Survey: 1 in 4 WLANs Unsecured

RSA survey finds more WLANs, but not much security

Up to 25 percent of business wireless LANs don't encrypt their traffic -- and that's only if you count the much-maligned Wireless Equivalency Protocol (WEP) as security, according to a new survey that will be released today by RSA Security.

"One of four business networks are not providing security at all," says Toffer Winslow, vice president of product management for encryption company RSA, the security division of EMC. "WEP today doesn't really constitute security, but we're being charitable counting it as 'secure.'"

RSA focused its study on three cities -- London, New York, and Paris. The study found major growth. In London, the number of wireless APs grew by 160 percent from last year, in New York by 49 percent, and in Paris by 44 percent.

Much of that growth came from the business side. "Business access points are growing more than hotspots," Winslow says.

The good news is that the number of vulnerable WLANs has dropped from last year. The figures in London went from 26 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2007; New York dropped from 25 percent to 24 percent, and Paris dropped from 22 percent to 20 percent.

"But in absolute numbers, there are more unsecured business networks out there than before, because there's a high underlying growth," RSA's Winslow says.

Winslow was disturbed that many of these businesses don't bother to change the default administrative user name and password on their wireless equipment. "They don't go in and change those settings, so it's reasonable for a hacker to do a sniffer test and see if he can use the default settings," he says. "In London, 30 percent of all businesses and consumer WLANs were using default settings."

What about advanced encryption, such as WPA and 802.11i? In New York, 49 percent of business APs were implementing such advanced encryption. About 48 percent use these technologies in London, and 41 percent in Paris.

The RSA report points out that users could easily connect to an unsecured business WLAN rather than a wireless hotspot -- either on purpose or accidentally -- opening the organization up to serious risks such as data theft, identity theft, or attacks such as denial of service.

RSA recommends that when mobile users must connect via a hotspot, they should use their corporate VPN connection and WEP or other advanced encryption, as well as strong authentication. He says RSA has a similar policy, so that when he jumps on the corporate WLAN while he's in a meeting, for instance, he uses a VPN link and SecureID for authentication.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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  • World Cellular Information Service (WCIS)