Wi-Fi or wireless networks are great for home and small business users alike, allowing you to use multiple internet capable devices on one shared connection.
But wireless networks can be vulnerable to eavesdropping, hacking and freeloaders if you don’t use proper protection when you set up a network.
Securing your wireless network is one of our computer security Tight 5 messages for Cyber Security Awareness Week 2013.
What are the risks?
For CSAW 2013, NetSafe has chosen to theme the hump day in our event as ‘Wireless Wednesday’, one day set aside to publicise the issues around Wi-Fi security for home and small business internet users.
If you leave your internet connection open or unsecured, neighbours may be able to surf for free and use your data allowance (costing you money) or download illegal content on your account (perhaps committing a crime).
There are related concerns to mention about using public Wi-Fi hotspots and we detail what you shouldn’t do over free Wi-FI here.
Taking the temperature in NZ
To highlight the scale of the problem in New Zealand we took inspiration from a recent project undertaken in London and Sydney by CSAW sponsor and security specialists Sophos.
James Lyne in the UK and Paul Ducklin in Australia went wardriving by bike and by foot and came up with some numbers around the security of wireless access points in both countries.
As Paul stated in his video on the issue, “we found that while things weren’t exactly terrible, they weren’t 100% rosy either.”
What is wardriving and is it legal?
Wardriving – the process of looking for, exploring and mapping Wi-Fi network points and their security settings – has been around for a long time and many security experts, and the general public especially, may consider it a niche hobby to say the least.
But the process can be used to gently examine the security landscape when it comes to Wi-Fi across New Zealand and provides the opportunity to pit three competitive cities against each other in a ‘Wardrive League.’
For those people reading this and getting concerned about data privacy and network security we’ve detailed our approach to this significant issue later in the document.
Wardriving in style
We must say thanks to the Sophos experts for their assistance in getting this project off the ground. But whilst they were great on the technology side of things, we felt we could improve on the stylistic approach to wardriving NZ.
For Cyber Security Awareness Week we’ve tried to create 5 short videos on the Tight 5 themes that will hopefully get people talking about ways to protect themselves online. What better way to approach Wireless Wednesday than to dress up as 1980s inspired cops, hire a gullwing car and take to the streets of Auckland to scope out the problem?
You can watch the final light-hearted video below and read on for our evaluation of wireless security in three suburbs picked to represent Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.
The Wardrive League results
We selected three random, self-contained suburbs to gather the data for comparison. Our aim was to drive the streets and measure the number of wireless routers picked up and the various encryption types they were secured with. These are the contenders:
- Pt Chevalier, Auckland
A high decile, residential waterfront suburb 5kms from the CBD
- Newtown, Wellington
A diverse, mid decile mixed business/residential inner city suburb
- North Dunedin
The academic centre of the city with large numbers of student flats and official open access points for University faculty and learners.
And the winner is…
We’ve put the results into table format and have included maps highlighting the various router encryption types in all 3 cities. We highly recommend you download the full report:
- Read the full Wireless Wednesday Wardriving Research document (PDF, 3.6MB) – we detail the comparative data for 3 NZ suburbs and the varied encryption rates
- Read about Sophos going ‘warbiking’ in London
- Watch Paul Ducklin’s Busting Wireless Security Myths video: