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What is Wireless Wardriving?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 16, 2024
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Wireless wardriving is the practice of seeking out wireless networks from a moving vehicle. Wardrivers are able to gather information anonymously simply by driving though a neighborhood with some easily obtained equipment and software. Using a global positioning system (GPS) and a laptop computer, handheld game console or personal digital assistant (PDA), the wardriver is able to find a network’s service set identifier (SSID), an identification code for that network. As the vehicle moves through an area, the wardriver collects SSID numbers and locations, as well as information such as signal strength and whether the network is encrypted.

Specialized software is required for wireless wardriving. Wardrivers easily can find commercial and “home brew” software that will allow most computer operating systems and many handheld devices to gather information from any network within range. Many of these programs can be downloaded for free.

Of course, any computer, PDA or similar device will need to be able to receive wireless signals to be used in wardriving. Hardware not already equipped for network connections can be fitted with a wireless network card. These cards are widely available, inexpensive and easy to install.

By identifying an unencrypted network, the wardriver is able to use that connection to gain access to the Internet as well as any computers, consoles or other devices on that network. The unauthorized use of wireless networks generally is referred to as piggybacking. Information gained through wireless wardriving not only allows the piggybacker free access to the Internet, but any activities on the Internet might be traced back to the network used. Piggybacking also grants access to computers, consoles and other devices on the network, making private records and personal files vulnerable to hacking.

The term wireless wardriving originally referred only to the process of collecting network information, not the use of this information for piggybacking, though some people use the terms interchangeably. “Wardriving” is a variation on the term “wardialing,” a hacking technique used in the 1983 movie WarGames, for which the practice was named. Wardialing uses a computer to dial phone numbers rapidly until an active modem is found. Wireless wardriving is an updated version of this practice.

Networks are vulnerable to wireless wardriving by their nature. They were designed to allow access to any device within range. Furthermore, the practice of wireless wardriving is not illegal, and there is no penalty for gathering data. Only the act of piggybacking is considered a crime in most jurisdictions.

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Discussion Comments

By Inaventu — On Jan 27, 2015

I've heard of wireless wardriving and warwalking before, but I never had to do anything like that myself. I did have an unsecured wireless ssid for a while, though, and now I'm concerned about how many people may have piggybacked on my service during that time. I just forgot to create a secure password and ID when I bought my first wireless modem, but I solved that problem after I found some irregularities in one of my online bank accounts.

One time I ran my computer's wireless wifi detector and I found several unsecured accounts near my house. I didn't need to piggyback on them, but I was concerned about how easy it would have been to do it, even without wardriving tools. I think everybody needs to make sure they have securely encrypted wireless accounts, especially with so many sophisticated hackers out there.

By AnswerMan — On Jan 26, 2015

A friend told me about wireless wardriving years ago when I was just out of college and couldn't afford my own Internet service. He showed me where to find some basic wardriving tools and the best place in town to search for unsecured wifi modems. Our best bets were large apartment complexes, because there were so many people living in a very contained space. There were also enough parking lots to stay in while we did our surfing and gaming.

I really didn't think much about the ethical side of wardriving at the time, because I figured I wasn't using up that much bandwidth and I wasn't trying to hack anyone's computers or anything. I did give up the habit when Internet service prices came way down and I could afford my own secured wireless modem.

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