Turning Cats Into Cybersecurity Advocates With WarKitteh

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 11 2014 5:43 PM

Turning Cats Into Cybersecurity Advocates With WarKitteh

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Who wouldn't want to improve network security for their cat?

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At this point we should all be setting up basic privacy protection on consumer routers for home Wi-Fi networks, right? Of course not. Maybe we all just feel a little too comfortable with the ubiquitous devices, but you know there’s a problem when Coco, a Siamese cat, can roam around his Washington, D.C., neighborhood and uncover home Wi-Fi networks that are running flimsy encryption or are completely unprotected.

OK, so Coco wasn’t doing it all on his own, but that cat knows what's up! Gene Bransfield, a principle security engineer at the consulting firm Tenacity, created a special collar for his wife’s grandma’s cat, Coco, that detected the security measures in place on every private network Coco ambled past. According to Wired, Bransfield built his “WarKitteh” collar for $100—using a Wi-Fi card, GPS tracker, and Spark Core chip, all powered by an onboard battery—to locate unsecured networks in Coco's neighborhood. The Spark Core is an open-source chip for firmware and higher-level connectivity development.

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Coco ran across 23 networks in all. Of those, Bransfield (and, presumably, Coco) were surprised that four routers in the immediate local area were using WEP wireless encryption, even though flaws in this security measure were identified a decade ago. Four more weren’t protected at all.

Bransfield presented at Defcon this weekend. It’s a small sample and doesn't control for geography or socioeconomic status, but Bransfield says that the whole thing was mainly meant to amuse himself anyway. It’s just a bonus that it has evolved into an anecdote that's useful for cybersecurity education. “It’s been a failure of the industry,” he told the Guardian. "We need to do a better job of communicating this stuff. … You don’t want to scare the shit out of them. You want to effectively communicate to them what the issues are.”

It's time to do what your cat says, and check the encryption on your home Wi-Fi network.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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