Turning Cats Into Cybersecurity Advocates With WarKitteh

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

Turning Cats Into Cybersecurity Advocates With WarKitteh

490747949-chancellor-of-the-exchequer-george-osbornes-tabby-cat
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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.