Forget Trojan horses, it’s the cats you have to worry about. Security engineer Gene Bransfield has developed WarKitteh, a tech-laden collar that turns feline companions into scouts for WiFi hackers. The innocuous-looking accessory hides a Spark Core board that maps wireless networks and their vulnerabilities wherever the pet wanders. If used in the field, the technology would be pretty sneaky; the cat stalking mice in your backyard could represent the prelude to an attack on your wireless router.
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. 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.