Man has always had an innate fascination with our feline friends. Ancient Egyptians famously worshiped them, some in the Middle Ages feared them, and today’s Internet denizens pay money to have their pictures taken with meme-generating kitties. But there’s another reason to consider the cat: it turns out that they’re expert when it comes to mapping out unprotected Wi-Fi networks.
To explain, context is needed. The Wi-Fi mapping cat was debuted at this year’s DefCon, an annual conference where hackers, journalists, and government employees mingle and discuss exploits, hacking methods and general developments in the information security sector. It’s a casual affair with a carnival-esque atmosphere.
So, playing on that ambience, security researcher Gene Bransfield introduced “WarKitteh,” a complex collar that can be worn about a cat’s neck. Bransfield’s homemade collar is outfitted with a customized chip and software, a Wi-Fi card, a battery and a global positioning system (GPS) locator. The device detects any network the wearer may happen upon, and it documents what type of connection is used as well as what sort of security standard (if any) is in place.
Using his grandmother-in-law’s pet cat, Coco, Bransfield discovered that not only are cats agile hunters (Coco happened upon an unfortunate mouse), but can also be quite the neighborhood patrolman—Coco scouted out 23 Wi-Fi networks. Of those, several were either open to hacking, unprotected or using outdated security standards like Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).
According to WIRED, Bransfield was surprised that a good deal of these vulnerable routers still had their default settings in place—a big security no-no.
So is this a serious threat that you need to worry about? Well, yes and no. Yes, you do need to worry about effective network security; no, you don’t need to worry about a cat taking off with your Wi-Fi password. Bransfield said he wanted to use WarKitteh to raise security awareness through a familiar animal; to that extent he succeeded.
A more realistic example would be someone simply walking down a sidewalk with the same gear in their backpack or purse. Mapping out hijackable Wi-Fi networks has happened before and it will happen again. If a hacker gets into your Wi-Fi network, there is the potential that they can access all the devices that are connected to it so anything you have on your computer or mobile device, such as your passwords and sensitive files are up for grabs. And because the hacker has access to your devices, they could even install malware on them.
So what’s the security conscious person to do? Well, in addition to grabbing your spray bottle, you may want to take a note of these tips:
- Set up encryption on your router. Be sure to read your router’s handbook to understand how you can set up encryption as well as built-in firewall functionality if your router has it . Setting up these security parameters will help protect your network from hackers.
- Lock your devices down with comprehensive security. Locking your router down isn’t enough. You have to protect your devices as well. With McAfee LiveSafe™ service you can secure your computers, smartphones and tablets, as well as your data and guard yourself from viruses and other online threats.
- Change your router’s default password. If there’s one positive step you can take to secure your network right now, it’s changing the default settings on your router—especially the password. Default passwords for routers are well known by hackers and do little to lock down your network from serious threats. Create a better password and use it. For more information, click here.
- Consider turning off your wireless network. When you’re not at home, consider turning off your network so it’s not accessible. You could also use more advanced settings on your router to turn off it’s broadcast signal (so other users can’t see it as an available network) or control access by machine ID to who can use your Wi-Fi connection.