How to find a hidden spy camera in hotel rooms and rental homes

Nearly 60% of Americans said they were concerned about hidden cameras in Airbnb homes in 2019.

And 11% of holiday home tenants said they had discovered a hidden camera during a stay, according to a survey by real estate investment company IPX1031.

Spy cameras are not a new problem. In South Korea, more than 30,000 cases of filming with hidden cameras were reported to police between 2013 and 2018, according to the New York-based non-profit organization Human Rights Watch.

The number of hidden spy camera reports has increased due to the increasing availability and affordability of such cameras, combined with the public’s growing ability to detect them, said Kenneth Bombace, CEO of intelligence firm Global Threat Solutions.

Experts share simple methods for finding hidden spy cameras in hotel rooms and rental homes.

1. Perform a physical search

A light switch with a hidden camera (center) on display in a spy camera store in South Korea on March 22, 2019.

Jung Yeon-je | Afp | Getty pictures

Almost all hidden cameras are hidden in household appliances, such as lights, thermostats and plugged clock radios, Bombace said.

“See and see if something looks out of the ordinary, and then inspect it more closely,” he said.

Most spy cameras are connected to an electrical source or electronic device, Bombace added.

He said the first thing he does in a bedroom is unplug the clock radios and put them in a drawer.

Michael O’Rourke, CEO of security consulting firm Advanced Operational Concepts, also said he does just that.

Even well-hidden cameras will have a small amount of reflective glass from the lens, Bombace said.

“If you use flashlights and light them on something you think may be hiding the camera, you’ll see a reflection in there, which is a pretty good way to detect if it’s a camera,” he said.

A painting installed with a hidden camera on display in a spy camera store March 22, 2019. Even when a camera is hidden in another device such as a thermostat or an electrical outlet, there will be some glass in there that is reflective because it will be a lens, in Bombace.

Jung Yeon-je | Afp | Getty pictures

But O’Rourke said caution is needed to accurately locate hidden lenses.

“A lot of people will try to do amateur lens detection, which can work,” O’Rourke said. “But if you do not have a good search methodology – if you go too fast, if you are impatient – you can miss a lot.”

2. Look at the Wi-Fi network

A hidden camera must be connected to a local Wi-Fi network in order to be seen remotely, Bombace said.

Hidden cameras must be connected to a local Wi-Fi network in order to be seen remotely, said Global Threat Solutions CEO Kenneth Bombace.

Hispanolistic | E + | Getty pictures

Wi-Fi scanning apps like Fing can identify devices on the network that are cameras, he said.

Those who hide cameras can use their own Wi-Fi network to stream live video recordings, but Wi-Fi scanning apps can also detect how many networks are in a home, Bombace said.

But Kody Kinzie, a security researcher at computer security and analytics firm Varonis, warned that a network scanner might not capture everything.

“The next thing you can do is look for devices that broadcast their own network name,” he said.

He recommended using apps like WiGLE to find devices that “broadcast some sort of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network name,” Kinzie added.

Buy a spy camera detector

If all else fails, spy camera detectors can scan for radio frequencies connected to hidden cameras. These can be easily purchased online from sites like Amazon or AliExpress.

But O’Rourke noted that this method only works if the hidden camera is transmitting data.

“So many of them now have SD cards that only store data to be retrieved after someone leaves,” O’Rourke said. “And so these are much harder to detect.”

Bombace added that although it is possible to buy a radio frequency scanner, the cheaper ones are probably not that good.

“Like everything else, you get what you pay for – if it’s $ 30, it’s probably not that good,” Bombace said. “Better is going to cost hundreds or even over $ 1,000.”

What to do if you find a camera

After finding a camera, disconnect it immediately without damaging it because the camera’s firmware may contain identifying information, such as credentials and the Wi-Fi network it was connected to, Kinzie said.

Disconnect hidden cameras but do not damage them, said Varoni’s security researcher Kody Kinzie.

Krisanapong Detraphiphat | Moments | Getty pictures

O’Rourke said hidden cameras found in hotel rooms should be reported to the front desk. He advised to move to another hotel instead of requesting another room.

“When you find a camera in a room, I would not trust any other room in the whole hotel,” he said.

Bombace also recommended reporting hidden cameras to the police, even if only for documentation purposes, in case lawsuits or charges should follow.

“You can also give [the report] to Airbnb so they can prevent this person from ever doing this again, “he said.

But in the end, Bombace said, he would not avoid renting a home for fear of spy cameras.

“I just wanted to take common sense steps to protect yourself. And realize that you are not in your own home,” he said.