Wireless networks are inherently less secure — or at least more prone to being hacked — than wired networks. That’s simply the nature of a broadcast-based mode of communication: it’s much harder to hack into a router that requires you to physically plug in.
Which is why Wi-Fi security is such a hot topic. And one of the first things users typically want to do to secure their networks is hide their routers so that passersby won’t be able to see and/or connect to said networks.
In this post we’ll show you how to do that, but we’ll also explain why this may not be the best thing to do if security is your main concern.
Why Hide Your Wi-Fi Network?
A Quick SSID Intro
According to IEEE 802.11 standards, every wireless network must have an identifier that’s used by devices to connect to that network. This is called the Service Set Identifier (SSID), but don’t let the faux-complexity fool you. It basically means “network name”.
Every so often, routers broadcast something called a beacon frame. This is nothing more than a transmission that contains information about the network, including the SSID, and is meant to announce that this network exists. This is how your phone, for example, knows about all of the Wi-Fi networks around you. (Beacon frames are broadcasted about once every 100 milliseconds.)
Think of it as your router shouting out to the world, “Here I am! My name is Cisco04022! If you can hear me, you can use that name to initiate a connection with me!”
And if you were to stop your router from shouting all of that nonsense, you probably think your router would effectively become invisible. If a network doesn’t broadcast its presence, then devices won’t know about it, and therefore won’t be able to connect. Right?
The Limitations of SSID Hiding
Wireless signals are all the same: they start at a source (your router) and travel out in all directions (think of an ever-expanding sphere). There’s no way to “aim” a Wi-Fi transmission in a straight line from your router to your computer, and even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to stop the signal as soon as it reached its intended recipient — it’ll keep going.
Let’s assume that your wireless network is NOT broadcasting its SSID. Nobody knows it exists except you. You go ahead and establish a connection to it and start using Wi-Fi as normal. When you visit a website, for example, your router broadcasts a signal with that website’s data, and your computer receives it as the signal passes by. But the problem? This signal still has to travel through open air, which means anyone in its radius could intercept it.
In other words, even if your network stops broadcasting its SSID, hackers and malicious users can still find it by intercepting 1) your transmissions to the router and 2) your router’s transmissions to you.
How to Actually Secure Your Wi-Fi Network
All of this means that hiding your network is NOT an effective security measure — at best, it’s a deterrent that will only keep out the most tech-unsavvy of people. Someone who wants to hack into your network will still have other ways to get in.
Security by obscurity is not true security!
If you really want to secure your network, start with these quick and basic tips. We recommend doing all of them if you can, but if we absolutely had to recommend only three, then they would be:
- Change the default admin credentials. A quick search on the internet can reveal the default admin usernames and passwords for nearly any router brand and model combination. If you don’t change this, all other security settings are for naught. This should be the first thing you do with any router!
- Encrypt using WPA2 and AES. Remember, your router is always broadcasting signals in all directions — but you can make these signals uninterceptable by encrypting them. Doing this, any signal meant for your computer will only be readable by your computer. See our comparison of Wi-Fi security options for more info.
- Disable the WPS and UPnP features. These are convenience features that have lots of big security vulnerabilities, mainly the ability to circumvent other security features (like firewalls), so we recommend turning them off ASAP.
Again, we’ve only scratched the surface here. You’ll also want to explore these important router features everyone should be using for a better overall experience.
Steps to Hide Your Wi-Fi Network Anyway
Okay. You’ve gotten this far in the post and you still want to hide your SSID? That’s cool. We’ll show you how to do that — and you’ll be glad to know that it’s much easier than you’d expect.
Start by logging into your router’s admin panel. For me, this means going to
192.168.0.1 in my browser, but it may or may not be the same for you. For example, most Netgear users can reach it by going to
routerlogin.net instead. Note that you may need a wired LAN connection to your router for the browser login to work.
Consult your router’s manual if you aren’t sure how to reach the admin panel. It should look something like this though:
Next, look in the navigation bar for the Wireless section. If you have submenus, look around for something close to Wireless Settings, Wireless Options, Wireless > Basic Settings, etc.
You should be able to tweak the SSID, channel, channel mode, and channel width on the page, but the important thing is to find the option called Enable SSID Broadcast and uncheck it. Depending on your router model, it may also be called Visibility Status, Enable Hidden Wireless, or just SSID Broadcast:
That’s pretty much it. Save the settings, which may or may not require your router to restart, and your router will become “undetectable” to devices.
Other Tips for Your Home Wireless Network
When you’re setting a password for your network, make sure you pick one that’s strong — and this applies for both the admin password and the wireless connection password.
And if you have wireless dead zones or overall poor signal in your house or apartment, you may be able to solve your woes by getting a Wi-Fi extender or powerline adapter.
Security doesn’t end with your wireless network. Be sure to follow these tips for securing your smart devices as well. If you’re willing to invest in a Raspberry Pi, you can then learn other skills that improve your online security.
Originally written by Matt Smith on February 1, 2011