Does your Airbnb have a hidden camera? Experts share tips to protect your privacy.

Travel always comes with risk. We were taught to fear pickpockets and tainted alcohol, and to avoid lukewarm street meats. A recent viral article on TikTok reminds travelers of another potential threat: hidden cameras.

The video is from Marcus Hutchins, a British hacker perhaps best known for stopping the spread of a global computer virus. He has amassed nearly 240,000 subscribers for posting videos on bypassing firewalls and keyless car hacking.

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His video on spotting hidden cameras in hotels and Airbnbs details the different ways someone could set up secret recording devices around a normal room.

“Take this fire alarm for example, it’s placed right over the bed,” Hutchins said in the video. “Now, one way to tell if the device is a camera is to shine a bright light on it. If you hit the lens of a camera, it’s going to have a bluish sheen.”

Hutchins told the Washington Post via email that he had never encountered hidden cameras on a trip, but that a few commentators said it had happened to them. As to whether he uses the techniques himself, “I’m only checking if I suspect there might be cameras,” Hutchins said.

The post, which now has 3 million likes, is disconcerting. But how much should we care about hidden cameras in our homes? Should we check every room we stay in when we travel? We asked security experts.

“There are so many other things that are bigger threats than cameras,” said Michael O’Rourke, managing director of Advanced Operational Concepts, a global security consultancy that performs assessment and management. travel risks.

Airbnb declined to comment on TikTok, but said incidents involving hidden cameras are rare.

However, it does happen.

For example, in 2019, South Korean police discovered cameras inside TV boxes, wall outlets and hair dryer racks that had live-streamed around 1,600 guests in their hotel rooms. Later that year, a couple filed a lawsuit against an Airbnb owner in San Diego who allegedly hid cameras in small holes in the bathroom and bedroom ceiling. The examples continue.

There are exceptions, however, when cameras inside a vacation rental can make sense, such as if a landlord wants to protect their property from criminal activity, says Kenneth Bombace, managing director of Global Threat Solutions, a company in charge of the business. investigation and intelligence that offers travel protection. services.

Due to the proliferation of personal monitoring, companies like Airbnb and VRBO have rules for guests and hosts on when recording devices are appropriate.

In an Airbnb “Community Standards” section regarding security, it is stated that: “You must not spy on other people; cameras are not allowed in your ad unless they are first disclosed and visible, and they are never allowed in private spaces (such as bathrooms or sleeping areas). “

“And by the way, it’s not just for the host,” Bombace said. “They also have rules regarding guests who have placed cameras recording their host.”

Airbnb encourages its customers to read Airbnb listings for details on security cameras located on a property.

If you’re concerned about your privacy while traveling – even if the chances of voyeurism are low – here is advice from security experts on what you can do to protect yourself.

Do a “common sense” analysis of your home

Upon arrival at your accommodation, Bombace recommends that you follow what it calls “common sense procedures” in private areas, such as the bedroom and bathroom. He says to watch out for smoke detectors, radios, outlets and any flashing lights.

When O’Rourke arrives at his hotel room or vacation rental, he starts by unplugging the bedside alarm and putting it inside a drawer, or throwing a towel on it. Then, “the places to worry about, especially in a hotel, are anything that would have a view of the bed or the bathroom,” he said.

O’Rourke also covers all the peepholes in the doors and throws a towel at the bottom of the doors to the outside to prevent cameras from under the door.

In the Hutchins video, he recommends lighting any surface to expose things invisible to the naked eye, such as a camera hidden in an alarm clock or one-way mirror.

Hutchins also says travelers can turn off the lights in their rooms and use the front camera on their smartphones to search for infrared LEDs used in night vision cameras. If you want to test the trick before your trip, O’Rourke says you can practice on your TV remote.

Jeremy Prout, director of security solutions for medical security and travel company International SOS, is wary of such tactics. If you are not trained in Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCMs), your chances of successfully finding infrared clues are low.

“And if you see something, how do you know it’s correct?” Said Prout.

Her advice to travelers is to assess the coin from your “opponent’s” point of view. As O’Rourke also suggested, do a quick scan of private areas for the best line of sight and angles that would interest a voyeur, then look for any small holes or objects that appear out of place. Are there two smoke detectors on the ceiling of the room? Is a clock radio oddly located?

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Scan WiFi networks for suspicious devices

A family discovered a hidden camera in their Airbnb in Ireland when father Andrew Barker connected his phone to the WiFi network and saw a device labeled “IP camera”.

Barker has since written a blog post on which includes a detailed breakdown of exactly how he used Network Scanner and Network Mapper to uncover the Secret Camera. It also recommends using tools like Angry IP Scanner to find suspicious devices connected to a home’s WiFi. Fing is another app to get the job done.

Prout says it’s good to understand what’s on a host’s network, however, it’s not foolproof. A host may have changed their camera name or not have a camera connected to WiFi in the first place.

O’Rourke thinks the average traveler may not have the technical knowledge to benefit from this technique, but there is nothing wrong with giving it a try.

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Completely turn off WiFi

Thomas Ham, founder of professional company TSCM Spy Catchers, told Fox31 Denver that travelers can choose to turn off an accommodation’s WiFi and router when they arrive. If the host calls you about the issue, you can ask them if there are any cameras on the property that were not disclosed in the ad.

Prout doesn’t go out of his way to make changes to the room. If you’re looking around the room for infrared cameras or putting electrical tape on cameras, “that’s a lot to me,” he says.

As for turning off WiFi, “I don’t think that’s good advice to see if there’s an internal camera,” Prout said. Your host may need Wi-Fi for a front door camera to keep working to protect packages or to ensure that guests are on the terms of their rental agreement (not having parties, do not bring pets, etc.). If you’re staying at a shared Airbnb, turning off Wi-Fi won’t be an option either.

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Train to keep situational awareness

If you’re concerned about travel privacy and security, Prout recommends choosing accommodation more carefully to begin with, saving you at least some stress. Avoid vacation rentals that don’t have a review.

“Look who’s been there before, what the comments are,” he said. “If you’re about to have these concerns, you want to stay at an Airbnb that historically has a lot of stays.”

Prout says that in general, situational awareness is essential. Remember to look up at your phone and watch out for anything that you think is unpleasant. It can be difficult when traveling when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings.

“We always have to be aware that our baseline is degraded because we are in a new place,” said Prout. “We don’t see these anomalies as often as we should.”

O’Rourke says he’s used to following his standard operating procedures for accommodation security whenever he travels, even if he’s not in a particularly threatening environment. It is part of developing and maintaining muscle memory for situational awareness.

“It’s not paranoia, it’s relaxed vigilance,” he said.

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