Iowa City officer develops software to find stolen Wi-Fi-enabled devices

L8NT can be used on squad car laptop

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IOWA CITY — Next month, an Iowa City police officer will introduce technology at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Chicago that could help law enforcement recover Wi-Fi-capable devices.

David Schwindt said his software product, L8NT — which stands for latent analysis of 802.11 network traffic — won’t be used to find the occasional stolen iPod or laptop, but instead will help police solve bigger cases.

“I foresee law enforcement using L8NT software to solve higher-level crimes,” said Schwindt, a 14-year veteran of the department.

“If your cellphone is stolen from a bar ... that’s not necessarily what L8NT is intended for. But, if your home is burglarized and your cellphone is stolen, now, as a police chief, I’m interested” in that technology.

Schwindt’s product — which is software that operates through a thumb drive sized-antenna that plugs into a squad car laptop’s USB por — works by searching for media control access, or MAC, addresses from a database of known stolen items.

MAC addresses are unique to individual Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones and gaming systems.

While MAC packets can include personal or private information, Schwindt said police using L8NT won’t have access to that information.

“The rest of the packet is ignored,” he said. “We have no idea who it is registered to.”

Schwindt said the idea for the product came to him after taking a Small Office/Home Office investigations class. The class discussed child porn investigations and doing a “wireless audit” of a suspect’s residence to look for devices that would hold evidence and illegal material. The class taught investigators to scan for MAC addresses.

Schwindt said he applied that concept to his product, which was designed by a developer he worked with.

Law enforcement officers using L8NT would plug the USB device into their in-car laptops. The device would scan MAC addresses, looking for matches to known stolen items. The device has a range of about 300 feet and can be attached to a directional antenna to allow police to determine where the signal is coming from and obtain a warrant.

There are limitations, however. It won’t detect devices that are powered down or with disabled Wi-Fi.

In addition, owners of Wi-Fi-enabled devices would need to know how to identify their MAC address.

While Schwindt was able to research the legal aspects of what he was trying to do, he said he sought help on the business side. To that end, he has become a member of the Entrepreneurial Development Center in Cedar Rapids and has received assistance from Iowa City Area Development.

“I just had no experience in the business world,” he said.

Schwindt has developed a proof of concept and has a provisional patent on his product and will apply for a full patent this fall.

He also has sent out surveys to law enforcement agencies to gauge interest in his product.

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