Lately, the trades have made much hay about "wireless security" in the sense of it not existing, or being poorly implemented. So, on a whim, I grabbed my iBook, fired up iStumbler, and went for a drive
From my testing, iStumbler cannot detect true AirPort nodes (the kind made by Apple) which have been closed - i.e.: they do not broadcast their ssid, but can detect any base station which does an announce (forgive me if I am hazy on the details - I am indeed hazy on the details of 802.11).
What I discovered was interesting. I live in a small town of about 20,000 souls whose primary industries are a liberal arts uni and a somewhat famous Shakespeare Festival. Over the course of about fifteen minutes of driving primarily in the business district, I picked up twenty distinct signals. Of these:
Four were public access points at places such as cafes and bars (yup, for some reason someone thought drunk people and laptops would be a good idea).
Seven APs appeared to be set to default configurations - such as SSID=linksys, channel=6, web=off, etc.
Eighteen of the APs did not have wep on. Yes, wep is trivial to crack, but at least it's better than no wep.
Of those APs with non-default names, most were named such that it was obvious that they weren't intended for public consumption - ssids such as "house" come to mind in this case.
So, my little non-scientific survey of my area suggests that for once the pundits in the press aren't so far from the truth. Based upon my observations, it would be trivial to see the contents of several home and office networks, and undoubtedly to sniff traffic on same - or worse.
To my mind, this is reminescent of the hordes of people who went to the bargain shack to buy brand-new peecees, but were never told anything about Windows Update, or why it's so darn important to use. My contention has been all along that it's not so much that Microsoft writes a crappy OS (although they do), but that they have failed utterly in educating consumers on the reality of networked computers. Oh well. I now make a living cleaning the gunk out of the hard drives of these users. Undoubtedly, I'll soon be called in to secure their networks and uninstall the rootkits that the neighborhood s'kiddie installed on their computers "just to see if it could be done."
A final disclaimer: while I ran a scan to detect ssid broadcasts, I made no attempt to connect to any available network not clearly identified with a business which advertised such a service, nor would I. I don't wear that color hat.