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A WLAN's Best Friend?

Security forum The Shmoo Group has developed a robot network sniffer dog that could one day help protect corporate wireless LANs from unwanted intruders and save IT administrators' shoe leather.

And the group, which draws its members from organizations as diverse as American Express Inc., the San Francisco Police Department, and VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN), is also working on a much smaller version of the wireless LAN technology that could, for instance, be used by governments to eavesdrop on wireless networks.

"Some governments have expressed an interest… in a couple of technologies," says Eric Johanson, one of the developers of the robot guard dog [ed. note: "Wi-Fido" anyone?].

The 45-pound hound currently has two 802.11b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) radios onboard -- one to monitor the network and one to send back information to home base. The prosthetic pooch's inventors envisage it being used to hunt down unofficially installed (or "rogue") access points on a network.

Today, network administrators tend to handle tasks like this by walking 'round with a handheld or a laptop equipped with special software to help them sniff out the exact location of the rogues (see AirMagnet Gets Distributed).

The other related project the Shmoo group is working on could arguably be called the ultimate rogue access point. A variant of the network sniffing technology that is designed to be small enough to be emailed to the unwitting victim -- perhaps while they are away on a business trip or vacation -- and then switch itself on and listen to network traffic while sitting inconspicuously in an inbox [ed. note: although maybe you'd notice the two men in sunglasses and dark suits with radio gear that just moved in two cubicles down].

The robot guard dog made its debut at the Defcon hacker's convention in Las Vegas last week. However, Johanson says there are one or two kinks to be ironed out before they try to commercialize the project. At present, the robot dog has to be handled via remote control, as it can't tell where it is going or who is in the way. "We don't have appropriate safety measures for not running people over yet," says Johanson.

In fact, he says, the metal mauler actually drew blood when it ran over one of the developers in the testing phase. However, Johanson says this problem will be fixed when they finish work on a heat sensor system for the creature that will detect nearby humans. [Ed. note: Hey, if they can make a robot vacuum cleaner that learns to find its way around, they can surely fix this, right?]

All the same, we at Unstrung can't help but wonder: What the hell happens if this thing tries to hump your leg?

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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