How to Detect Hidden Surveillance Cameras With Your Phone

Camera hidden in ribbons
Josh Hendrickson

A family recently discovered A gross surprise to their Airbnb: a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector in the living room. There are two ways to search for cameras, in an Airbnb or elsewhere, using only an iPhone or Android phone.

Hidden cameras are a real danger

Analog clock with hidden camera at number ten
AMCSXH

If you're staying in a hotel or Airbnb, hidden cameras can be a problem. In the case of Airbnb, your host is required to list all cameras they have it, whether they are lit or not. In addition, Airbnb does not allow guests to install cameras in bathrooms or sleeping areas, even if it is a lounge with a rollaway bed.

But, as this family has discovered, a sometimes scary host can always hide a camera and not tell you anything. Hidden Cameras in an Airbnb are not a new thing. The problem is not limited to Airbnb either. A recent newspaper article describes the harrowing story of hidden cameras live in South Korean hotels. More than 1,500 hotel guests were filmed and broadcast live on the Internet. As hidden cameras become more and more economical, they seem to appear more and more.

Manufacturers design cameras disguised as other everyday objects, such as smoke detector, clocks, USB hubseven wireless chargers. These can be used for legitimate reasons at home, for example, to hide a camera that a burglar can not find or to monitor a nurse with the consent of that person. But how do you make sure no one is targeting you with a hidden camera? With a single application and the camera on your phone, you can scan hidden cameras when you register.

There are two ways to search for cameras with your phone. First, if you have access to it, you can scan the Wi-Fi network for devices that look like cameras. But that will only find cameras connected to the network. Second, you can search for night vision cameras using your phone's camera. If a hidden camera is not connected to the network and does not have night vision features, none of the methods will detect it – but these tips should detect most cameras.

How to search network cameras

Many places of stay give you access to the local network. You can use this to your advantage with an application called Fing. Fing does both iPhone and Android applications. Better yet, it's free and contains no ads. Fing asks you to log in for more features, but you will not need to do this for scanning devices and ports.

The idea here is to examine all the devices connected to the local network. We recommend that you disconnect all your devices, except for the Fing phone or tablet, to reduce the number of tasks to perform. Connect your phone or tablet to the network and open Fing.

On Android, press the "Refresh" button in the upper right corner of the application screen to start and agree to grant permissions for the location of the application . The iPhone app performs this step automatically.

Fing app with the box around the refresh button.

Wait until the application has finished scanning, then browse through the list of devices found. If you are watching devices on the network identified by the application, you will want to monitor anything that may indicate that a camera manufacturer (such as Nest, Arlo or Wyze) or a list as "IP Camera".

Search a list of network devices with a frame around an IP camera

Even if you do not spot a camera on this list, take stock of the number of devices listed and what you can find around your place of residence. If something is out of the ordinary (perhaps without recognizable details) and you can not locate a good source, write down the IP address. The next step is to look for open ports.

If you find any suspicious devices on the network, you should look for the open ports used by these devices. First, press the "Network" button at the bottom of the screen.

Fing app with network option around the box

Then tap "Search open ports".

finger application with box around open ports search box

Type in the IP address you previously wrote, then press the blue "Search Open Ports" button.

Open ports search window with dialog box around the ip input dialog box and open ports box search

The list will show which ports are open and which services they use. Keep an eye on RTSP and RTMP; those that are common for video streaming. Any service with HTTP or HTTPS as a service to which you can try to connect with a browser can reveal video streaming. Just type the IP address into your browser, followed by two dots, and then the specified port (192.168.0.15:80).

How to spot night vision cameras

Wyze camera with infrared lights.
Josh Hendrickson

You do not always have access to the local network to try the steps above. Even when you do it, they might not help. A hidden camera may be on a separate network or too obscure to be easily recognized. If you have not found a camera yet, you can try looking for infrared lights. Most IP cameras use infrared for night vision. Although infrared rays are invisible to the naked eye, you already have a device that can help you: your smartphone.

Some smartphones have filters to block infrared light on their main camera, but very few of them have filters on the front camera. To determine which camera will work for you, get an infrared remote similar to the one you use for your TV. Point it at the main camera of your smartphone and press a button. If you see the light on the screen, it can detect the infrared. If this is not the case, try again with the front camera.

A dark room with very visible purple lights very visible.
Josh Hendrickson

Once you have determined the best camera to use, turn off the lights in the room you want to sweep. Then, turn on the camera of your smartphone and start looking for incandescent lights. Because IP cameras do not fit into any standard configuration, you may only see one, four, six, or any other combination of lights. They will usually be purple but can sometimes appear white. You do not necessarily have to be near the hidden camera. In the picture above, the camera is a few meters away. But take a look at another picture from the other side of the house:

A darkened image with bright lights visible in the distance.
Josh Hendrickson

The lights in the center of the image are identical, three-room only (a dining room, a living room and a desk). It's brilliant enough to be noticed and deserve further investigation. Do not just look at the center of the walls, point your smartphone at the ceiling, the vents, even the plugs. When the lights are on, look for something unusual. Does a room have more than one smoke detector? Is there a USB hub in a place without other electronics? If you touch a standard mirror and look at your finger at an angle, your thoughtful finger will not "touch" your real finger. If you do the same with one-way glass, your reflective finger and your real finger will come into contact (seem to be touching), which could mask a camera. Noticing things that are out of place can help you find hidden cameras.

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed method to find a hidden camera. But by taking these extra steps upon your arrival, you will have a chance to fight and, hopefully, some peace of mind.

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