Monitors showing video from surveillance cameras in rooms

Privacy Matters: Finding a Hidden Camera in a Rented Apartment or Hotel Room

Airbnb and its counterparts may help travelers to solve a lot of housing problems. But such a rent also involves some risks. For example, dishonest property owners can install hidden cameras in apartments and houses and not inform their guests about hidden filming, thus usually breaking the law. Some small hotels do the same, although much less often than homeowners.

There are more and more cases when guests discover hidden cameras in their rooms. According to the recent study, about 10% of Airbnb users find hidden cameras. Just imagine the scale of the problem, given that guests are not able to find all the cameras, but only those that are carelessly installed. How to protect yourself from espionage? At the very least, you can carefully inspect the room before checking in. In this article, we will tell you how to find hidden cameras.

Look around for weird gadgets

When we are on vacation or a business trip, check-in usually takes place in a relaxed mode. The final destination has already been reached, and you can have a rest. Take a break, but then immediately examine the room. Are there any strange looking devices nearby?

Some hidden cameras may disguise themselves as a phone charger. This device is indeed capable of charging, but it also has undocumented features. And there are many similar gadgets: smoke detectors, remote controls, speakers, alarm clocks, light bulbs and even flowerpots or a “forgotten” Lego cube.

During the first examination, it is worth paying attention to any suspicious things that are in sight. The camera will be in the line of sight anyway. It can disguise itself as a completely ordinary thing that is placed in an unusual place – an alarm clock in the bathroom, for example.

Use a flashlight or smartphone to detect the camera lenses

If nothing was found (or, even, if even during the first inspection something was found), it is high time to check everything more thoroughly with the flashlight. This is a good tool for detecting spy cameras.

Any camera has lens made of glass or polished plastic. The albedo (reflectivity) of such a surface is much higher than the albedo of other things. Accordingly, the lenses of a hidden camera, if you direct light on them, will reflect the rays much better than any other objects around.

Turn off the light in the room you are examining, dim it (curtains, etc.), and turn on the flash of the phone, inspecting the entire room with it. You need to watch out for the appearance of small bright points. If there are any, look carefully what it is.

Dimming helps even without using flashlights. Many cameras are equipped with an activity indicator and can be seen in the dark.

Inspect small items

Spy equipment can be tiny. Accordingly, it can be hidden in small objects and disguised, for example, as mounting bolts, handles, and other items. It is better to check the small objects of the interior carefully. Don’t forget about cute toys. Cameras are most often built into them.

Use Wi-Fi sniffers to detect smart devices

It is not always possible to find cameras during visual inspection. Sometimes you need more advanced tools than your eyes and a flashlight. We are talking here about systems that are able to detect sources of Wi-Fi signals. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of cameras located in hotels and apartments transmit a signal over a wireless network, and do not write data to the built-in hard drive.

Accordingly, such gadgets can be also found. Dedicated applications do the job. For example, Fing is a mobile app (for iOS and Android) that detects most gadgets connected to a local router. There are also alternatives such as Hidden Camera Detector, iNet, and others.

The application does not show the type of the detected device but shows its MAC address. The next step is easy: using services like MacVendorLookup, you can determine the type of device – camera, TV, smart light bulb, or something else.

Wiretapping detector

This, of course, is not the easiest way to detect devices. First, the use of RF detectors by individuals is prohibited in many countries. Secondly, such a device cannot be transported across any border. And thirdly, few people will buy and carry a wiretap detector when going on vacation.

Radio frequency detectors, however, are very good at detecting hidden electronic spies – not only Wi-Fi but also Bluetooth devices. The cost of such a device is $30 – $50 if we are not talking about professional equipment. You can buy it on eBay, Amazon and other sites.

The detector is easy to use. You need to go around the room holding it. If you hear a repeating sound, it means that the device has found something. The closer to the signal source, the more often the sound will repeat. If suddenly your detector begins to make its “beep-beep” sounds next to a flowerpot, it means that there is some kind of electric device inside.

Look for infrared sources

Here we are talking mostly about night vision cameras. You can find the source of infrared radiation using a smartphone camera. It does not use an IR filter (at least most modern models), so the phone can be used to find a source of directional IR rays.

There are also thermal-imaging cameras, and mobile add-on heat sensors that can be connected to mobile phones, but the cost of such devices is not low.

Conclusion

No matter how good and kind the owner of a home may seem, it is better to follow the principle of “trust but verify” when checking in. If you find a camera, privacy experts from MacSecurity.net advise you to contact the police, and / or write to Airbnb / Booking.com support team and send photos of hidden video cameras. In this case, the service must return the money and provide similar housing. A spy lover is usually immediately removed from the online platform and cannot be added again in the future.

 

Computer Security Researcher at Privacy-PC.com