Camera technology has advanced immensely in the past few years. They keep getting smaller and smaller, making it possible to conceal them any which way. Cameras have become really affordable, too, and it’s now feasible to blanket your whole property with surveillance equipment without breaking the bank.
However, this is actually turning into a big concern for vacation rentals as more people are finding hidden cameras where they’re staying. If this is alarming to you, well, it should be. Stumbling over surveillance cameras isn’t just creepy — it is a big deal involving your basic privacy rights.
Don’t think that it’s just rental homes and hotels you need to be concerned about, either. How about your own home? If someone manages to conceal a hidden camera inside your house, how would you know? Fortunately, there are ways to spot and detect hidden cameras, all without the need for any fancy equipment.
Run a basic scan with Nmap
First, for basic IP security cams, you can connect to your rentals’ Wi-Fi network (if the host allows you to connect, that is). Then, scan it with software called Nmap. Nmap is a great network scanning tool for open ports, services and known devices (including web IP cameras).
Even though Nmap is meant for IT network administrators and professionals, you can use it for basic scans to search for certain security cameras.
How to install Nmap
1. Visit Nmap’s official website and download the appropriate installer for your system:
2. Once the installer is downloaded, run it and allow it to make the appropriate changes to your system. Make sure you click yes to its user agreements and specify the folder you want it installed.
Note: On Macs, since Nmap is from an unsigned developer, you may have to visit System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General to allow it to run. Just click “Open anyway” on the prompt.
3. Once installed, locate the Nmap-Zenmap GUI launcher to run the tool:
A shortcut for Zenmap GUI should have been automatically installed on your desktop. If not, search for Nmap then click the top hit.
Open your Application Launcher (shaped like a rocket), then click on the Zenmap icon. (Alternatively, you can do a Spotlight Search for the keyword “Zenmap.”)
How to run Nmap scan
IMPORTANT: Some ISPs prohibit unauthorized port scanning, so use Nmap with caution. While it’s not illegal, scanning network ports other than your own can put you in trouble. It’s highly recommended that you seek permission from your rentals’ owner before you run a scan. If they have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t be a problem. If they refuse, you’ll know something might be up.
The Zenmap user interface for Nmap is virtually the same for PC and Mac.
- First, you will need your rentals’ public IP address. To find it, connect to the Wi-Fi network with your provided quest credentials, then use a service like routeripaddress.com to see the public IP address. Jot that down.
- Next, enter that numerical IP address to Zenmap’s Target field.
3. For a full scan, select “Intense Scan” from the Profile’s drop-down box.
4. Ready? Now, click “Scan.”
5. Nmap will now do its thing and scan the selected IP address’s ports, services and known devices. You’ll see lines upon lines of commands on the output tab but don’t be intimidated. Just wait for it to finish.
Spotting a camera with Nmap’s results
Once Nmap is done scanning, the easiest way to see if an IP security webcam is connected to your rentals’ network is by going to Zenmap’s Ports/Hosts tab. Here, look for open ports and services or devices with the keywords “IP camera” or known camera brand names.
Searching for hidden cameras manually
Nmap’s network scan, powerful as it is, can only reveal generic IP cameras with ports that were manually opened through the network. It won’t readily reveal most proprietary-branded cameras (Ring, Wyze, Nest, etc.) that use their own secure network services to punch through your network.
To search for these types of cameras, you have to be extra creative. Here are ways to spot and detect hidden cameras without the need for any fancy software or equipment.
1. Physically check the room
This is the first order of business if you suspect that a room is bugged — a complete sweep of the surroundings.
Think like a spy and come up with areas where you can hide a bugging device. Check for microphone transmitters in possible hiding places like lamps, light fixtures, vases, flowerpots and inside smoke detectors or air filters.
Examine the room for unusual decors, like out-of-place picture frames and random fixtures. Look for pinholes that may be used for a camera lens.
Don’t forget to check under chairs, tables, shelves and couches, too. These are all excellent hiding places for hidden microphones. Also, check objects including books, stuffed toys, pillows, couches and electrical outlets.
It’s also a good idea to examine and trace wires that don’t seem to go anywhere. Although wireless surveillance gadgets are the norm now, wired devices are still in use to this day.
2. Use your ears
Most motion-sensitive cameras emit low-noise clicks and buzzes when they’re on. Prop up your ears and listen carefully for these almost-inaudible sounds as you examine the whole room.
Motion tracking cameras will often have little motors that hum when activated, so you should also listen for those sounds.
3. Turn off the lights
Here’s a direct way of checking for security and surveillance cameras. Turn off the room’s lights and check for small green or red LEDs. Night-vision security cameras in particular use these kinds of lights, and they typically blink or shine in low light.
To check for one-way mirrors that might be hiding cameras, shine a flashlight through them. These mirrors need one side of the mirror to be brightly lit compared to the other side.
You can also spot pinhole cameras with the lights off by putting a tube over one of your eyes (like a telescope) while keeping your other eye closed. If something shines back while you’re sweeping your flashlight across the room, then there’s a chance that’s a camera lens.
4. Use a signal detector
If you travel a lot and rent rooms and houses all the time and you’re dead serious about privacy, you can invest in a professional RF signal detector. These gadgets are small enough to take with you, and most of them are relatively cheap.
These typically detect the frequencies that wireless cameras and voice recorders use, and some even have infrared lights for detecting pinhole cameras. Here is a great option that you can get from Amazon for less than $50.
5. Use your phone
Did you know that you can use your cellphone to detect hidden wireless cameras or microphones? Wireless cameras and microphones emit specific radio frequencies that can interfere with your cellular signal.
Just make a call on your phone, then move around the room. If you start noticing interference or clicking noises in a specific section of the room, examine that area carefully for hidden bugs.
What to do if you find a camera
If indoor surveillance cameras were not disclosed to you, the answer is simple: Pick up the phone and call the police. Tell them you have direct evidence that someone is spying on you, without your knowledge or permission, inside your rental. Use this exact phrase.
While you’re waiting for police to arrive, document the situation with video and photos on your smartphone. If you are traveling with others, ask them to be witnesses. Remind them they are about to be victimized too.
Once you have the police report, contact the rental site.
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