A family recently discovered a cheeky surprise on Airbnb: a hidden camera disguised as a smoke alarm in the living room. Here are two ways to look for cameras ̵
Hidden cameras are a real danger
If you live in a hotel or an Airbnb, hidden cameras can be a concern. In the case of Airbnb, your host is required to list the cameras they have, whether they are turned on or not. In addition, Airbnb does not allow hosts to place cameras in bathrooms or sleeping areas, even if it is a living room with a rollaway bed.
But, as this family found out, the occasional scary host can still hide a camera and not tell you. Hidden cameras on an Airbnb are nothing new. The problem is also not limited to Airbnb. A recent news story described the harrowing story of hidden cameras being streamed live in South Korean hotels. More than 1,500 hotel guests were filmed and streamed live over the internet. As hidden cameras become even cheaper, they seem to be appearing more and more.
Manufacturers design cameras disguised as other everyday objects, such as smoke alarms, watches, USB hubs, even wireless chargers. These can be used for legitimate reasons in your own home – for example to hide a camera that a burglar cannot find or to monitor a nanny with his or her consent. But how can you ensure that someone does not target you with a hidden camera? With a simple app and your phone’s camera, you can sweep for hidden cameras when you check in.
There are two ways to scan for cameras with your phone. First, if you have access, you can scan the Wi-Fi network for devices that look like cameras. But this will only find cameras connected to the network. Second, you can search for night cameras using your phone’s camera. If a hidden camera is not connected to the network and does not have night vision, none of the methods will detect it – but these tricks should detect most cameras.
How to scan for network cameras
Many places you live give you access to the local network. You can use this to your advantage with an app called Fing. Fing creates both iPhone and Android apps. Even better, it’s free and has no ads. Fing asks you to sign in for more features, but you do not have to do so to scan your device and port.
The idea here is to look at all the devices that are connected to the local network. We recommend that you disconnect all your devices except the phone or tablet running Fing, so that you have fewer things to sort through. Connect your phone or tablet to the network, then open Fing.
On Android, tap the “Refresh” button at the top right of the app screen to get started and agree to grant the app’s location permissions. The iPhone app performs this step automatically.
Wait for the app to finish scanning and review the list of devices found. You look at devices on the network that the app has identified, and you want to keep an eye on anything that shows a camera manufacturer (like Nest, Arlo or Wyze), or lists like “IP camera.”
Even if you do not see a camera on this list, you need to keep track of how many devices you see and what you can find around where you live. If something stands out as unusual (perhaps without recognizable details) and you do not find a good source, write down the IP address. The next step is to scan for open ports.
If you find suspicious devices on the network, you will search for any open ports that the devices use. First, press the “Network” button at the bottom of the screen.
Then tap “Find Open Ports.”
Enter the IP address you entered earlier, then press the blue “Find Open Ports” button.
The list shows which ports are open and which services they use. Keep an eye on RTSP and RTMP; These are common for video streaming. All with HTTP or HTTPS as a service you can try to connect with a web browser, which can reveal video streaming. Just enter the IP address of your browser, followed by a colon, followed by the port listed (ie 192.168.0.15:80).
How to spot night vision cameras
You will not always have access to the local network to try the steps above. Even when you do, they may not help. A hidden camera may be in a separate network, or too obscure to recognize it easily. If you have not found any cameras yet, try searching for infrared lights. Most IP cameras use infrared for night vision. While infrared rays are invisible to the naked eye, you already have one device that can help – your smartphone.
Some smartphones have filters to block infrared light on their primary camera, but very few of them have filters on the front camera. To decide which camera will work for you, take an infrared remote control like the one you use for your TV. Point it at the smartphone’s primary camera and press a button. If you see the light on the screen, it may detect infrared. If not, try again with the forward-facing camera.
Once you have found the best camera to use, turn off the lights in the room you want to sweep. Then turn on the camera on your smartphone and start looking for incandescent lights. IP cameras do not come in any standard configuration, so you may only see one, four, six or another combination of lights. They will usually be purple, but sometimes they can look white. You do not have to be near the hidden camera. In the picture above, the camera is only a few meters away. But look at another picture from the other side of the house:
The lights in the center of the image are the same camera, just three rooms away (dining room, living room and a study). It is bright enough to be noticed and requires further investigation. Do not just look at the center of the walls, point the smartphone at the ceiling, valves, even outlets. When the lights are on, look for something unusual. Does a room have more than one smoke alarm? Is there a USB hub somewhere without other electronics? If you touch a standard mirror and look at your finger from an angle, your reflected finger will not “contact” your finger. If you do the same with one-way glass, your reflected finger and real finger will come in contact (seems to touch) and it may hide a camera. If you notice things that are not in place, you can find hidden cameras.
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to find a hidden camera. But taking these extra steps when you arrive will give you the chance to fight, and hopefully some peace of mind.