Wi-Fi Hacking Weaponized Cats

Scott Falkner - Author

Aug. 8 2014, Updated 9:23 a.m. ET

At this week’s DEF Con at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, Principle Systems Security Engineer Gene Bransfield will give a lecture on Wi-Fi Hacking Weaponized Cats — aptly titled, “Weaponizing Your Pets: The War Kitteh and the Denial of Service Dog,” according to DEF Con’s official website.

In his presentation, Bransfield will explain an experiment he performed utilizing a Wi-Fi hacking cat.

Let’s back up a minute and troll a brief history of hacking before we get to the weaponized cats.

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Hackers once utilize something called wardialing where they would quickly scroll through thousands of numbers via their modems until they came upon insecure internet connections to abuse. With the advent of Wi-Fi, hackers implemented what they called wardriving, which was essentially driving through a city with an antennae in a car to seek out weak and unsecure Wi-Fi connections.

Conscious of that history, Bransfield took the next logical step: attaching an antennae to his wife’s grandmother’s cat, named Coco, and letting the Wi-Fi hacking feline loose on the neighborhood. The weaponized cat, roaming from yard to yard wearing the Warkitteh collar, would unwittingly be scoping out weak Wi-Fi setups.

Initially, Bransfield claimed that he’d outfitted the Wi-Fi hacking cat as sort of a stunt; the security engineer thought it would make for a great topic to entertain the hacker-filled audience this year at DEF Con, but he said he was shocked at the experiment’s success. Bransfield made the Warkitteh collar for less than $100.

Bransfield toldWired Magazine how the experiment surprised him.

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“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. 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.”

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Over only three hours, Coco, the Wi-Fi hacking cat, found 23 Wi-Fi hotspots and over a third of them were unsecured or used easily hackable WEP instead of the more secure WPA encryption.

Though Bransfield initially came up with the weaponized Wi-Fi hacking cat experiment (he admits the term weaponized is kind of a stretch) for fun, he hopes that the conclusions will demonstrate to people the importance of Wi-Fi security against hackers.

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“Cats are more interesting to people than information security. 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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Gene Bransfield will give his full lecture on “Wi-Fi Hacking Weaponized Cats” this weekend in Las Vegas.


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