Hidden Cameras in Your Vacation Rental or Hotel Room?!

After you are done gasping — it is not a far fetched scenario, at least for vacation rentals.  There have been many stories of AirBnB rentals having surveillance cameras – even though their agreement requires that they be disclosed if present.

When it comes to hotels, it is much more likely that those cameras were placed there by pervs rather than by the hotel staff.  Remember the Erin Andrews nude video story?  (See story here if you don’t remember it.  Note:  this is suitable for work – there are no pictures, just the story).

On the other hand, if you are in a foreign country, hotel video cams are more common, especially if you are an American executive, work for a tech company or have a security clearance.  If you do travel internationally and need a defensive security briefing, contact us.

First thing I need to do is provide a warning.  For international travelers, even detecting surveillance cameras, never mind disabling it, can be hazardous to your safety, literally, depending on the country.

This advice comes from a guy, nicknamed Monk, who does counter-surveillance for members of the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command among many others, so I take his advice at face value.

There are three primary methods for checking for hidden surveillance devices.  Remember some of these cameras are maybe a quarter inch across, so they are not easy to see.  They can be hidden in almost anything, including light fixtures, bedside radios, smoke detectors and other places.

The three methods are scanning for transmissions, detecting the lenses and physical search.    Many devices that will help can be purchased online for less than $100, but remember this is an art, not an exact science.

Scanners only work, of course, when the device is transmitting.  This MAY not be a big problem because the smaller devices likely don’t have a lot of storage, so they have to transmit often.

Lens detection works quite well, but there is a technique to develop.  And, it requires a lot of patience. Physical detection works quite well also, but you have to have an idea of what a bug might look like and you have to be willing to disassemble stuff like your bedside radio or the smoke alarm.

I have a sample video of foreign intelligence officials “reviewing” a hotel room when the occupant was gone, so that is definitely real.

As I said, this is not an exact science, but a mixture of all three is probably going to serve you best.

First thought – where are they going to hide a camera?  Kind of depends what they want.  If they want compromising video, it needs a clear line to the bed.  If they want your userid and password, it needs a clear line to your desk.  Remember, top down is fine, so the ceiling is a good candidate.

Alarm clocks, outlets, surge  protectors and lamps are all good locations because they have a built in source of power that won’t raise any suspicions.

This is not meant to be a complete how to article.  That would require way more ink.  Mostly, it will (probably scare you) warn you of the risk.

Hiding cameras in air vents and returns provides good cover because the cameras, electronics, power and storage can be bigger but still hidden.

The article suggests that you ask for a room change, but if you are being targeted, they will just put you in another room with built in surveillance.  Instead, block the suspected camera.  Turn the lamp camera to face the wall.  If it gets turned back the next time the room is serviced, you were probably right.  Point the alarm away from the bed, etc.

While this story may scare the bejibbers out of you, remember that most of the time, the surveillance is there to record damage to the owner’s property, although Erin Andrews’ surveillor had different ideas,  This is also the case if you are a higher risk business person.  AND do not fall for the “who would want to steal stuff from me” ruse.  Higher value business person is a relative term.

Just in case you think I am paranoid (well, that is valid, I am), here is a link to an article by entertainer Kim Komando who hosts a weekly show on tech.  It is real.  What we don’t know is how prevalent is is.  No idea.

Information for this post comes from USA Today.

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