From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Cardinals eavesdropping in the Vatican. A painting by Henri Adolphe Laissement, 1895
"Belly-buster" hand-crank audio drill, used during the late 1950s and early 1960s to drill holes into masonry for implanting audio devices

Eavesdropping is secretly listening to the private conversation of others without their consent, as defined by Black's Law Dictionary.[1] The practice is commonly believed to be unethical.


The verb eavesdrop is a back-formation from the noun eavesdropper ("a person who eavesdrops"), which was formed from the unrelated noun eavesdrop ("the dripping of water from the eaves of a house; the ground on which such water falls").

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within.[2][3] The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[4] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013)[5] include segments that display and discuss "eavedrops", carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King's wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[6] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[7]


Eavesdropping can also be done over telephone lines, email, and other methods of instant messaging considered private. (If a message is broadcast, it is not considered eavesdropping.) VoIP communications software is also vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping via infections such as trojans.

Network attacks[edit]

Network eavesdropping is a network layer attack that focuses on capturing small packets from the network transmitted by other computers and reading the data content in search of any type of information. This type of network attack is generally one of the most effective as a lack of encryption services are used. It is also linked to the collection of metadata. Those who perform this type of attack are generally black hat hackers; however, government agencies, such as the National Security Agency, have also been connected.

In popular culture[edit]

In Mad Men, Donald Draper was shown to be an eavesdropper; e.g., he eavesdropped on Peggy Olson's pitch to Heinz[8][9] and listened at the door of his married mistress, Sylvia Rosen.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Garner, p. 550[full citation needed]
  2. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.), Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2 
  3. ^ "eavesdrop". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  4. ^ Inside the Court of Henry VIII. Public Broadcasting Service. April 8, 2016. 
  5. ^ Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace. Public Broadcasting System. June 30, 2013. 
  6. ^ Inside the Court of Henry VIII. Public Broadcasting Service. April 8, 2016. 
  7. ^ Stollznow, Karen (August 7, 2014). "Eavesdropping: etymology, meaning, and some creepy little statues". KarenStollznow.com. 
  8. ^ Dellinger, Walter (Apr 21, 2013). "'Mad Men,' A Conversation: Hold". WSJ Speakeasy. 
  9. ^ Daily Mail Reporter (22 April 2013). "Mad Men spoiler alert: Don Draper and Megan hit a rough patch as she kisses another man... and gets propositioned by a married couple". Daily Mail. 
  10. ^ Mathieson, Craig (April 23, 2013). "Don continues his hellish descent but wit and farce were the order of the day as Joan clings to her petty past". The Sydney Morning Herald. 

External links[edit]