A War Driving Experience - Part II: Comparing the Results

By Eric Geier

March 17, 2006

War driving is fun, but it also helps us understand common access point configuration settings.

In Part I of this tutorial, I explained how I performed a war drive to collect useful information, such as the percentages of homes and businesses that use encryption, hidden SSIDs, and default RF channels. For example, many access points are tuned to the factory default channel. This can limit the capacity of your WLANs if residing in areas with many separate networks, such as apartment complexes and business parks. As a result, be certain to analyze the local radio environment and possibly set your access points to non-default channels.

In this part of the tutorial, we’ll take a look at the results of the  WorldWide WarDrive (WWWD), an organization with the goal of promoting a more secure wireless networking community, and compare the WWWD results to the war drive I described in Part I. This will provide a good idea of the trends related to Wi-Fi network configurations and security.

For four years, with help from thousands of people ranging from security professionals to enthusiasts driving around and capturing information from hundreds of thousands of wireless access points and routers, the WWWD collected configuration information of wireless LANs. The WWWD is no longer collecting data, but the statistics from their organized war drives are still posted on their website. They believe all the hard work paid off and their mission, to create awareness of security issues, was completed.

The figure below shows the results of my war drive, with homes and businesses combined, and the results of WorldWide WarDrives in 2002, 2003, and 2004. This provides a good comparison and shows the changes in the behavior of the administrators of wireless networks in the past several years. Of course, I didn’t capture as much data as the thousands of people did for the WWWD’s. Nevertheless, I believe that I came up with some relevant results.

Thumbnail of Wardrive 2 image
Comparison of Wireless LAN Statistics (click for full image)

Despite a few hiccups along the way, all the issues discussed in Part I have improved during the last several years. For example, as you can see, the most significant jump was between 2004 and 2006 for the percentage of wireless networks using encryption. In these years, the use of encryption doubled. Users and administrators are getting the right idea.

Encryption is certainly important, but remember to use not just one security mechanism, but many. For every new security method, there will be people poised to break it. Implementing security methods in layers provides a higher level of security. In addition to using encryption, consider not broadcasting the service set identifier (SSID). Also, the use of VPNs can offer a higher degree of security, even when operating wireless devices from public networks.

The decrease of out of the box setups without configuration changes and the use of fewer default SSID settings, as shown in my data, also indicate a move in the right direction. This means that users are getting more comfortable with configuring wireless LANs, and the networks have higher resulting levels of security and performance!

Eric Geier is a computing and wireless networking author and consultant. He’s employed with Wireless-Nets, Ltd., a consulting firm focusing on the implementation of wireless mobile solutions and training. Eric is also an author and contributor of several books and eLearning (CBT) courses.



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