Should You Broadcast Your Wi-Fi SSID or Keep it Hidden?
A question often asked is about Wi-Fi security and, in particular, whether broadcasting your Wi-Fi Service Set Identifier (SSID) is a security risk. Should you show your Wi-Fi SSID or keep it hidden? Let’s take a look.
What is an SSID?
The SSID is the name your device sees when it scans the airways for a network. If left in default mode, which you should never do, the SSID usually has the name of your network carrier or router manufacturer. If you change it, the new name will broadcast to any device in range.
The idea of an SSID is to let you know which networks are available and at what strength they are from your existing location. This setting enables you to decide better what Wi-Fi to connect to, either the one with the strongest signal or the one that allows public access. If you’re at home, you will obviously link to that one. Outside, signal strength is everything when dealing with public networks.
Your Wi-Fi router will broadcast the SSID periodically along with the channel being used and the security type. The SSID isn’t strictly necessary for wireless devices to connect to the network, but it is transmitted anyway.
Should your broadcast your Wi-Fi SSID or keep it hidden?
In theory, you would think that not broadcasting your SSID signal would make it more difficult for a hacker to access your network. Why help the hacker when you don’t need to, right?
In practice, hiding the SSID makes no difference whatsoever to the security of your network. In fact, it can create more problems than it solves. Here’s why.
Your Wi-Fi router publicizes the SSID in the beacon. However, the SSID and network information also get contained within the data packets. This process occurs so that the router knows where to send the packets when transmitted. So, stopping the SSID broadcast does not prevent transmission of your network data as the router needs it to deliver traffic between devices.
Any hacker with a simple network sniffing tool can find out your SSID in seconds, even if you are not broadcasting it. Free tools such as Aircrack, Netstumbler, Kismet, and many others will quickly find out the SSID, channel, security protocol, and other information.
By hiding your SSID, you make networking more difficult for yourself while also preventing the addition of any more security to your network.
Why should you not hide your SSID?
There are downsides to not broadcasting your SSID, mostly if you use a legacy computer. Windows 10 is pretty good at Wi-Fi networking and can hold a connection to a network regardless of whether you broadcast the SSID or not. Older versions of Windows and computers that use USB Wi-Fi adapters have trouble finding and holding networks without an SSID.
Rather than connecting to known or the strongest connection, older computers and some mobile devices would opt for a lower strength signal with an SSID broadcasted. Even though an SSID isn’t necessary to create a connection, something within their respective operating systems seemed to prefer this.
Windows XP and Windows 7 had this problem as did early versions of Android. USB wireless dongles have dropped connection on a Windows 10 computer when there is no SSID broadcasted.
While it shouldn’t be necessary to have an SSID for a stable connection, it is needed on some level, at least.
How to increase Wi-Fi security
If disabling your SSID has no impact on the security of your network, what does? How can you keep hackers and the unwanted intruders out of your Wi-Fi network? Keep reading, and you’ll see.
There are three things you need to do to secure your wireless network:
- Use WPA 2 encryption
- Use a strong network key
- Change the username and password on your Wi-Fi router
Ideally, you should instigate these three the moment you unbox your router. Most third-party routers enforce a password change when you first log in, yet some network provider routers do not. Either way, change the username from ‘admin’ and reinvent the password right away. Defaults are just that—they are the same for all produced routers of the same model and release. Also, many manufacturers use the same default for the majority of their routers.
Navigate to your router’s webpage, and you will likely find the setting under Wireless. The Personal or Enterprise setting doesn’t mean much unless you have a business class router, but the most common household option is to use WPA2/Personal.
Finally, when you change your SSID to something personal but not identifiable, change the access key or password to something strong. The more complicated you can make the password, the better, as long as you can remember it!