We investigate the transport properties of narrow quantum wires realized in disordered two-dimensional electron gases in the presence of k-linear Rashba and Dresselhaus spin–orbit interaction, and an applied in-plane magnetic field. Building on previous work (Scheid et al 2008 Phys. Rev. Lett. 101 266401), we find that in addition to the conductance, the universal conductance fluctuations also feature anisotropy with respect to the magnetic field direction. This anisotropy can be explained solely from the symmetries exhibited by the Hamiltonian as well as the relative strengths of the Rashba and Dresselhaus spin–orbit interaction and thus can be utilized to detect this ratio from purely electrical measurements.