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Study Finds Wireless APs Open to Attack

AirTight, a provider of Wi-Fi security services, recently scanned 3,632 access points and nearly 550 clients in different financial centers and found that half of them were either open -- unprotected -- or used Wired Equivalent Privacy encryption.

The test sites were in New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., San Francisco and London.

For those who dismiss the issue as one of rogue access points or isolated consumer WPAs caught up in AirTight's dragnet, 39 percent of so-called threat-posing APs could be classified as enterprise-grade. In many cases, AirTight reported, enterprise-grade APs that could have been configured to support the more robust Wi-Fi Protected Access or WPA2 protocols were instead protected with WEP. AirTight was also careful to distinguish between known or popular open APs -- such as those associated with hotspots -- and enterprise-grade implementations.

In any given financial district, AirTight reported, 13 percent of mobile Wi-Fi clients are configured to operate in ad hoc mode, which makes them vulnerable to wi-phishing or "honeypotting" attacks, researchers pointed out.

AirTight found that 61 percent of open access points were consumer- or small-officegrade devices. It doesn't strictly associate the use of these devices with home or office scenarios; however, in some cases, these devices are deployed by impatient or reckless employees who, frustrated by the slowness of in-house Wi-Fi rollouts, plug rogue (typically consumer) APs into enterprise networks to perpetrate "back-door" schemes, the study found.

Also, AirTight reported, some enterprises seem to assume that simply obfuscating an AP's service set identifier (SSID) is protection enough: 79 of open APs with hidden SSIDs were powered by enterprise-grade devices.

The AirTight report revealed a disappointingly low rate of WPA2 adoption -- just 11 percent, on average. Compare that with WEP, which is used by fully one-third of Wi-Fi networks in the surveyed financial districts. This is in spite of the fact that WEP cracking can take less than five minutes, AirTight researchers cautioned.

Moreover, AirTight noted, just under a third -- 32 percent -- of Wi-Fi networks use WPA, which is also known to be vulnerable.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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