Fact Checked

What is WiFi® Wardriving?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

WiFi® wardriving is a process by which a person physically drives around an area attempting to locate wireless networks within the region. This may be done through a laptop computer with a wireless network adapter, through a hand-held video game system, or a cellular telephone or similar device. While the act of locating such networks may not be inherently illegal, depending on the region in which the wardriving occurs, there are some legal issues. WiFi® wardriving is typically done to document the available wireless networks in an area, and this can be done purely for the sake of knowledge or to attempt to “piggyback” onto a network.

The term WiFi® wardriving stems from the popularity of WiFi® technology in most early 21st century wireless networks, and the similarity of the practice to wardialing. Wardialing is a term coined in the late 1980s and early 1990s to refer to the practice of using a computer with a modem to dial hundreds or thousands of phone numbers in search of lines connected to a modem. The practice became especially popular following the release of the film WarGames in which the protagonist of the film wardials phones to find modem connections.

A WiFi® logo.
A WiFi® logo.

WiFi® wardriving typically involves a somewhat similar process, but rather than sitting in a stationary location calling to find modems, a wardriver physically drives around looking for wireless networks. This can be done individually or with assistance from someone else, and may be a fairly harmless process. In general, a wardriver may simply document wireless networks, including those that are open and those that are password protected to “map” the networks in an area. This will often include open networks intended for use by other people, and WiFi® wardriving can be used to find such networks and help others find them as well.

WiFi wardriving is used to find open wireless network signals.
WiFi wardriving is used to find open wireless network signals.

While WiFi® wardriving is not inherently illegal in many areas, it can be considered invasive and there is little legal precedent for the practice. Piggybacking, the act of not only finding a wireless network but also utilizing that network, may be illegal in some areas and while the two terms are often used synonymously, they are not necessarily the same. There are also certain practices similar to WiFi® wardriving, including warbiking and warwalking that are performed while on a bicycle or while on foot in a neighborhood or throughout a small town.

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Discussion Comments


Phone companies and wireless network companies actually do wardriving a lot, although it's not called wardriving when they're doing it. Companies need to periodically check networks in an area to make sure that all is well. If there is some type of connectivity problem with a base station, this is how they often identify it and resolve it. So wardriving is not always bad.


@ddljohn-- They can be the same thing if the wardriving is done to access other people's wireless networks. So we could say that wardriving is a type of sniffing.

Sniffing is basically locating WiFi networks. It could be done legally to access a public network, like at a coffee shop. But it doesn't involve driving around. Many of us do sniffing with our smart phones when we need to find a cafe or restaurant to check our email. But there are people who do illegal sniffing, where they not only locate wireless networks but also use them and steal data that's transferred via that network. It's almost like phone tapping.

Wardriving is less innocent, because it almost always involves illegal activity. And it's a more active form of sniffing because the individual is literally mapping WiFi networks in a given area for some purpose.


What is the difference between WiFi wardriving and WiFi sniffing?

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    • A WiFi® logo.
      A WiFi® logo.
    • WiFi wardriving is used to find open wireless network signals.
      By: lexan
      WiFi wardriving is used to find open wireless network signals.