Unless you’ve been living on a boat or a remote island for the last few years, you might have noticed a strong increase in the number of wi-fi-connected locations sprouting up. Indeed, wi-fi access points are popping up like wild mushrooms (even in cars
!), and the fact that many of these networks remain unsecured is cause for concern.
RSA, the Security Division of EMC
has conducted a survey regarding the explosive growth of wireless access points in the world’s major financial centers.
Needless to say, the year-to-year increases are substantial. London came in first with a whopping 160 percent more access ports than in 2006. New York followed with a considerable 49 percent increase, with Paris on its heels at 44 percent.
Business-only access points have seen an even greater percentage increase as more and more enterprises strive to remain cutting-edge, embracing the convenience and affordability of wi-fi in the office. This can be seen in Britain’s staggering 180 percent leap in business wi-fi access points over last year.
Wireless security and encryption methods have been improving, and the use of wireless security measures has increased as well. But don’t get all giddy about it yet.
WEP encryption still remains the dominant form of protection for most access points despite awareness of its limitations. Nevertheless, there was still significant use of advanced encryption detected across the three major cities.
In London, 48 percent of the secured business access points utilized advanced forms of encryption, and in New York the number was 49 percent. These numbers, while promising, still show that there’s plenty of room for improvement in network security.
Even more at risk than WEP-encrypted access points are the large percentage of networks that are still configured to their default, out-of-the-box settings, which enable attackers to penetrate into the network with much greater ease.
In London, 30 percent of access points still had default settings - quite a slide backward from 22 percent last year. New York had 24 percent of its networks on default settings, and those prudent Parisians, with only 13 percent of their access points configured to default settings, put their businesses and consumers at least risk.
With the increase of public hotspots comes an increase in mobile
wi-fi users. These modern hunter-gatherers of broadband are ever on the lookout for a free connection, wherever they may be.
Mixed amongst the body of free hotspots are a significant number of unprotected business networks. Net-savvy wi-fi trawlers may yet be helping themselves to much more than a bit 'o broadband.