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Checking Power Outlets for Surveillance Potential with deviceOwl

18th November, 2020 | Device Type Focus | Entropic Labs

Hotel room photo by Alexander Kaunas on Unsplash

In our previous article, we discussed some best practices for general device checking using deviceOwl.

In this article, we provide some specific guidance to help you check Electrical Outlets - one of deviceOwl's many supported device types - for surveillance potential.

Unlike many other device types, the designs of standard power outlets can look very similar to one another across different brands and models.

However, with closer examination there are actually subtle design differences between different makes and models of power outlets that deviceOwl can recognize, which enables it to identify the manufacturer & model of an outlet.

Most importantly to see these differences, deviceOwl requires the right conditions under which to check the outlet, so it can perform accurate recognition. This article will focus on providing you with the guidance needed to help you get the most out of deviceOwl's power outlet inspection capabilities.

Before We Start

Firstly, the "Basic Edition" of deviceOwl from the App Store provides the ability to check many regular power outlets for their basic capabilities. If you want to check power outlets for surveillance capabilities, you'll need to activate a subscription to "Advanced Edition".

Secondly at the time of writing, deviceOwl's general knowledge of power outlets is mainly focussed on North American, British, Australian, and a few International (universal) style outlets.

We expect to continue to enhance the accuracy and depth of outlet knowledge, including expanding knowledge to include outlets used in additional regions.

If you have a particular region that you think we should prioritize, let us know. If you discover an outlet that we don't recognize, you can always submit a sample to Entropic Labs for analysis, using the standard device sample submission feature in deviceOwl.

Finally, please be aware that this guidance is always subject to change. As we continue to train, re-train, and optimize the capabilities of deviceOwl we may update this guidance, or modify available device types that can be checked using deviceOwl.

Before Checking

Remove All Plugs

Remove All Plugs Before Checking

Remove all plugs from the power outlet, and any other objects that might be obstructing it from being fully comprehended by deviceOwl.

Outlet Must Have a Faceplate

Faceplate Must Not Be Removed Before Checking

In regions including North America, power outlets commonly have a faceplate.

It might seem logical to remove the faceplate from an outlet so that you, or deviceOwl can peer inside to see if it has been modified with surveillance capabilities.

However, if you are checking using deviceOwl, it's really important that this faceplate is not removed before checking, as doing this will prevent deviceOwl from recognizing it. This is because deviceOwl is trained to comprehend power outlets that are fully intact with their faceplates installed.

Important: Removing the faceplate is dangerous, and increases the risk of electric shock.

Remove Dust, Grit & Paint

Remove Dust, Dirt, and Paint Before Checking

Over time, dust, grit and paint can accumulate on outlets, obstructing it from being fully comprehended by deviceOwl.

If the outlet is not detected, have it cleaned safely according to the manufacturers instructions, and ideally by a qualified electrician.

Important: Under no circumstances should the outlet be cleaned without first turning off the household main power. Avoid the use of liquids and metal objects for cleaning.

Lots of Natural, Even Light Needed

Remove Dust, Dirt, and Paint Before Checking

Make sure the power outlet is illuminated with plenty of ideally natural, evenly diffused light before checking.

Without proper lighting across the outlet, deviceOwl won't be able to "see" the subtle design differences that allow it to identify the make and model accurately. This will result in variations in the detection accuracy.

Ring Light

What's a Good Alternative to Natural Light?

Power outlets are often installed in areas that don't have a lot of natural light available.

While deviceOwl can automatically activate the torch on your phone, which helps in many device checking scenarios, this type of light is not ideal. This is because the torch on your phone can't provide enough, evenly diffused light across the device. For power outlets, this is more likely to result in a missed or inaccurate detection.

For cases where a decent amount of natural or artificial room light is not available, a ring light, normally used for selfies and videoconferencing, with a 5000-6500K color temperature option is ideal. They are relatively inexpensive (USD $17+), and can provide even, diffused light across the device that emulates natural daylight.

When using the ring light to check the outlet, securely mount your phone in reverse using the included phone mount of the ring light, so that your phone's rear camera is facing the same direction as the ring light. Select the color temperature option that most closely resembles natural light (5000-6500K), and set the brightness to maximum.


Ideal Before Checking

The power outlet has it's faceplate intact, has had all plugs and other obstructions removed, is mostly clean, and is adequately illuminated.

During Checking

Select the "Electrical Outlet" Device Type

Selecting the device type for electrical outlets in deviceOwl

After selecting the check device option from the main screen, select the "Electrical Outlet" device type.

To speed up the selection, use the voice recognition device type lookup feature by tapping the microphone button. You can then say terms such as "Outlet", "Power Outlet", and "Wall Plug", to select this option.

Outlet is Too Far Away

Outlet is Too Far Away

The outlet cannot be analyzed as it is too small within the viewfinder. There is not enough resolution to perform accurate detection.

Outlet is Too Close

Outlet is Too Close

The outlet is too large within the viewfinder, which means that deviceOwl won't be able to fully comprehend the device.

More Than One Device in the Viewfinder

Multiple Devices in Viewfinder

When checking devices, there should only be one device within the viewfinder at a time. If more than one device appears in the viewfinder, deviceOwl will get confused.

Correct Alignment

The outlet is correctly aligned in the viewfinder. North America, British, and Australian examples shown.

North American Outlet is Correctly Aligned

British Outlet is Correctly Aligned

Australian Outlet is Correctly Aligned

Got A Detection?

If deviceOwl successfully detects a known power outlet, the summary details will be displayed. If more than one outlet is recognized, left & right navigation buttons will allow you to browse each detection.

Selecting "More" will display additional details about each detection, including the SEVERITY field. Tapping this field will display information on the severity. Some possible severities for power outlets are listed below.

No Known Surveillance Potential

Severity: No Known Surveillance Potential

This device has no known surveillance potential.

Trusted Brand With Surveillance Variants

Severity: Trusted Brand with Surveillance Variants

This specific outlet was originally created by a trusted manufacturer, but some third parties are known to sell modified versions with additional surveillance capabilities. The modified outlet normally looks identical, or almost identical to the original.

We differentiate this type of outlet from ones that are created purely for surveillance. These outlets normally have less familiar designs that are more unique, and thus tend to be more noticeable in a room. Some of these outlets for example are very thin, containing only the necessary hardware for surveillance, and may literally just be stuck to a wall using neoprene tape. These models typically don't have any functionality as a power outlet.

If an outlet is detected with this severity, the first record displayed will be for the original trusted brand outlet. Selecting the navigation buttons will allow you to browse the subsequent records of known makes and models of the surveillance modified outlets that copy this design. Each of these will have their own corresponding severity level, based on their capabilities.

Important: If you get a device detection with this severity level, don't panic. Due to the popularity of the outlet, it's most likely that this outlet is not surveillance modified.

The purpose of this screen is to let you know that this particular brand/model of outlet detected, has historically been purchased by one or more third parties, who re-sell them with added surveillance capabilities. To further verify the surveillance capabilities of this outlet, continue reading...

Anatomy of a Surveillance Modified Outlet

Typical Surveillance Modified Outlet

Surveillance modified outlets are typically created based off of an original trusted brand product. This helps them to blend in with their environment, conforming to the style of other outlets that exist in the area.

The surveillance hardware is affixed to the back of the original outlet, and the actual camera lens is normally installed in one of the inlets on the receptacle.

For audio-only surveillance outlets, the microphone is normally placed in a similar area that gives it the clearest possible audio reception.

You can determine whether there are camera lenses embedded in an outlet by using a torch, as described in this article, which provides guidance on confirming whether this outlet has been modified.

Covert Surveillance Device With Networking

Severity: Covert Surveillance Device With Networking

This outlet likely has covert surveillance capabilities. It also has network communication capabilities which means that any captured surveillance data can be immediately transferred back to the operator, vendor, or a third party.

Since this outlet has networking capabilities, it may also be detected by a radio frequency bug detector.

Covert Surveillance Device Without Networking

Severity: Covert Surveillance Device Without Networking

This outlet likely has covert surveillance capabilities. It stores captured surveillance data locally on or nearby the device, from where it can be periodically accessed by it's operator.

Having Problems?

If you don't immediately get a detection, be sure to try checking from several, slightly different angles from the front of the outlet.

We've posted some general best practices for checking devices, based on recently compiled device sample feedback.

General and device-specific checking guidance can be accessed tapping either the steps icon on deviceOwl's main screen, or the steps icon in the device checking viewfinder.

If you have followed the guidance provided in this article and are still not getting a detection, you'll be asked to submit a sample to Entropic Labs for further analysis.

To check whether a sample you previously submitted has been added to deviceOwl's knowledge, tap the "News" icon from the main screen of deviceOwl, which lists the most recent updates to the device knowledge.

More information on deviceOwl, is at

If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions, please let us know.

Hotel room photo by Alexander Kaunas on Unsplash