Bransfield demonstrated the possibility by fitting a borrowed cat from a relative with about $100 worth of electronic equipment onto the collar. The cat, Coco, then roamed the streets for three hours with the device hidden as a collar. In that short period of time, Coco managed to identify four WiFi routers which had no encryption at all, and another four using the outdated WEP encryption which could easily be accessed by anyone with a bit of know-how.
The self-made collar was customized with a Spark Core chip with firmware which Bransfield custom coded for the test, a GPS tracker, a WiFi card and a battery. He presented the results of his experiment at the Las Vegas DEF CON hacker conference. While he has no intention of personally using pets as a hacking tool, he has demonstrated how easily it can be done, and in a way that would likely not arouse any suspicion of what was going on. He also hopes that the inventive way of looking for insecure WiFI networks will raise public awareness on the importance of securing home WiFi networks.
As Bransfield notes, “My intent was not to show people where to get free WiFi. 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 hotspots out there than there should be in 2014. Cats are more interesting to people than information security. If people realize that a cat can pick up on their open WiFi hotspot, maybe that’s a good thing.”
Open WiFi networks or those with outdated encryption can give hackers access to the network to use for nefarious means, or to spy on what those on the network are doing to access information which can be used to do such things as steal an identity. This should be a wake-up call to all those who have never considered an open WiFi network as a major threat to their person information.
(Photo courtesy of Joseph Sardin)