Graffiti: a societal blight, and how it can be dangerous to IT.

Graffiti is one of those things that I see so often I am pretty much inured to it. It disgusts me that our society has let it become such a pervasive blight in most cities that no one really cares about it anymore.

Personally I think the punishment for graffiti should be to have whatever garbage you were painting or writing branded on your face (if they only hold the brand for 2 seconds the resulting mark will only last for about 10 years, five seconds is good for a lifetime). But that’s just me.

The area of town where my office is located is rife with graffiti (yeah I work in the “hood”), and on most days there is a police department graffiti unit somewhere in the neighborhood (got a bit of a gang problem in that area as well). I see so much of the crap that I tend not to really notice it much.

Until this morning as I was kind of wandering aimlessly around our parking lot on my cell phone. Among the other random (I can’t read that crap) squiggles interspersed around the lot I found something different.

Here is a drawing of what I found (it was silver marker on gray concrete so I couldn’t get it to show up right on the camera I keep at the office):


At first I thought it was just kind of interesting, and then the realization of what I was looking at hit me: it’s not graffiti, it’s modified warchalking.

Warchalking has pretty much died out, so I’m not too sure about how many people even know what it is, but if you don’t, you need to read up on it. Let’s examine this image:

modified warchalk graffiti

modified warchalk graffiti

1.  This is the warchalking symbol for a closed node. I know this because…

2.  This is (or rather was) the SSID for the wireless access setup in the building that the symbol was in front of.

3.  This is an interesting modification. I believe that the symbol in the small circle is noting that the signal is 802.11g, and the key shape is denoting that the node is password protected.

4.  Traditionally the warchalking symbol will have a “W” in it if the node is WEP protected, I can only assume that this is a modification of that to show that the network is WPA2 encrypted.

After realizing this I was both furious and amused, as we apparently have a hood denizen that is both a petty criminal (hence the vandalism), and also believes he is some sort of computer criminal. I know that nothing was compromised, but I changed all of my wireless settings just in case.

I also contacted the graffiti abatement unit at the police station and explained what I had in the parking lot. They sent an investigator out to photograph the graffiti, and I explained to him what it meant, and he took notes. Hopefully when they catch the little punk they’ll confiscate his laptop and charge him with some cyber terrorism related crime.

The lesson I’ve learned is this – keeping an eye on the external environment can be an important bit of security.



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