Tech Talk #178–Apr 30, 2022
Yay! You’ve got some vacation time, and you’ve found the perfect place for you and your family to stay. Whether it’s for security reasons, industrial espionage, or just because people are weird, you can find another article about people finding hidden cameras in their accommodations every few months. People find surveillance cameras in fake smoke detectors, bedside alarm clocks, behind A/C vents, USB hubs, and even embedded walls.
There are legitimate uses for surveillance cameras, of course. And as cameras get better and smaller, you can find them embedded in many standard devices. For example, most cameras blend in to monitor workers in your house or keep your cameras hidden so burglars can’t find them.
Like anything else, people can also use these cameras for unintended purposes.
So, whether you’ve scored an Airbnb on the beach in Cabo, a kitschy motel on Route 66, or a 5-star hotel within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, here’s how to check for hidden cameras in your vacation lodging using your smartphone.
The easiest way to find hidden cameras is by checking the local Wi-Fi network for suspicious devices and looking for infrared or night-vision cameras. Wi-Fi cameras may not be on the same Wi-Fi network you are or may not have infrared capabilities. It depends on how lazy or how serious the snooping is.
To scan the Wi-Fi network for suspicious devices, connect your tablet or phone to the Wi-Fi network and download a free app called Fing from the App Store or the Google Play store. It’s free but will ask you to sign in for “advanced features,” you don’t need those, so don’t sign in.
Only have your phone or tablet connected to the Wi-Fi network and open Fing.
Click the Refresh or Scan button, depending on whether your device is Android or Apple-based, and look at the list of devices. Off-the-shelf cameras will show up with Arlo, Wyze, Nest, or Blink as the manufacturer, or they may appear simply as “IP Camera.”
On Fing’s list of connected devices, if you don’t see anything that’s a camera, look around your location and identify the things you see on the list. Maybe a soundbar on the TV, or a printer, or the devices of other guests connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
If you can’t identify everything on the list, write down the IP address of anything that looks sketchy. Hit the Find open ports button at the bottom of the Fing app and enter the IP address.
The list will show which ports are open on your entered IP address. Look for real-time streaming protocol (RTSP) and real-time messaging protocol (RTMP) services available on the IP address you entered. Having either or both services running on an IP address shows video streaming capability. Make sure no one in your family is watching something on Netflix while you’re scanning ports, or their IP address will show up here, too.
If the IP address you scanned doesn’t show RTMP or RTSP running but shows HTTP or HTTPS, try connecting to that IP address in a browser. Open a browser and type in the IP address, followed by a colon and the port number shown on the list. Many devices have a built-in web page that might tell you what the device is.
If your accommodations don’t include Wi-Fi (why would you stay there?), you can check for cameras using infrared light. Surveillance cameras use infrared light to “see in the dark.” Hey, your smartphone knows about and can “see” infrared light!
Okay, you’ll have to use the front-facing camera on your phone for this to work since most cameras have infrared filters on the primary camera to make your pictures look better. To find out which camera to use on your phone or tablet, grab the TV remote, point it at your device’s primary camera, and press a button. If you can see a light, that camera can “see” infrared light. If you don’t see a light, try using a front-facing camera.
Now that you’ve got the right camera turn off the lights in your room and sweep around your room, looking for glowing lights. There might be one, two, three, or more lights. Look in the ceiling, at vents in the walls, smoke detectors, desks, nightstands, everywhere.
If you find a hidden camera and you didn’t sign anything saying it was okay for them to surveil you, it’s up to you to decide to complain to management and try to get it fixed or find another place to stay. Definitely leave an informative review on Yelp or the accommodation’s website, letting people know what you saw.
A Logical Conclusion
They say a camera adds 10 pounds. So after my last look in the mirror, I must be under heavy surveillance.
Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.