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How to Use Your Cat to Hack Your Neighbor’s Wi-Fi

A creative security researcher has found a way to use his pet cat mapping dozens of vulnerable Wi-Fi networks in his neighborhood.
Gene Bransfield, a security researcher with Tenacity, managed to turn his wife’s grandmother’s pet cat Coco into a roaming detector for free Wifi networks by just using a custom-built collar, which was made from a Wi-Fi card, GPS module, Spark Core chip, battery and some fetching leopard print fabric.

Late last month, a Siamese cat named Coco went wandering in his suburban Washington, DC neighborhood. He spent three hours exploring nearby backyards. He killed a mouse, whose carcass he thoughtfully brought home to his octogenarian owner, Nancy. And while he was out, Coco mapped dozens of his neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks, identifying four routers that used an old, easily-broken form of encryption and another four that were left entirely unprotected.

Unbeknownst to Coco, he’d been fitted with a collar created by Nancy’s granddaughter’s husband, security researcher Gene Bransfield. And Bransfield had built into that collar a Spark Core chip loaded with his custom-coded firmware, a Wi-Fi card, a tiny GPS module and a battery—everything necessary to map all the networks in the neighborhood that would be vulnerable to any intruder or Wi-Fi mooch with, at most, some simple crypto-cracking tools.

Coco, modeling the WarKitteh collar. 

In the 1980s, hackers used a technique called “wardialing,” cycling through numbers with their modems to find unprotected computers far across the internet. The advent of Wi-Fi brought “wardriving,” putting an antenna in a car and cruising a city to suss out weak and unprotected Wi-Fi networks. This weekend at the DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas, Bransfield will debut the next logical step: The “WarKitteh” collar, a device he built for less than $100 that turns any outdoor cat into a Wifi-sniffing hacker accomplice.

Bransfield dubbed his experiment “Warkitteh” – on the concept of “Wardriving”, where hackers used unsecured Wi-Fi connections from a parked car. He decided to turn his cat into a hacker because he found the idea amusing, and also because cats are the one that consumes as much as 15 per cent of internet traffic, with the popularity among the internet users.

Bransfield explained his experiment “Warkitteh” at DefCon, a hacker conference that is taking place this weekend in Las Vegas, in his talk titled “How to Weaponize your Pets”.
The WarKitteh collar isn't meant to be a serious hacking tool, more of a joke to see what's possible. 
My intent was not to show people where to get free Wi-Fi. I put some technology on a cat and let it roam around because the idea amused me,” Bransfield, who works for the security consultancy Tenacity told Wired. “But the result of this cat research was that there were a lot more open and WEP-encrypted hot spots out there than there should be in 2014.

During a three hour trip through the neighbourhood, his pet cat Coco mapped 23 unique wifi networks, including four routers that used an old, easily-broken encryption and four routers that were left unprotected entirely and could be easily broken.
Bransfield mapped those WiFi networks in a program created by an Internet collaborator that uses Google Earth’s API, which is demonstrated in the video given below. The number of vulnerable access WiFi points were really surprising for Bransfield. According to him, several WEP connections were Verizon FiOS routers left with their default settings unchanged.

Though he admits his cat stunt was mostly intended to entertain himself, he hopes it might make more users aware of privacy lessons those in the security community have long taken for granted. “Cats are more interesting to people than information security,” Bransfield says. “If people realize that a cat can pick up on their open Wi-Fi hotspot, maybe that’s a good thing.”


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