‘Rich forwarded me the RSA Wireless Security Survey for 2008 that was just released this morning. The cities that they scanned were Paris, London & New York.

Public hotspots — designed to allow anyone with a wireless device to access the Internet on a pay-as-you-go or pre-paid basis — continue to grow in prevalence across all three cities, and in each case the growth of available hotspots accelerated significantly in 2008 compared with development in the preceding year. Paris saw the largest jump, with numbers increasing by over 300% and comfortably outstripping the comparative growth in New York City (44%) and London (34%). However, New York City remains the leader in regards to its concentration of hotspots. At 15%, New York City is well clear of London where just 5% of wireless access points were found to be hotspots. In Paris, hotspots represented 6% of all the access points we located.

It is interesting to compare the year over year changes, and to see what kind of encryption is being employed. It’s certainly worth a review, and a little vendor hype is to be expected, but there are two things that worry me about survey’s like this. First, the public perception that if the connection is encrypted that all is safe. Unless there is a shred secret or some other type of protection, most of these systems are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Second is that the rogue hotspots are difficult to detect, which is the de-facto method for wireless man-in-the-middle.

If your an IT manager, you have very little way to assess risk from this report, so just assume wireless hotspots are compromised and that you need to deploy a system to thwart these attacks on externally accessible corporate WiFi. And as an end users, if you think you are safe just because you have established an encrypted connection at Starbucks, think again. The guy in the tiny corner apartment overlooking the store makes his living by sniffing personal information and passwords.