WIFI Signal Catchers Explained
Inherent Danger of Cell Phone Based Communication
Cell phones have become basic and ubiquitous communications tools- now used not only to make calls, but also for sending text messages, accessing the Internet, and documenting the world. Unfortunately, these devices were not designed for security and privacy.
In today’s world, they do a poor job of protecting your communications whilst also exposing you to new kinds of surveillance risks, chief among them location tracking. In fact, most cell phones give their users much less control than a laptop or PC would since it is harder to replace operating systems, harder to replace or remove undesirable software, harder to investigate malware attacks, and even harder to prevent parties such as your cell phone operator monitoring your device usage.
Even worse, the device manufacturer may declare it obsolete and cease providing software updates, including vital security fixes and when this happens, you may not have anywhere else to turn to for solutions.
While some of these problems can be addressed with the use of third-party privacy software, most of them cannot. Some of the ways in which our cell phones can aid in surveillance as well as undermine our privacy include mobile signal tracking and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tracking, the latter of which we delve into here by also looking at how a Wi-Fi Signal Catcher works.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Tracking
Besides the mobile network interface, modern cell phones have other radio transmitters such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. These signals are usually transmitted using less power than mobile signals and can normally be received within short ranges (such as within the same building or the same room), although these signals can at times be detected from unexpectedly long distances using sophisticated antenna.
Both these kinds of wireless signals come with a unique serial number for the device commonly referred to as a MAC address and which can be seen by anyone who can receive the signal.
This address is chosen by the manufacturer at the time the device is made and cannot be changed using the software that accompanies smartphones. Unfortunately, these MAC addresses can be observed in wireless signals, even when the cell phone is not actively transmitting any data or is not actively connected to a particular wireless network.
Whenever Wi-Fi is turned on on a typical mobile phone, the device transmits occasional signals, including the MAC address, thus letting others nearby know that it is present. This has been used mostly in commercial tracking applications, for example to let retail store owners determine statistics about how often customers visit their shop and how long they spend in it.
Compared to GSM monitoring, these forms of tracking are not as useful for government surveillance because they work best at short distances and require prior observation or knowledge to determine what MAC address is built into a particular person’s device. However, such tracking can still be a highly accurate way of telling when a person leaves or enters a building.
Wi-Fi Signal Catcher
The term Wi-Fi generally denotes a device that can remotely connect to wireless networks using RF signals. The vast majority of tablets, PCs, laptops, and cell phones now come with built in Wi-Fi catchers which constantly scan for available ‘hot spots’ or Wi-Fi networks.
However, Wi-Fi signal catchers also come as USB devices that can be attached to your device. Some of the criteria upon which the effectiveness and functionality of a Wi-Fi signal catcher is determined include:
The range of a Wi-Fi signal catcher will determine how close to a hot spot you must be in order to connect to it. Naturally, the greater its range, the more convenient it will be.
Similarly, the nearer you are to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the more stable and stronger the signal. It, therefore, follows that proximity will influence the degree to which a Wi-Fi signal catcher is prone to interference from other devices that are also operating using RF signals.
Wi-Fi signal catchers come in two types i.e. integrated and stand-alone- the latter can be attached to a key-chain and kept separate from your device. The advantage of using a stand-alone Wi-Fi catcher is that you do not have to boot your computer in order to check for hot spots.
All you have to do is simply check the LED display on the catcher. Integrated versions typically function whether or not the laptop or PC is on by scanning for hot spots and causing the wireless light to light up when one is identified- all this while in momentary mode.
Certain devices are known to interfere with the functionality of Wi-Fi catchers, causing an existing connection to drop out or making it difficult to establish a connection to a wireless network. Such devices with potential for interference include Bluetooth equipment, microwave ovens, AV senders, cordless phones etc.
A Wi-Fi signal catcher is specifically that part of the device tasked with scanning for available networks and is distinct from other components which connect the computer and transfer data between it and the router.
Because integrated catchers are connected to the rest of the device, they typically require some sort of configuration in stark contrast to stand-alone varieties that neither have any set up or configuration- they simply scan for hot spots and indicate when they are found.