Wardriving is Fun & Insightful
If you want to learn more about home networking and how consumers use it, the easiest thing in the world to do is just go wardriving. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to do it. And it is fun because you feel a little bit like a combination of James Bond, Inspector Clouseau, and a huge dork. But if you are a person in the home networking or wireless business, you have got to just go do it.
A month or so ago I did a simple wardrive, it only took a couple of extra minutes. To do this I downloaded NetStumbler, a great easy-to-use shareware app that gives you a rich amount of data on networks that it sees. With NetStumbler, you can see SSIDs, encryption, channel, MAC address, signal-to-noise ratio data, and a whole lot more. Loaded NetStumbler on my laptop, threw the laptop on the passenger seat, and started slowly driving around.
If you know Seattle, you may be interested in my route. I tried to capture a cross-section of residential & commercial, young & old neighborhoods, and more. First I drove around the top of Queen Anne (family residential district), down into Fremont’s commercial district (mixed commercial/residential), up to 45th (commercial), down the Ave (residential/commercial), around a couple of college blocks (University of Washington—student apartments) & to the office. A mixed run of households, businesses, incomes, lifestyles at various speeds in the car, so not all networks seen for sure.
What I Found
While not in the least bit statistically significant or identifiable from a marketing purest’s point of view, I found some very interesting things:
• Of 386 networks, 164 or 42% did not have encryption turned on.
• In the high brow residential Queen Anne district, people tend more to name their networks by personal name, street address, etc. And there was a higher % with encryption turned off.
• In the college-aged University district, many more “GoofOff” ssids, with higher % of encryption turned on.
• There was a high correlation between encryption off & use of default router name. In other words, those who had encryption turned off were much more likely to have not changed their default router name. This supports my conclusion that in fact whether or not someone has encryption on or off & the state of their router ssid name is a good proxy for their ability to support themselves at a basic level within the home.
• (Yes, I did park my car in front of a house that had encryption off and “linksys” as the router name. No, I didn’t enter in the default username & password to access their router settings.)
• How people name their networks is entirely predictable. See the chart below:
Here's a screenshot of what NetStumbler looks like, and what level of detail you can see. What's really cool is that it detects routers really quickly, makes a sound every time it does--makes it easy for your wardrive to be a one-person operation.