Wireless Adoption Leaps, Advanced Encryption Gains Ground

June 15, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Data-driven | Personalization | Retail & E-Commerce

The number of wireless access points – including public hotspots and business networks – continues to rise at an explosive rate in the world’s major financial centers, according to research commissioned by RSA, the Security Division of EMC.

The largest year-over-year increase in wireless adoption was in London, where there are 160 percent more wireless access points (APs) than in 2006.

The increase in New York was a substantial 49 percent – and in Paris, 44 percent.

Looking purely at business access points, London also leads, with a 180 percent leap over last year, compared with increases of 57 percent and 45 percent New York and Paris, respectively.

The survey’s findings also indicate that businesses are beginning to take to heart the need for stronger security in wireless networks.

As measured by the use of either advanced encryption or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), London experienced notable improvement in the security of business wireless networks over the last year. In contrast, security levels in New York and Paris improved only incrementally.

Over the past year, use of wireless security measures in business networks increased, as follows:

  • In London – from 74 percent in 2006 to 81 percent in 2007
  • In New York – from 75 percent in 2006 to 76 percent in 2007
  • In Paris – from 78 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2007

Across all three cities there was significant use of advanced encryption, as measured by the implementation of 802.11i and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA):

  • In London, 48 percent of the secured business access points detected had implemented advanced forms of encryption.
  • In Paris the figure was lower, at 41 percent, and New York was comparable to London at 49 percent.

Still, as wireless access continues to become more pervasive, one-quarter to one-fifth of business wireless networks in three of the world’s most important business centers remain wide open.

The survey also measured the number of wireless networks still configured according to default, out-of-the-box settings – which can make it easier for attackers to find ways to penetrate a network:

  • In London, 30 percent of access points still had default settings – a big slide backward from 22 percent last year.
  • New York improved slightly, with 24 percent of access points using default settings, down from last year’s 28 percent.
  • Parisian businesses and consumers are least at risk, with 13 percent of access points displaying default manufacturer settings, down from 21 percent last year.

Public hotspots continue to proliferate in the many places where people seek connectivity, such as coffee shops, airports and hotels:

  • Last year’s research detected 364 wireless hotspots on the London route; by 2007 this figure had risen to 461 – a 27 percent increase.
  • In New York the annual growth rate was 17 percent, and 15 percent of all wireless access points were found to be hotspots – by far the highest percentage across the three cities.
  • In Paris, hotspots increased 37 percent and represented 11 percent of all access points.

The survey was carried out with a laptop computer and commercial software. The laptop and software scanner detected both broadcasting and non-broadcasting APs in the 802.11a, b and g frequencies. When devices were detected the software identified the channel, service set identifier (SSID) and other network information before disconnecting from that source. The software had no way of capturing or retaining the data content of sessions detected.

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