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What's a War Kitteh? It's a Geektastic Experiment That Turns a Cat Into a Wi-Fi Finder

This cat invades privacy in places other than the bathroom by finding unguarded Wi-Fi networks.

 |  Aug 20th 2014  |   7 Contributions


Do you remember hearing about the phenomenon of wardriving way back in the early 2000s? It’s the act of driving through a neighborhood and locating unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots.

Now, behold the concept of warcatting!

The War Kitteh herself: Coco was equipped with a specially modified GPS tracking and Wi-Fi sniffiing collar. Image: screen shot from PC Magazine video

To prove that there are still a ridiculous number of unsecured Wi-Fi access points, information security researcher Gene Bransfield deployed a War Kitteh. It all started when someone gave him a GPS-based pet tracking collar.

"Me being the guy I am, I thought, 'All you need now is a Wi-Fi sniffing device and you'd have a War Kitteh,'" Bransfield said in a DefCon presentation summary. "I laughed, and started working on it."

"Thanks for the butt warmer." Photo CC-BY Douglas Woods

So he built a Wi-Fi snooping collar, put it on a relative’s cat, and sent the cat wandering around in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. His goal: to see if the War Kitteh could find any unguarded or weakly secured wireless networks.

Of the 23 Wi-Fi signals the cat detected, a third of them were exposed, mostly because their owners were either using old routers with old security technology or they had never changed their router’s default settings.

What’s the big deal about that? Well, if you’re using Wi-Fi in your home, yours may be one of them. If the wardriver who happens to pick up on your Wi-Fi signal is just having fun, that’s one thing. But if that individual has more nefarious intentions like, say, using your insecure connection to get into your bank account and, say, order $5,000 worth of Krispy Kreme gift cards with your money ... that’s a problem.

War Kitteh was a light-hearted attempt to bring attention to a serious issue. The sad thing is that most ordinary people probably won’t hear about it because Bransfield gave his talk at DefCon, an Internet security conference.

Although it’s pretty unlikely that anybody’s going to send Wi-Fi sniffing cats into your neighborhood, be aware that if you use a wireless router, you need to be careful about its security settings. Here are some things you can do:

  • If you have an older wireless router, buy a new one with newer security protocol. Quality wireless routers are not very expensive and it’s worth the money to protect your data.
  • Use strong passwords to secure the connection. It takes a little bit of work to change the default password on a wireless router, but a web search or a tech-savvy friend should be able to help you with that.
  • Change the name of your router from the one it came with. That default name usually identifies the brand and model of the router, which will provide bad actors with a way to get info about hacking your router. This is a great chance for you to have some fun. I’ve seen wireless routers with names like Unmarked Police Car, Fast Turtle, and some that are ridiculously funny but not appropriate for a G-rated publication.
  • On the non-router end of things, change your passwords for email, financial websites, or any other site that contains sensitive information on a regular basis. I recommend at least every 90 days.

Don’t let a War Kitteh steal your bandwidth or your personal information. Keep yourself and your network protected. That way, you’ll be able to spend all day looking at cute cat photos while enjoying the peace of mind of knowing that your wireless network is safe.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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