Most European enterprises are neglecting their wireless LAN security, with an alarming number using only the most basic security protection for their wireless networks.

So discovered a Motorola survey carried out by Vanson Bourne, which found that over half (65 percent) of large European companies use the same security measures for both wired and wireless networks, when in reality, they need different handling. The survey questioned 400 IT directors at companies with over 1,000 employees across the UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain and Nordics.

The survey found that 47 percent of large enterprises are still using WEP or WPA encryption, which should be the very least measure of security that they have in place. And only 30 percent said they were using any form of wireless intrusion prevention system.

This mirrors the seventh annual Wireless Security Survey from RSA last October, which also found that too many organisations were relying on primitive security protection when it came to wireless networks. London was especially badly, with 20 percent of wireless access points unencrypted and half of the remainder relying on poor security technology.

"Companies would be naive to use the same security mechanisms for wired as well as wireless LANs," said Amit Sinha, fellow and chief technologist of Motorola Enterprise Wireless LAN in a statement. "It's surprising that companies today are not using wireless encryption standards like WPA2."

"In a perfect world, we would see 100 percent WPA2 adoption," Sinha told Techworld. "But in reality, nearly half wireless networks continue to be unsecured. Many enterprises still do not realise how vulnerable their wireless networks are," he explained. "We have to enhance the level of awareness around wireless security."

Sinha is alarmed that many enterprises are still not taking into account the difference between securing a wired network and a wireless one. "Clearly a wireless network is involved at the edge of the network," said Sinha. "The wired network for example is normally located within a secured office building, and therefore access is hard as people first have to pass through physical barriers (locked doors etc)," he said. "However, the wireless network broadcasts beyond the perimeter, with transmissions leaking over the perimeter, and this requires different thinking."

He pointed out that a wired network often relies on a centralised firewall, or a 'central choke point' for security. "But with wireless networks, the attack surface has increased," he said. "We cannot use a firewall mentality anymore. The network is following the user, and the notion of clearly defined network has gone."

The survey also found 56 percent of organisations believe that many employees flout security measures by sending corporate data over these unsecured wireless networks rather than using some form of VPN.

"How do you prevent people installing an unauthorised router on a secured wired network? How do you make sure that your employees are not talking to the unsecured wireless network of the coffee shop across the street? Monitoring the air space is the only answer," Sinha said.

Of course, Motorola touts the capabilities of its Motorola Wireless LAN system to help in this regard as it offers a 24x7 wireless intrusion prevention system that includes active monitoring.

The survey did have some reassuring findings though, with 79 percent of organisations promoting good security practise by using IT policies across the organisation. However, the research also found that 51 percent of companies have no way of enforcing these policies across their network.

"Enterprises are not realising they can automate their tools to enforce their wireless policy," said Sinha. 58 percent of companies are apparently spending over two hours every week, and in 24 percent of cases over 8 hours a week searching for 'rogue' access points.

"That said, enterprises realise they have to move WPA2 security but how can you ensure everyone is using it? Just issuing edicts does not make it so," said Sinha. "What happens if someone misconfigures an access point on one floor for example? These misconfigurations are a big part of wireless security vulnerability."

"The right way to enforce wireless security is to define the policy and then audit against that policy on a 24x7 basis," he concluded. "Unless you are monitoring, you will never find out if someone is using the coffee shop network, or that a router has slipped back or defaulted to WPA encryption. You still need good firewalls, and strong VPNs, but nowadays businesses need WPA2 encryption, policy enforcement and monitoring."