Category: Security

How To Bug Sweep An Airbnb Or Hotel Room For Hidden Cameras And Surveillance Devices

Recently, I wrote how you can detect and find hidden cameras in an Airbnb and there are several ways to conduct a basic bug sweep. One of the most practical tools for travelers mentioned in that post is the MaQue Anti-Spy Bug Detector. They’re small, inexpensive, and fairly effective enough to give you piece of mind before your first night in an Airbnb.

MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera  MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera

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In the video above you can see how the MaQue works – and in the video below, how to use it to check a hotel room or Airbnb for hidden cameras.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

How To Turn An Extra Phone Into A Complete Hotel Room Security System

Your valuables are often vulnerable in hotel rooms and while some Airbnbs may be watching you, keeping an eye on your stuff while you’re out for the day hasn’t been easy. The Haven app however, is designed to be a complete surveillance system you can install on a spare Android phone to be your eyes and ears when you’re not around.

What’s Haven?

Haven was designed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Guardian Project (Edward Snowden is president of the former) to combat an “evil maid” attack. Basically, an evil maid attack is sort of what it sounds like, securing your stuff from someone with physical access to it is really hard. A hotel room is a perfect example, you can’t always take everything with you during the day when staff come in to clean the room.

mobile security system

What Haven does is turn an Android phone into a listening and video recording device that’s automatically activated by sound and motion, alerting you by text if something fishy happens.

How To Setup Haven

As you can see in the video above, Haven is a relatively quick and easy setup. (Currently it’s Android only.) There are two ways to setup Haven: using wifi only or by getting a separate SIM card with data. The wifi-only configuration is cumbersome and much less effective if you’re using it for hotel room security so I’m not covering it here.

The first step is to grab Haven, a free download, from the Play Store and install it on an extra Android phone. Stick in an SIM card with data and launch Haven.

nexus 5xLG Nexus 5x

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Once it’s installed, it will take you through some introduction screens.

  • Configure: The first configure button lets you set how sensitive the camera, microphone, and motion detection are. I would recommend going with the defaults, then run a few tests. If you end up with too many false positives, turn down the sensitivities accordingly and test until you get them as needed.

Next, you set a phone number (most likely to your primary phone) where you can receive texts alerts if Haven detects something after it’s activated. Haven also works with Signal the private messaging app.

Other Configuration Options

When you’re about to leave your hotel room (office, home, wherever you want monitored), open Haven, hit Start Now, and a 30 second countdown timer begins. That timer can be configured to be shorter or longer; notification intervals can also be set in Haven’s configuration options.

haven app

Haven Advantages And Drawbacks

Many people have voiced concerns about personal privacy using Haven. It’s true, if Haven’s creators wanted to spy on you using the app, they certainly could. However, the fact that Haven is open source (it’s code open for anyone to review) as well as the reputation of its creators being on the line, it seems unlikely Haven is some mass surveillance scheme. Yes, Haven needs access to your phone’s camera, microphone, and motion sensors to work properly but most people give those permissions to all sorts of apps that hardly require it.

Ideally, you install Haven on a spare, brand new, Android phone with a new SIM to ensure they’ve not been compromised or there’s no malicious code running on the device. Otherwise, if you’re still a bit paranoid, just use Haven when you’re away from your hotel room and turn off the phone otherwise. Even for hotel rooms with a safe (they’re not too hard to open) placing a Haven-enabled phone inside can catch a glimpse of a thief, potentially leading to the recovery of stolen items. Haven can also be used as a security system while you’re sleeping to keep an eye on the door and give you piece of mind.

Although Haven is fairly power efficient, but if you’re going to be gone for extended periods of time, you might want to plug in the phone to an external charger like the Anker Slim 5000, PowerStick+, or just a wall outlet. Despite its potential drawbacks, Haven is the most comprehensive, inexpensive, and simple solution to monitoring your belongings when you’re not near them. Combined with these other tools, Haven can help you protect and possibly recover your stuff if it gets stolen while traveling.

How To Detect And Find Hidden Cameras In Your Airbnb Rental

airbnb room

There are so many stories being about people finding hidden cameras in their Airbnbs that it can make any traveler wonder whether or not you’ve been watched – or will – the next time you rent from Airbnb. The number of cameras that haven’t been found is a disturbing thought and more renters on Airbnb are installing surveillance to their properties.

Given the number of incidents combined with shrinking cameras, you’re not a crazy conspiracy theorist to want to take matters into your own hands. Here’s how to search for and detect hidden cameras in your Airbnb rental.

Visual Inspection

First, start with the obvious and be sure to read the entire Airbnb description of any place you’re considering renting. Airbnb requires that all hosts disclose any surveillance devices in a property, even if they’re not active or plugged in. It’s an honor system and cameras are never allowed in any private area (i.e. bedrooms and bathrooms) but it is worth checking to see if there may be security devices monitoring the Airbnb entrances or common areas like the living room.

After you have booked a place, upon arrival you can begin a survey to look for any cameras or listening devices. Don’t connect to the apartment’s wifi just yet. Also, assume you are under video and audio surveillance until you’ve finished a thorough check.

butterfly hidden eye

The first step to bug sweep a room is to look for obvious and common hiding places:

Look for any signs such as a small recording light (it sounds dumb but more common than most assume), wires that don’t connect anywhere obvious, and especially the small round glass which is a telltale sign of a miniature camera lens. Turning the flashlight on your phone to maximum can help you detect glass glare, in the dark works best.

These two apps can help you detect camera glass glint.

Assuming you haven’t found anything, the next step is to connect to the wifi in the Airbnb.

Check The Network

Many hidden cameras connect to the home network so they can stream or send what they record somewhere over wireless. Now, connect one of your devices, laptop or mobile phone to the Airbnb’s wireless network. Using the app Net Analyzer (free for Android / iOS or AngryIP for desktop) you can see all of the other devices connected to the wifi network. (In Net Analyzer at the bottom left LAN > then upper-right Scan.)

net analyzer app

Ideally, you’ll see only two devices, the wifi router and the phone you just connected. Any other devices that show up mean something in the Airbnb is wifi enabled and connected to the network. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything suspicious, it could be the smart TV. Now, unplug everything in the apartment you can: alarm clocks, fans, smart TVs, chargers or converters.

Run Net Analyzer again. In case you still see something you don’t recognize connected to the network, that’s odd, but it could be you missed something to unplug or your boyfriend couldn’t wait and entered the wifi password on his phone while you were bug sweeping. Once you’ve accounted for any obvious devices on the network, if you still see something, I would take a close look at the smoke and motion detectors as well as any other electronic you couldn’t unplug.

Use Technology Against Technology

There are two types of devices you can use to properly bug sweep a room, apartment, or home. On the lower cost of the spectrum, the MaQue Anti-Spy Bug Detector shows you where radio signals are emanating from as well as has a small viewfinder that can reveal hidden camera lenses.

MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera  MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera

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More expensive detectors like the Spy Hawk Pro Sweep have a wider range of detection capabilities, which is clearly reflected in the price. Both products can give you some piece of mind when you’re staying in an Airbnb (or hotel room) but aren’t foolproof and professional bug sweeping costs tens of thousands of dollars.

In Case Of Camera

Finding a hidden camera in your Airbnb is a disturbing discovery you hopefully won’t have to deal with but if you do, immediately document as much as you can. Photograph and video any evidence of hidden surveillance as best you can, then find alternative accommodation. (I’m guessing you’ll opt for a hotel rather than another Airbnb.)

Although they don’t have the best record responding to such incidents, report it to Airbnb first. Depending on the local laws, you will want to report it to the police as well. A well-placed tweet to a local journalist might also help your case with Airbnb to get scummy people appropriate punishments.

Despite the negative press, hotels aren’t immune to hidden cameras and using this trick or a reverse image search can get you discounts on an Airbnb, which is often a nice way to enhance a local experience. You’ll just have to keep in mind you might be being watched or listened to anytime you’re staying away from home – making a bug sweep part of your accommodation.

This Is What Happens When You Say “Yes” To Every Scam In India

There are a number of scams and tricks you’ll likely be faced with when visiting India, typically beginning with someone coming up to you on the street. It’s a country that can be overwhelming, especially during your first 48 hours in India. Saying “no” to everything can be an effective method to avoid being hustled but this broad approach might have you missing out on genuine offers.

Not everyone is trying to trick and scam you – having been to India 7 times myself – I’ve come to learn how to spot the common scams quickly. To help you avoid going through your own trial and error, I decided to say “yes” to every scam I was approached with. I tricked friend and fellow blogger Wandering Earl, who was in India leading one of his Wandering Earl Tours, to join me on this project.

You can see all of the scams we “yes” to, the consequences, and the tricks to avoid when traveling to India in the video above.

Is It Still Possible To Visit Socotra Island?

socotra dragon blood tree

The Socotra archipelago, particularly its main island, is one of the most neglected tourism destinations in the world. A big part of the reason, in addition to Socotra’s remote location in the Arabian Sea, is that it’s Yemeni territory. Despite being 380 kilometers (236 miles) off Yemen’s southern coast, visas, not to mention a precarious security situation on the mainland had kept most people away.

A frequent question I’m asked is whether or not it is still possible to visit Socotra, as Yemen’s civil war continues, bypassing the mainland altogether. The answer is technically yes; but you’re not going to like the details.

Flights To Socotra, Sounds Nice

I visited Socotra and the Yemeni mainland several months before war made it too dangerous for travel – obviously, a lot has changed since then. For a while, flights from Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates near Dubai on Felix Airways to Socotra’s capital Hadibu were infrequent, but flying occasionally. Those flights have stopped completely, despite the claims by a few tour operators in the UAE. I reached out to several of the tour operators in the UAE and Yemen, as well as some airlines who all floated the sentiment they were hopeful regular service would resume soon, despite there being no change for many months.

socotra island beach

Believe In Ferries

Some tour operators based out of the UAE sign people up to tours, claiming to arrange Socotra trips by ferry. Practically all are canceled, so be very weary before booking or giving money to any tour operator. All of the other options are fairly unofficial, such as traveler Johnny Ward coaxing his way on to a cement shipping boat, with a lot of local help.

“One whole week of phone calls, paperwork, cash, documents, visas etc. went by… to ensure my visa to Yemen wasn’t canceled… to ensure that immigration in Socotra would accept me via the cement boat.”

Clearly, not a travel plan possible, or desirable, by most of you.

Situation Determination

You really have to be persistent, determined, and adventurous to even attempt a trip to Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are substantial costs, not to mention risks, right now in doing so. Travel to Socotra is likely to be practically infeasible as the situation in mainland Yemen continues to deteriorate with more than 70% of the population – most of these peopleneeding humanitarian assistance.

Those of you still wondering why you might want to visit Yemen can take a look to what was and hopefully what may be again one day.

My Camera Was Stolen In Argentina 7 Years Ago, Now I Finally Have The Pictures

buenos aires casa rosada presidential palace

In 2010 I visited Argentina for the first time, taking countless photos of the tasty foods and scenic views of Buenos Aires. I left Argentina with all of those pictures but when I landed in Santiago, Chile, they were gone. Along with my camera. I wasn’t robbed in a dramatic way – no armed mugging or crafty pickpockets – but fell for a sly scam at the airport which taught me two important lessons for all the travels I’ve taken afterward.

Those pictures I missed because of a security mishap had been on my mind until finally, six years later, I returned to Buenos Aires to get those photographs. Here are some of those pictures, 6 years later, and the story, from six years prior.

Traveling back to a place after a long while is like visiting friends with children, you’re surprised by how much they’ve grown, but also how recognizable their characters have remained. Like looking at an iPhone 7 but not seeing a smartphone since the 4S, the contrast is more evident since you’re seeing two moments in time, not witnessing the evolution in between.

buenos aires colorful street

But cities often look back at you, showing it’s not just them, you’ve grown too.

buenos aires canal

Some tastes may have changed, you can like a place you once hated, and getting to know yourself better opens up more travel possibilities.

la boca art

These beans at Cumana were so good, even the small cockroach in the dish didn’t stop me from finishing the bowl.

cumana buenos aires

A second ride around town with La Bicicleta Naranja was as good, and recommendable, as the first time.

buenos aires la bicicleta naranja

Many touristic areas are popular for a reason, like the very photogenic La Boca neighborhood.

la boca selfie argentina

Although I don’t remember specifically, there was probably a guy doing just this the last time I visited La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors soccer team stadium.

la bombonera

I do though recall flipping through the photos on my camera at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires, prior to checking in.

park lezama buenos aires

When I got to the check in counter of a small airline I won’t mention, I was told that all of the electronics in my carry-on would have to be put in checked luggage. It was going to be a short flight, so naively, I didn’t resist much.

buenos aires old man

After landing in Santiago, many of the electronics were gone, along with some clothes. It was apparent that someone had a short time to reach in and grab what they could. I’m convinced it was part of an organized routine happening between the check-in crew and bag handlers – mostly because of the insistence of checking the electronics – which was never actually required and the knowledge of exactly where in the bag to look.

plaza de mayo buenos aires

For a travel blogger not having pictures of a place limits how much I can share of a destination. They’re also memories which can be looked back on, gone. On the other hand, not having one can let you focus on what you can’t capture with a camera.

cumana buenos aires

The theft of my camera cultivated two habits I’ve done ever since, which I would recommend to any traveler:

  1. Backup Right Away – After a day of taking pictures or videos, when you’re back at your hotel, transfer the data over to a laptop. Doing so ensures you have copies of you photos in case something happens to your camera plus it lets you comfortably delete pictures from your SD card or phone, in case it fills up when you’re out and about. There are some automatic wireless backup options or you can go with an external hard drive if you don’t have space on your laptop. No laptop? No problem, the WD 2TB My Passport Pro has an SD card slot, USB ports, and is wireless too.
  2. Keep Your Valuables In Hand Luggage – Although it seems very obvious to me now, at the time I didn’t consider theft from checked bags to be a significant risk. (Or even a thing.) Theft from luggage is fairly common all over the world and it’s important to keep an eye on your stuff through security checks as well. With all this thievery going on, tracking your stuff digitally may be a good idea as well.

WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive  WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive

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In the end, not having the pictures from 6 years ago brought me back to a place that was both familiar as I remembered but not quite the same. Which had changed more, Buenos Aires, or me? I wasn’t quite sure I thought as I left town, adjusting my small carry-on backpack with camera securely tucked away – probably, a little of both.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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