Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scanning the wireless activity in my neighbourhood

In a previous post I reported that when I did a survey of wireless access points near where I live about 2.5 years ago, I found that 7% of wireless access points were unencrypted. Recently I needed to check what wifi signals were active in my house in order to diagnose some signal interference problems and while I was at it I decided to do a quick check to see if the wireless landscape of my neighbourhood had changed significantly in the last few years.

This time, I did my survey using the wigle.net application on Android (2.5 years ago I was using a Symbian based Nokia phone - which is itself and indication of how things have changed in the meantime). I didn't walk quite as far this time, so the survey was less complete, but I was dissapointed to find that the percentage of unencrypted wireless access points in the most recent survey dropped down to 2.7% of the total. I looked at the data to see what had happened to the open wifi points and they were broken down into 3 roughly equal groups:
  • The access point was still active and open
  • The access point was still active, but was now secured with some form of encryption
  • The access point was no longer active
I am not sure why people are becoming less willing to leave their wifi access point unencrypted, but from chatting to friends I think that people are not really concerned by the impact that casual users might have upon their own internet browsing. In fact they are more concerned about the fact that they could get into trouble if a passer-by used their wireless access point to engage in some illegal activity on the internet.

In the previous survey, well over half of the access points had a SSID of the form eircom_XXXX which is probably a clue that they got their wireless access point from eircom and never bothered to change the default SSID. Since eircom was originally the monopoly supplier in Ireland this showed me how many people like to stick with the default choice.

However, in the more recent survey I noticed that SSIDs of the form UPCXXXXX seemed to becoming more popular which probably indicates that many people are opting to switch to the cable modem service from UPC - although it also indicates that many still don't bother changing the default settings on their router. The following chart shows that based upon my totally unscientific survey UPC seem to have overtaken Eircom in my local market. Most of the people in the "other" category will have changed their SSID from it's default, so I can't guess what internet provider they might be using.

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