When we hear the phrase “US cop”, most of us probably think of a big guy hanging out in his police cruiser while stuffing his face with donuts and reading a boulevard magazine; we can thank Hollywood for that image. It is probably true that there are some of those too, but there are also some really bright people in the force.
An Iowa City police officer named David Schwindt has now invented a little USB gadget that can detect stolen gadgets by their Wi-Fi signals MAC address. The whole thing is rather simple and that is probably the beauty here. By using basic methods of publicly available data and comparing it with a database of stolen items, he’s able to not only detect that they are in range, but also in what direction they are located.
Officer Schwindt rigged a USB thumb drive with an antenna and cooked up his own software for it. Once connected to his squad car’s laptop, it is able to sniff out media access control addresses (MAC) within range and compare them to a database of stolen items.
MAC addresses are often called a burned-in address (BIA), an ethernet hardware address (EHA), or simply a “physical” address, because they are literally assigned (by the IEEE) and stamped into your network card by the company that manufactured your hardware.
Now, we all know that MAC addresses can be spoofed and often are for legitimate purposes as well as illegal. However, most people don’t think of that on their mobile gadgets as much as they do on PCs, and the L8NT gadget, as the author dubbed it, will most likely be highly effective.
The device has a range of 300 feet and a directional antenna can be attached to pinpoint specific devices located. The tool won’t be used to find the occasional stolen iPod or laptop and it won’t give the police access to personal or private information such as many other surveillance tools. It is more designed to find devices from larger series of break-ins and more bring down organized criminals that work in this field.
There will no doubt be cases where the officer’s L8NT system won’t work, but David Schwindt still has big plans for his device. It was developed as a proof of concept and he already got a provisional patent on the device and he is planning to apply for a full patent shortly.
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