That's my concern. I'll stick a microSD card in there with a bunch of important data. And then mix it up with a real coin and spend it... Then go crazy later when I need to access the card and can't find it...
        • The weight would be off; a vending machine would probably reject it. However, I don’t think they’re going to be individually weighing your quarters at most checkpoints.

          • by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:23AM (#31451946) Homepage
            It wouldn't be that difficult to get the weight right, would it? I mean most coins are a copper core with a nickle covering. So if you could create a heavier core, it would compensate for the mass of the removed area. Actually, now that I look at it, lead would be the only non-expensive metal that's heavier than copper by volume, but it's not THAT much heavier (I'm not sure if it's enough to compensate for such a large void)... Sure, they could use something more exotic like Platinum or Tungston (or even Uranium or Plutonium, but if you use them in a coin, I think you have bigger problems than detecting a hidden microSD card), but how much would that thing cost then? []
            • Yes, but if you got the weight correct, you’d have to worry about spending it accidentally...

              (Actually you’re going to have to worry about that anyway, because cashiers don’t weigh the currency either. Only vending machines do that.)

              • by expatriot ( 903070 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @12:01PM (#31452418)

                Yes, but if you got the weight correct, you’d have to worry about spending it accidentally...

                (Actually you’re going to have to worry about that anyway, because cashiers don’t weigh the currency either. Only vending machines do that.)

                  For countries outside the US, you cannot spend a US coin. For those in the US, get the equivalent modification for a foreign coin.

                "Oh that coin, it was left over from my last overseas trip. Nothing to see here."

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by garg0yle ( 208225 )

                  There are companies [] that will sell you coins from many different countries, if you're worried about spending your spy coin...

          • by ehrichweiss ( 706417 ) * on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:44AM (#31452220)
            No, but the coin will sound *completely* different when dropped on a table or with other coins. As a magician I have been painfully aware of this for about 30 years.
        • Because you can't just, you know... put the coin in a different pocket?

          • by gknoy ( 899301 )

            I've found that I'm fairly absent-minded about which pocket I put my keys or pocketknife in. 95% of the time (or maybe 99%), they go in the Correct Pocket, but sometimes I find that I've swapped m car and house keys, or put both in the same pocket. I don't know why I do it. If I had a hollow coin, I'd mis-pocket it even more easily. A better solution, I think, would be to make sure it was a denomination you don't normally carry. A nickel, perhaps ... or a Canadian nickel (which are uncommon but not unhe

        • by ZeroPly ( 881915 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:45AM (#31452234)

          Use red paint to mark a clear X on all your spy coins. That's what I do and I haven't accidentally spent one yet.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nuckfuts ( 690967 )

          True story:

          I once made a two-tailed coin as a birthday present for my brother. I used a large file with flat spacers attached that were exactly half the thickness of a coin. With a small jig to hold the coins, I filed away one side from each. I then filed a bevel around each inside edge, sandwiched the halves together and filled in the bevel by soldering. As a final touch, I filed small vertical lines around the edge of the coin.

          Aside from having two tails, the result was pretty much indistinguishable from

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Lord Lode ( 1290856 )

      Yeah, and that makes my phone a spy-phone too! Cool!

      • Does this mean that there's a new punchline for the old howler "When is a door not a door?"

        (When it's ajar, for the uninitiated.)
    • This is just a slashvertisement for hollowed-out coins. I would really consider them "spy coins" as the title is selling them to us. A "spy coin" should actively do some spying, really. I could just as well call my wallet a "spy wallet", as it can hold mico-SD cards too.

      I suggest we call them "anti-ACTA coins".

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by lxs ( 131946 )

      You could put a tiny robot inside that comes out at night, takes pictures and climbs back into the coin before dawn.

      It's contact hides in a gumball machine. Codename Bubbles.

  • Great.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Ironhandx ( 1762146 )

    Now I have to start running everyone who enters and leaves through a giant EM field?

    Sigh... the shareholders aren't going to like the cost of those generators and the shielding...

    More than that, how do I sufficiently shield the porn they bring in with them? If that gets damaged there'll be hell to pay.

    • Good luck with that. The coin is also a Faraday cage.

      • I think a actual Faraday cage would need to be grounded. Correct me if I'm wrong.
        • Voltage is relative. A hollow coin will prevent anything inside it from being able to perceive any voltage potential difference. It doesn't matter if you plug the thing into a 120kV line as referenced to ground, the microSD card still won't feel a thing. So no, it doesn't need to be grounded.

        • Grounding will eliminate Electro-Magnetic Radiation being emitted from within the cage... But being grounded does not affect the ability of the cage to block out external sources. [] So it would block someone from trying to "peer into" the cage, but not block something in the cage from transmitting... So a passive RFID chip placed in the coin would not function at all (since it requires the reception of a "power" signal to operate the transmitter), but a device tha
        • An actual Faraday cage only needs to be grounded because if it somehow goes hot, you want it to ground through the one you installed, not you when you touch it.

  • X-ray? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gorkamecha ( 948294 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:45AM (#31451480)
    Wouldn't this look bizarre under an x-ray, given change is usually zapped by itself in a little bowl? I'm not sure I risk a full cavity search trying to fly internationally with one of these...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PitaBred ( 632671 )

      Not sure. All x-rays I've seen just show metal as a bright spot, not much relief. And either way, all you have to do is keep the coin in your pocket. I never take my belt, rings or glasses off and have yet to be beeped by the metal detector and I've been flying twice a week lately. A little bit of metal is allowed. Just keep the coin in your pocket and take all other metal off and you'll almost certainly raise no suspicions or alarms.

      • by e4g4 ( 533831 )
        I once went through a metal detector at an airport (after removing all the change from my pockets, and my belt) and the metal detector went off. Turns out I had a single stick of (foil-wrapped) gum in a cargo pocket of my pants - took it out - and the metal detector stopped going off. Perhaps the sensitivity of these things can vary significantly - but I'm fairly certain that there's much less metal in a foil wrapper than in a coin even as small as a penny.
    • Even if it does look weird under an X-ray (which I doubt), the coin in question is more likely shielded by other coins in the purse. Besides, airport securities tend to look at a e.g. jacket as a whole, for knifes, guns and such -- bigger objects; who will ever look for a weird coin in a purse in a jacket?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jimicus ( 737525 )

        While I concede it's unlikely anyone would actively look for such a thing - let alone find it - if they do you have a problem.

        Previously, you were Just Another Passenger.

        Now, you are A Passenger Who Has An Item Obviously Designed to Hide Something Right Under Somebody's Nose.

        If that doesn't attract further interest, I don't know what will. I think the "take it out and plug it into your phone" suggestion was better.

  • Slashvertisement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:47AM (#31451508)

    hey kdawson, if you're going to try to slip in an ad for your sister company in a "news story", at least mark it up as an advertisement.

    This is just wrong. kdawson should be fired for such a breach of ethics.

    • by e4g4 ( 533831 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @12:03PM (#31452468)
      Ethics? One needs to consult ethics when deciding whether or not to post something to Slashdot? Now - did you by any chance read enough of the summary to get to the part that says "Slashdot's sister company ThinkGeek" which I, personally, think is an open enough admission of cross-promotion.

      Even as a "slashvertisement" - isn't the idea of a hollowed out quarter with enough space for a MicroSD card cool? Are there not interesting consequences for security experts and people concerned about corporate espionage? In other words - won't this "slashvertisement" stimulate some interesting discussion? If you have such a problem with kdawson's "ethics" log the fuck in and take him off your index.
  • are they even legal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:49AM (#31451538)

    if they look like real money, is it even legal?
    or do the hollow coins come from the mint?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:05AM (#31451718) Journal
      Since these are machined out of gen-u-ine legal tender, the charge you would be worried about is defacement of currency, rather than counterfeiting.

      That said, I've never heard of anybody going after currency defacement operations(even the overt ones. Those "souveneir penny" machines that crush a graphic associated with whatever attraction the machine is located in have been around for decades, and the Secret Service has shown no signs of caring) unless they involve wholesale export of coins for their melt value(I think there was some issue involving the old pure copper pennies during one of the spikes in copper prices fairly recently).

      If you somehow got caught, and your hollow nickel contained a microSD card with a copy of secret_leaked_CIA_documents_that_the_illuminati_don't_want_you_to_have.doc, they'd probably throw a defacement of currency charge at you, just for completeness' sake; but, while almost definitely illegal, they aren't exactly a huge legal risk.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The "defacement of currency" charge that people toss around doesn't really apply to tearing up a dollar bill, or crushing a penny. The defacement charge is there as a hedge against people drawing a zero on the end of a five dollar bill and trying to pass it off as a fifty.

        • 18 U.S.C. 331 says:

          "Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced,
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by kuactet ( 1017816 )
            The key word there is 'fraudulently'. That means, to be illegal, you have to try to use the altered coin as real currency.
          • Actually, that only criminalizes fraudulent alterations. E.g. milling the edges of silver coins, bleaching money and re-printing higher denominations.

            Pressed pennies and hollow coins aren’t intended to be used fraudulently, so I’m pretty sure that statute doesn’t apply.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by kbonapart ( 645754 )
        I thought the illegal action was the "deBASEment" of the currency, not defacement. When coins were made out of precious metals, they could be shaved for bits and slivers of that silver or gold. Since the coins weighed less, but still represented the amount of money it was promised to by the government, the currency was debased. And that was a major crime. It defacement of the currency is illegal, then we would've locked up all those people, who keep stamping one dollar bills.
      • What's with plausible deniability in that case? Like: "I got that as a change from the cafeteria (or other place), no idea whose it is." If a data on the stick is encrypted with TrueCrypt, does that give you a Double Plausible Deniability bonus?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rotide ( 1015173 )

      Well.. interesting question..

      They _are_ made from real coins and they don't purport to be worth anything more than the tender they were milled from.

      Now, what happens if you try to pass one off at a store? Well, my guess is you would just be an idiot. At $20+ for a hollow quarter, you're better off just giving them a real quarter. Yes, the store would be out 25 cents, but I'm not sure that would be "counterfeiting" as, again, it was real money and again isn't purporting to be worth more than face value (i

      • by bmo ( 77928 )



        Maybe on a technicality

        Not even close. It's a real coin. If you hollowed it out entirely, just leaving the outside nickel plate, It would still be worth its face value.

        As far as I can tell, to make a hollow quarter, you take _two_ regular quarters of similar quality and you cut off the back of one and hollow out the center of another then mate the two.

        You can get a carbide end mill of sufficient size to mill out the center, no problem, without resorting to using two coins. You can also abr

    • by pla ( 258480 )
      if they look like real money, is it even legal?

      Can't speak for these in particular, but usually hollow coins start life as real coins.

      The cheap ones, they just cut in half, gouge out a little pocket, and add a concealed hinge/pivot. The nicer ones actually unscrew and look almost like a very tiny pill bottle.

      And I suppose, for the same reason those penny-squishing trinket-makers don't break the law, neither do these.
    • or do the hollow coins come from the mint?

      Yes... they’re real; just hollowed out.

      I’m still not sure about the legality though; intentionally destroying US currency is illegal, I think.

  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@[ ... m ['bar' in gap]> on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:52AM (#31451572) Journal
    ... with the federal deficit exploding, the fed is doing a fine job of hollowing out ALL you money, not just the change in your pocket.
  • by Jazz-Masta ( 240659 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @10:55AM (#31451610)

    Just another way for the mint to save money!

  • penny for your thoughts?

    your turn, post your own bad puns

  • Spyfolder (Score:5, Funny)

    by DeanLearner ( 1639959 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:01AM (#31451664)
    Give me 20 quid and I will install a SPY FOLDER on your computer, whether it's Windows, Mac or Linux.

    You too can store things INSIDE your very own SPY FOLDER. Features include

    Store things inside.
    Keep things separate from other things that are not inside your SPY FOLDER.
    All this and more!

    Again, all yours for just 20 quid. Call 555-HAPPYDUDE now.
  • Watch out! or else.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:01AM (#31451666)

    the Defense Department might think these coins are for espionage, just like the foreign Canadian quarters from 2007:

  • Nothing new (Score:5, Informative)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:01AM (#31451670) Homepage Journal

    I was a amateur magician when I was ten or twelve, and I'll be 58 next month. You could get those coins at any magic shop way back then, or through the mail from catalogs; I owned a couple of them. Also, any machinist can and could make them easily.

  • ThinkGeek is pretty neat. I've bought a lot of stuff from them (not much lately though).

    I keep The Rabbit of Caerbannog plush toy in my magician's hat.
  • by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:05AM (#31451722)

    Micro-SD? I can fit a whole usb flash drive in my spy-rectum!

  • What's the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:05AM (#31451724) Journal

    You can walk right through security (airport, border, corporate) with a microSD card in your pocket and nobody blinks an eye. Trying to "smuggle" a MicroSD card through is more likely to result in you getting caught and treated badly (even if it isn't even illegal). If the data on the MicroSD card is what you're trying to hide, a better spy device would be a trick card... say, which was internally partitioned into two cards with some very obscure way (SW or HW) of switching between them. Put innocuous data on one side, stick it in your camera, phone, music player, whatever. Even if the goons search the card, that's all they find. Short the right contacts or send the right command, and get access to the "evil" data.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:24AM (#31451972)

      I think you'd be better off with a TrueCrypt file named DSC13423.jpg stored on an SDHC card loaded inside a point and shoot camera. Better if it is surrounded by other images with sequential numbers that make sense too.

    • by choongiri ( 840652 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:30AM (#31452034) Homepage Journal
      Does anyone really "smuggle" data on physical media any more? You could just gpg encrypt your copy of leaked_top_secret_data.doc using a strong key, put it on a server of your choosing, and retrieve it when you get to where you are going. Just possibly, if you were trying to get data *out* of a very locked down (no electronic devices or memory cards allowed) environment, hiding a memory card might be a necessary part of your plan, but borders and airports? It's just unnecessary. Even in the locked-down corporate / government scenario, if all you can smuggle in/out is the micro-SD card, do you really think they are going to have a card-reader plugged in ready for you to use?
      • by e2d2 ( 115622 )

        Yeah you make a good point - it would be extremely difficult if not impossible from a truly secure system such as the SCIFs used by government institutions to secure data. On top of all the policies regarding compartmentalization and data restrictions, you simply have no way to physically transfer data from the machine to a storage device. This has been thought of. These guys fought the Russians during the cold war. You're not going to get one over on them with a hollowed out coin and an SD card.

  • No biggie (Score:2, Interesting)

    If you've got to hide the micro SD card in a coin, you've also got the problem of where to hide the card reader.
  • No problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:12AM (#31451818)

    I'm still torn: Is this a cheap shot at advertising or is Bruce really so deep in the doo that he has to peddle crap now?

    People, microSD cards are what their name suggests: Insanely TINY. They also don't really check on metal scanners that scan your body unless they're set to a level where the hemoglobin in your blood might set them off. Remember that tooth gap where your wisdom tooth used to be? Perfect place to put it while you go through whatever scanners your company might have in place.

    So please...

  • Picture this: a guy is busy with the little opening ring on a handful of change and NONE of them open. Say bye-bye to your data on that sd card. :D
  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:17AM (#31451874) Homepage Journal

    Hollow Nickel, Hidden Agent

    What’s a nickel worth?

    No, it’s not a riddle. It’s a case straight from the pages of FBI history.

    It all started in June 1953, when a Brooklyn newspaper boy picked up a nickel he’d just dropped. Almost like magic, the coin split in half. And inside was a tiny photograph, showing a series of numbers too small to read.

    Even if the boy kept up with the front page news on the papers he delivered, he probably never would have guessed that this extraordinary coin was the product of one of the most vital national security issues of the day: the growing Cold War between the world’s two nuclear powers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

    The coin ultimately made its way to the FBI, which opened a counterintelligence case, knowing the coin suggested there was an active spy in New York City. But who?

    New York agents quickly began working to trace the hollow nickel. They talked to the ladies who passed the nickel on to the delivery boy, with no success. They talked to local novelty store owners, but none had seen anything like it. A lot of shoe leather was ruined, but no hot leads emerged.

    Meanwhile, the coin itself underwent expert examination. FBI Lab scientists in Washington pored over it. They immediately realized the photograph contained a coded message, but they couldn’t crack it. The coin did yield clues, however. The type-print, Lab experts concluded, must have come from a foreign typewriter. Metallurgy showed that the back half was from a coin minted during World War II. Ultimately, the coin was filed away, but not forgotten.

    The key break came four years later, when a Russian spy named Reino Hayhanen defected to the United States. Hayhanen—really the American born Eugene Maki—shared all kinds of secrets on Soviet spies. He led FBI agents to one out-of-the-way hiding place, called a “dead drop,” where FBI agents found a hollowed-out bolt with a typewritten message inside. When asked about it, Hayhanen said the Soviets had given him all kinds of hollowed-out objects: pens, screws, batteries, even coins. He turned over one such coin, which instantly reminded agents of the Brooklyn nickel. The link was made.

    From there, Hayhanen put investigators on the trail of his case officer, a Soviet spy named “Mark” who was operating without diplomatic cover and under several false identities.

    After painstaking detective work, agents figured out that “Mark” was really William Fisher, aka Rudolf Abel, who was arrested on June 21, 1957. Though Abel refused to talk, his hotel room and office revealed an important prize: a treasure trove of modern espionage equipment.

    Abel was eventually convicted of espionage and sentenced to a long jail term. In 1962, he was exchanged for American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been shot down over the U.S.S.R. and held prisoner there.

    In the end, a nickel was worth a great deal: the capture of a Soviet spy and the protection of a nation.

    Link: []

  • Why should "corporate and government security geeks" be especially worried about 1950's technology [] ?

  • For those who work in an electronics store (or it's distribution centers), this will be a loss prevention nightmare for your tiny chips (like MicroSD).

    "Oh, just a wad of change? No problem sir! Go on ahead..."

    On the other hand, if I accidentally put it through the Coke machine on the way out of Fry's, I think I'd have what's coming to me. ;-)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:27AM (#31452008) Journal
    I, for one, would probably waste far too much of my limited lifespan just opening and closing the hollow coin, sounds cooler than your average desk toy.

    They seem virtually irrelevant as either a security threat or a tool of asymmetric covert operation, though. MicroSD cards are already small and durable(resistant to liquids, magnetic fields, a number of common solvents, surprising amounts of mechanical strain, etc.). Perhaps more importantly, they are already dirt-cheap and extremely common consumer electronics. Unlike, say, little bits of microfilm, which might not like being stored under your tongue or embedded in the gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, and which are instantly suspicious on discovery(since virtually nobody used tiny pieces of microfilm in the course of ordinary activity. Libraries always used long spools or large cards of the stuff, and hardly anybody else used any at all), a microSD card, even a plainly visible one, arouses no particular suspicion. Virtually every mid-market cellphone comes with one, lots of PMPs use them for storage expansion, you can even get them at pharmacies.

    Even in fascist Orwellistan, or some high-security facility, where it would be legal and accepted to inspect people for them, it would be an immensely tedious chore, because they are so common.

    If you are running some sort of high-security operation, your computers would(unless you are a terminal incompetent) be configured without any means of transferring data to unapproved storage media(configuring the OS to, say, only load drivers for USB_HID devices with vendor ID matching whoever your vendor is, and load no driver and send an alert with the machine name, logged on user, and lsusb output to IT security is not commonly done; but it is hardly rocket surgery.) Trying to stop secrets from leaving by physically intercepting tiny chunks of flash memory at the door is just stupid.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:57AM (#31452388) Homepage

      you can successfully hide a MicroSD card behind a Stamp on a letter (big stamp, big letter) and have it arrive intact. I did this as a bet to a friend. I sent it to him in florida from michigan.
        I did modify the SD card. I sanded off the extended lip to make it all the same thickness, and I embossed the envelope where the st card was to go to give it a bit more room. it was undetectable by casual inspection, but if you flexed it in the stamp location you could feel it.

      Spy's used to send microfilm cutouts under stamps all the time. I still have a MINOX camera that I paid a dear amount for back in the 90's when I was into collecting real spy trinkets.

  • Old news (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:56AM (#31452370) Homepage
    Those of us with the eyes to see have long known that coins are notorious for being psychotronic mind-control amplifiers []. That's why I only use my own banknotes, drawn on the First Bank of Rogerborg. Also: Al Gore is completely right about global warming.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"