Wireless networks almost trebled in London over the last 12 months with more, but not all organisations, realizing the importance of running secure networks.
Wi-Fi networks in London have increased by 160 per cent from 2006, out pacing the rate of increase in other financial centres such as New York (49 per cent) and Paris (44 per cent). The surge put London (7,130) ahead of New York (6,371) in the number of access points, according to a survey commissioned by RSA, the security division of infrastructure giant EMC.
Public hot spots continue to proliferate in the many places where people seek connectivity, such as coffee shops, airports and hotels. London's hot spot numbers increased from 364 to 471, an increase of 27 per cent. But the density of public access hot spots remains lower in London than in other financial hubs.
In New York the annual growth rate was 17 percent, with 15 per cent of all wireless access points located in hotshots – by far the highest percentage across the three cities. In Paris, hot spots represented 11 percent of all access points.
RSA points out that the geographically proximity of unsecured hot spots close to unsecured business networks creates additional works from workers connected to unknown (possibly rogue) wireless networks by mistake.
Looking only at business access points, London also leads, with a 180 per cent increase from 2006, compared to jumps of 57 per cent and 45 per cent in New York and Paris, respectively.
The UK's capital city experienced notable improvement in the security of wireless networks over the last year; 81 per cent of surveyed business networks used either advanced encryption or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), compared to 74 per cent in 2006.
By contrast security levels in New York and Paris improved only incrementally. The used of secure Wi-Fi networks in New York increased from 75 per cent in 2006 to 76 per cent in 2007. Meanwhile, in Paris, there was an increase of two percentage points, from 78 per cent in 2006 to 80 per cent in 2007.
The sixth annual survey by RSA concerns about the continued use of WEP, despite awareness of its manifest flaws, but use of more advanced encryption options is increasing as measured by the roll-out of 802.11i and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). In London, 48 per cent of the secured business access points had implemented advanced forms of encryption. In Paris the figure was lower, at 41 per cent, and New York slightly higher than London at 49 per cent.
"It is encouraging that almost half of all secured business access points are now using advanced forms of encryption, and we expect to see these numbers increase as awareness grows around the perils of operating inadequately secured wireless networks," said Christopher Young, VP of consumer and access solutions at RSA.
Hack out of the box
RSA's study also looked at the number of wireless networks still configured according to default, out-of-the-box settings, which make them easier to attack. In London, 30 per cent of access points still had default settings – a big slide backwards from 22 per cent recorded last year. New York fared better, with 24 per cent of access points using default settings, down from last year’s 28 per cent. Parisian businesses and consumers were least at risk, with 13 per cent of access points displaying default manufacturer settings, down from 21 per cent last year.
The study, commissioned by RSA, was carried out by an independent security researcher using 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.