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It’s the biggest dilemma of our age.

I’m not talking about climate change, or melting ice-caps, or even Cecil the lion. I’m talking about how long you should wait before it’s socially acceptable to ask for the Wi-Fi password when visiting a friends’s house.

Some say 30 minutes. Some say 1 hour. Some say never. Microsoft, however, says “why ask?”.

Yes, I am talking about Wi-Fi Sense – a little known (and controversial) feature of Windows 10 that lets you use the Wi-Fi networks of your friends and contacts, without even having to ask. Here’s how it works.

Meet Wi-Fi Sense

At its most fundamental level, Wi-Fi Sense allows people with compatible laptops and mobile devices to connect to the Wi-Fi networks of their friends, without actually having to know their Wi-Fi password.

By linking your Windows 10 device with your Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), Skype and Facebook accounts, you thus grant them access to your network. It’s reciprocal, too. Friends with Wi-Fi Sense activated likewise grant you access to their own home Wi-Fi network.

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On Windows Phone 8.1, it does a little bit more, and can automatically connect you to open Wi-Fi networks, and even accept terms and conditions on your behalf. It’s part of a larger stable of “Sense” services, including Battery Sense and Storage Sense.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? But despite that, people are panicked, and eagerly deactivating it on their devices. Why, and should you do the same?

What’s The Controversy?

Despite being on Windows Phone 8.1 for a while 5 Cool Things You Can Now Do With Windows Phone 8.1 5 Cool Things You Can Now Do With Windows Phone 8.1 Windows Phone 8.1 offers new tools to help manage your digital and offline life. Get the most out of Windows Phone with our tips. Read More , the inclusion of Wi-Fi Sense has been surprisingly controversial, with many column inches in the technology press being dedicated to it.

The criticism mostly comes from the surreptitious way in which it was enabled on Windows 10 devices. It was one of the (highly criticized) default settings on Windows 10. If you recently upgraded, and without thinking pressed “next”, you probably have it activated. Although, that’s also been the case on Windows Phone 8.1 for a long while, and nobody’s complained about it.

Wi-FiSense-WindowsPhone-Enrol

But a fair share of condemnation has come from the way in which it gives everyone – absolutely everyone – you know access to you home network.

Wi-Fi Sense doesn’t allow you to select which friends you share your network details with. This isn’t too much of a problem if you’ve got a limited friends list that consists exclusively of your nearest and dearest. But that’s not how the majority of people use social media.

For the majority of us, our friends list is more haphazard Facebook Friend Requests: Unwritten Rules & Hidden Settings [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook Friend Requests: Unwritten Rules & Hidden Settings [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook is all about connecting with other people and making friends. Yet friend requests are delicate and can quickly get you in trouble with Facebook. While you probably won't get banned for inappropriate friend requests,... Read More , consists of former colleagues, old flames, people they met down the pub, passing acquaintances and strangers they’ve struck up a conversation with online. Do you want to give them access to your network?

Especially when you consider that there’s no way to moderate what they do on your network. There’s no way, for example, to prevent them from downloading illegal or pirated material within Wi-Fi sense. You’ll have to implement your own network-level filtering system with something like OpenDNS OpenDNS Works As A Great Free Web Content Filtering Solution OpenDNS Works As A Great Free Web Content Filtering Solution Read More .

But it’s also worth noting that some feel the risks surrounding Wi-Fi Sense have been very much overhyped.

Are The Risks Overblown?

Probably. Wi-Fi Sense has been, quite dishonestly in my view, presented as something that’s been foisted upon people, and will give near-strangers unrestricted access to your home network.

Firstly, we should probably stress that Wi-Fi Sense is only intended for home users. Corporate users – who routinely deal with sensitive and privileged information – can turn off Wi-Fi Sense with Group Policy, and during the enrollment phase. It also doesn’t work with networks using the 802.11X authentication standard, which are standard enterprise fare.

So, the chance of Wi-Fi Sense being the cause of the next great big data breech Store You Shop At Get Hacked? Here's What To Do Store You Shop At Get Hacked? Here's What To Do Read More is slim indeed.

Moreover, if you want to definitively prevent a hotspot from being shared, you can also rename its SSID How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure Default router settings put your network at risk, allowing freeloading strangers to squeeze nadwidth and potentially commit crimes. Use our summary to configure your standard router settings to prevent unauthorized access to your network. Read More to end with “_optout”. It’s as easy as that.

Surprisingly, Wi-Fi Sense isn’t that good of an attack vector, as it severely limits what someone connected to your network can do. It only grants access to the Internet. You wouldn’t, for example, be able to access a file or print server, or attack any other hosts on the network with hacking tools How To Test Your Home Network Security With Free Hacking Tools How To Test Your Home Network Security With Free Hacking Tools No system can be entirely "hack proof" but browser security tests and network safeguards can make your set-up more robust. Use these free tools to identify "weak spots" in your home network. Read More like Metasploit.

There’s an added layer of security when it comes to how the Wi-Fi password is shared. Rather than sending it to the devices in a plaintext form, where it can then be intercepted, decoded and used on another device, it’s sent in an encrypted form. This means that it can only work under the tight restrictions set by Wi-Fi Sense.

How Can I Find Out For Myself?

Whether you want to turn Wi-Fi Sense off is entirely up to you. There are some advantages, like not having to mess around with Wi-Fi codes whenever a friend pays you a visit. But there are some privacy and security concerns.

If you’re on Windows Phone 8.1, turning it off is simply a matter of tapping Settings > Wi-Fi Settings > Wi-Fi Sense, and then sliding it into the off position.

muo-wp81-surprises-datasense

On Windows 10, click All Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi Settings, and uncheck everything under For networks I select, share them with my….

muo-security-windows10-wifisense-off

If you wish to turn of Wi-Fi Sense completely, and not access the hotspots shared by your friends, unselect Connect to suggested open hotspots and Connect to networks shared by my contacts.

muo-security-windows10-wifisense-share

Would You Use It?

Wi-Fi Sense is a controversial, but useful feature in Windows 10. But will you be using it, or will you be rushing to turn it off? Either way, let me know in the comments below.

  1. Jean-Francois Messier
    August 26, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    I do not use Windows on my own PC, but my son does (and so does my wife sometime). If Windows 10 ever gets in, I will now know to make sure that this feature (read: major danger) is turned off at install time. I feel much better with Linux. And we can setup a guests network where others can connect, if they ask.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      That's sensible!

  2. Dick Eastman
    August 26, 2015 at 12:05 am

    This is a very shabby implementation by Microsoft. Luckily, it is not a problem for me. I switched from Windows to Macintosh a couple of years ago and have no plans to ever go back. Windows 10 is one more big recommendation for Macintosh, a better advertisement than Apple could create by themselves.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Yeah, to be honest, I can see why Microsoft ended up where it is. They tried to make the most convenient product, and paid a lot of emphasis on security, but not on privacy.

  3. fcd76218
    August 25, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    "By linking your Windows 10 device with your Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), Skype and Facebook accounts, you thus grant them access to your network."
    If someone on my network does this, does this expose everybody else on the network?

    "So, the chance of Wi-Fi Sense being the cause of the next great big data breech is slim indeed."
    I don't care about the next great data breech. I just care that MY network is not compromised.

    "You wouldn’t, for example, be able to access a file or print server, or attack any other hosts on the network with hacking tools like Metasploit."
    By now Metsploit is probably nearly obsolete. There are other, more up to date hacking tools that overcome any WiFi Sense supposed security.

    Convenience always comes at a price and that price is usually security and/or privacy.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      The last update to Metasploit was last December. Hardly obsolete, but it does suggest like developer attention has waned somwehat.

      • fcd76218
        August 30, 2015 at 2:30 pm

        "The last update to Metasploit was last December."
        It is now the end of August, 8-9 months later. An eternity in computer time. Just as an example, Mozilla has released at least 6 major versions of Firefox in that same time. :-)

  4. Bobby Edwards
    August 25, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Exactly...

    "For the majority of us, our friends list is more haphazard, consists of former colleagues, old flames, people they met down the pub, passing acquaintances and strangers they’ve struck up a conversation with online. Do you want to give them access to your network?"

    So given that, how many know where you live, or get invited to your home? Do the Tin Foil crowd think these people are going to spend nights driving around a city trying to find you Wi-Fi?

    This whole issue or should I say non-issue is being blown out of proportion, just like issue of MS collecting data with-out your OK.

    • fcd76218
      August 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Remember, just because you are paranoid does not mean that someone is NOT out to get you.

      For now, I will keep my foil hat on. In fact I think I'll add another layer.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      I used to live in a town with three pubs, and about 4000 people. Everyone knew each other. It's not as tinfoil-hatty as you might suggest.

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