Wireless networks are less secure than wired networks. That’s simply the nature of a broadcast-based mode of communication: it’s much harder to break into a router when you’re required to physically plug into it.
This is why Wi-Fi security is so important. In an effort to increase your network security, you might think to hide your network name so that people nearby won’t be able to connect to your Wi-Fi. But is this worth doing?
Here’s what you need to know about hiding your Wi-Fi network, including why this might not be the right move from a security and usability standpoint.
Why Hide Your Wi-Fi Network?
According to IEEE 802.11 standards, every wireless network must have an identifier that devices use to connect to it. This is called the Service Set Identifier, usually abbreviated to SSID. An SSID is just the technical way to say “Wi-Fi network name.”
Routers constantly broadcast something called a beacon frame, which is a transmission that contains information about the network. It includes the SSID and is meant to announce that this network exists.
Think of it as your router shouting out to the world, “Here I am! My name is Netgear-1B7J8! If you can hear me, you can use that name to initiate a connection with me!” This is how your phone, for example, knows about all the Wi-Fi networks around you (hopefully you’ve chosen a fun Wi-Fi network name).
If you were to stop your router from shouting all that information, you might think your router would effectively become invisible. If a Wi-Fi network doesn’t broadcast its presence, then devices won’t know about it and therefore won’t be able to connect to it, right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case.
The Limitations of Hiding Your Network SSID
Wireless signals are all the same: they start at a source (your router) and travel out in all directions (like an ever-expanding sphere). There’s no way to “aim” a Wi-Fi transmission in a beam from your router to a specific device. Even if you could do this, you wouldn’t be able to stop the signal as soon as it reached the device—it would keep going.
Let’s assume your wireless network is not broadcasting its SSID, meaning nobody knows it exists except you. You then establish a connection to it, using Wi-Fi per normal. The moment you do anything, like visit a website, your router broadcasts a signal with that website’s data and your computer receives it as the signal passes by.
Do you see the problem? This Wi-Fi signal has to travel through open air to reach your computer, which means anyone in its radius could intercept it.
In other words, even if your network stops broadcasting its SSID, malicious users can still detect it by intercepting your device’s transmissions to the router and your router’s transmissions to your device.
This means that while the average user won’t see your Wi-Fi network in their list of options, someone who knows what they’re doing can easily detect traffic coming from your network and thus confirm it exists.
Hiding Your SSID Is Inconvenient
We’ve seen that hiding your SSID doesn’t really offer anything in terms of security. However, it also adds a layer of inconvenience for your own usage. When your SSID is broadcasting normally, you can simply select its name from the list of Wi-Fi networks on your device, type the password, and get connected.
However, when the SSID is hidden, you have to manually input the Wi-Fi network name and security type to connect. This is annoying, especially when adding new devices to your network like when friends come over.
Having to read out and type your exact network name is an added layer of complexity that doesn’t add anything to your security.
How to Hide Your Wi-Fi Network if You Still Want To
If you understand that hiding your network SSID isn’t necessary for security and is a pain for you, but still want to hide your network name, we’ll show you how to do this. In most cases, it’s an easy process.
You’ll need to start by logging into your router’s admin panel by entering its IP address into your browser. In a lot of cases, this is 192.168.0.1 or similar. If you don’t know how to find your router’s address, see our beginner’s guide to managing your router.
If you can’t connect wirelessly, you may need a wired LAN connection to your router for the browser login to work. Consult your router’s manual or the manufacturer’s website if you still have trouble.
Your login panel should look something like this once you get there:
Now, look in the navigation bar for a section titled Wireless or similar. If there are submenus, look around for something like to Wireless Settings, Wireless Options, Wireless > Basic Settings, etc. On our TP-Link router, this is under Wireless in the Basic menu, or Wireless > Wireless Settings under Advanced.
On this menu, you should be able to tweak the SSID, channel options, and possibly security, depending on your router. You’re looking for an option called Enable SSID Broadcast, Hide SSID, Visibility Status, Enable Hidden Wireless, or similar.
This checkbox or toggle is all you need. Check the box to Hide SSID, or clear the box for Enable SSID Broadcast or similarly named options. Save the settings, which may or may not require your router to restart, and your router will become “undetectable” to devices.
Any devices that are already connected to your network should stay connected, but you’ll need to manually enter the network name when connecting new ones going forward.
How to Actually Secure Your Wi-Fi Network
Remember that hiding your Wi-Fi network is not an effective security measure. It will prevent people who aren’t tech-savvy from knowing that your network is there and trying to connect to it, but not much else. Someone who wants to hack into your network and knows what they’re doing will have other ways to get in.
We recommend that you really secure your network by following essential router security tips. All of them are important, but if you’re pressed for time, these are the absolute essentials:
- Change the default admin credentials. A quick search online 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 because anyone can get in and take over your router.
- Encrypt with a strong password and modern protocols. Instead of trying to hide your network and hoping that nobody sees it, you should protect your router’s traffic by encrypting it with a strong password. 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 security vulnerabilities, so we recommend turning them off ASAP. Learn more about WPS to understand why.
Protect Your Home Wi-Fi Network
Now you know how to hide your Wi-Fi network name, if you really need to. It’s not necessary in most cases, but as long as you pair this option with real security methods, you can do it if you like.
Just make sure you use a strong password for your network security and the admin login to keep attackers out. Once that’s taken care of, you can look at other ways of improving your home Wi-Fi network.