Fishcam using Raspberry Pi and some network tricks

Intro
There are more articles about running a webcam using Raspberry Pi than Carter has pills. Why bother to create another? This one is unique insofar as I created a fishcam at a school with a restricted network. None of the reference articles I found discussed a way to get your stream onto the Internet except the simplistic approach only available to homeowners of setting up a rule on a home router. Pimylifeup’s article is typical of that genre.

Cooperating third party
To push this webcam out to the Internet when I had no way to allow inbound traffic to the Pi, I realized that I needed a cooperating third party. I looked briefly for a commercial service specializing in this. I did not find one. I suppose there is, but I don’t know. It was actually quicker to stop the search and use my own AWS server as the cooperating third party.

With a cooperating third party what you can do is set up a forwarder from the Pi to cooperating server on the Internet. So that’s what I did. More on that below.

Network restrictions
The Pi was given WiFi access to a school’s bring your own device (BYOD) WiFi. By trial and error (I did not initiate extensive port scans, etc so as to avoid acting like a hacker). I’m familiar with running a almost completely open Guest wireless. This BYOD was not that for some reason unknown to me. One of the first things I tried, to ssh to my server, was not going through. So I knew there were restrictions. Also PING 8.8.8.8 did not work. So ICMP was blocked as well. But web browsing worked, and so did DNS queries. So TCP ports 80 and 443 were allowed, as well as UDP port 53 and possibly TCP port 53. I also observed there was no proxy server involved in the communication. So I simply tested a few other ports that I know are used from time-to-time: 2443 and 8443. If you a hit a server that is not protected by a firewall and not listening on a port that you are testing you will get a Connection reset if your packets are not blocked by a local firewall. I tested with the nc utility. nc -v <my_server> <port> I found a couple open ports this way. Next question: does the network care what protocol is running on that port? They might be looking for https and I was planning to run ssh. For a simple port blocker it might not distinguish what’s going on. That was indeed the case as I was able to run ssh on this non-standard port.

The single most comlicated thing was formulating the appropriate ssh command. I created a dedicated account on my server for this purpose. I embedded the password into the startup script I created using a utility called sshpass. This is not super secure but I wanted something running quickly.

Here’s that complicated command

sshpass -p <PASSWORD> ssh ‐f ‐N ‐R 8443:localhost:8081 ‐p 2443 <USERNAME>@<SERVER_IP>

That’s a mouthful! Let’s break it down. sshpass just permits you to run the command and not get a login prompt. It needs to be installed with a sudo apt-get sshpass.

The ssh command sets up a reverse tunnel. I have discussed it in my Access your Raspberry Pi from anywhere blog post, however, some things are different and more complicated here. Here we are setting up port 8443 on my server as the tunnel port which will be accessible to the Internet. It is terminated on the Raspberry Pi’s local port 8081 (the port that the motion package uses for the webcam). We had to use ssh to connect to port 2443 on my server because the school network blocked the standard port 22. Then <PASSWORD>, <USERNAME> and <SERVER_IP> are to be replaced with values specific for my server. I don’t want to publish them.

How I got my server to run ssh on port 2443 as well as port 22
This turned out to be one of the easiest things. It’s good to run your own server… In the file /ets/ssh/sshd_config the listening port was commented out, letting the defaul 22 be in effect. So I uncommented that and added port 2443 like this:

...
# Listen on multiple ports - DrJ 2/1/19
Port 22
Port 2443
...

Then a sudo service sshd restart and the server listens on both ports for ssh connections!

About the webcam itself
I just followed the Pimylife article as I mentioned. It talks about using the motion package which I’ve never used before. Now in my other posts you’ll see I do stuff with video on Raspberry Pi. In those we had to fight to get the lag time down and keep bandwidth low. I have to say by comparison this motion package is awful. Lag is a couple seconds. There is no sense whatsoever of true video. Just image, wait, next image, wait. No matter the fps setting. I did not have time to switch to a video package that works better. Anyway motion may provide some other advantages we could eventually use. So I just set it to 2 fps (frames per second) since it doesn’t really matter.

The fishcam is at fishcam. It’s not working right now – just showing black. I’m not sure why.

Auto starting
I’ve documented elsewhere the poor man’s way to start something upon initially booting the Pi: stuff the appropriate command into the crontab file.

So you edit your crontab file with a crontab -e. Then you enter

@reboot sleep 20; sshpass -p <PASSWORD> ssh ‐f ‐N ‐R 8443:localhost:8081 ‐p 2443 <USERNAME>@<SERVER_IP>

That just sleeps for 20 seconds as your Pi boots up, then establishes the reverse tunnel with that complicated command I explained earlier.

Equipment
Usually thes tutorials start with an equipment list. For me that is the least interesting part. I used a Raspberry Pi 3 running Raspbian. For a camera I used one of my spare USB ELP cameras from my extensive work with USB cameras. While developing the solution I needed a keyboard, mouse and HDMI monitor. Once running, the only thing connected to the Pi is the USB camera and the micro USB power supply.

To be continued…

References and related
A very good guide for your typcial webcam-using-a-Raspberry-Pi situation, i.e., not what I am addressing in my article.

Access your Raspberry Pi from anywhere blog post

Run multiple USB cameras on your Raspberry Pi while keeping lag minimal.

For supplies we love visits to The Micro Center in Paterson, NJ. This past weekend we got Raspberry Pi 3’s for only $29. And the sales tax is only 3% and change.

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