Student collects Wi-Fi data around UD campus
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 06:05
On a Wednesday evening, senior Phil Lastner drove around Newark with his laptop and cell phone beside him, trying to map wireless networks—an activity called wardriving.
Lastner, a computer science information systems major, defined wardriving as the process of searching for and recording wireless network names on a device while driving around a specific area. He said he has been wardriving “for fun” for about a month because it is rewarding to know that he can do it.
“It’s just an activity to map out networks for a bunch of nerds like myself,” Lastner said. “It’s so boring for the normal-minded person.”
According to electrical and computer engineering professor Xiaoming Li, wardriving is conducted by companies as well as individuals.
“For example, Google and Apple have population-driven services, which are essentially wardriving,” Li said.
Population driven services are those operated by the average person, such as iPhone applications that act as tools.
Although wardriving can be accomplished using other tools that pick up Wi-Fi networks, Lastner said he uses his Droid smartphone as a global positioning system to locate the networks, and a Bluetooth application on his phone connects to a serial port on his laptop.
He said the process of wardriving begins when he gets into his car, turns on his laptop, and runs a program called GPSD, which reads the GPS data obtained from his smartphone. GPSD runs in the background after it automatically connects to a Wi-Fi detector called Kismet.
Once the connection is made, Lastner said he can begin “stumbling” wireless networks using Kismet, which displays information about the wireless networks and their locations on his Linux operating system laptop.
“Linux is an open source operating system and it’s more for the programmers in the world because you have to interact with it a lot more than you do Windows and Mac,” he said. “It’s just a different operating system and for me it’s more secure. It interacts with the system at a real base level.”
Lastner transfers the saved network files to his second laptop, a MacBook, where he runs a script which converts the files into one that can be opened with Google Earth. A visual map of all the networks he passed while driving is then created, he said.
Lastner said he uploads the maps he makes to a wardriving database called WiGle.net for users to access.
He said he has known about the concept of wardriving for a few years, but has only recently found enough time to devote to it.
“I never really pursued it because I’ve been doing other programming things that didn’t really involve me mapping out networks,” Lastner said.
Although the process is somewhat new to him, he said he is sure university students have created network maps before.
“This is not that hard to do and it’s pretty interesting,” Lastner said. “I like networking and so do a lot of people in my major. There is no doubt in my mind that people have done this before.”
Electrical and computer engineering professor Stephan Bohacek said anyone can use their smartphone to wardrive because applications that pick up wireless networks are available on all smartphones.
He said the practice of discovering different, open Wi-Fi networks that exist in an area is becoming extremely popular and that wardrivers can utilize the networks as access points to figure out their location.
“Access points have a unique ID,” Bohacek said. “By looking at the set of access points in a location you can determine where you are.”
Li said the information that can be obtained from wardriving is useful in discovering specific locations.
“A good example is the location service that is available on every cell phone,” Li said. “Such services, no matter backed by Google, Apple or phone companies, use the information about the physical locations of 802.11 networks to pinpoint an address or accelerate the searching.”
Lastner said when his computer records the networks, it also records the relatively exact latitude and longitude coordinates of each network, which is how they are placed on a map.