If you usually fiddle around with your Wi-Fi network, then you’ve probably come across the acronym “SSID”. Ever wondered what it means and how it works? If so, then this is the article for you.
What Does SSID Mean?
“SSID” is the technical term for a Wi-Fi network’s name. It stands for “Service Set Identifier”. The IEEE 802.11 Wireless Networking Standard says that a “Service Set” is a collection of wireless devices on the same network with the same parameters.
Simple put, it’s the Wi-Fi’s name — the same name that you see on your device and that you connect to.
How Does a SSID Work?
SSIDs are supposed to be unique from device to device. They are able to be up to 32 characters long and are case-sensitive. This means that a Wi-Fi network called “wifinetwork” has a different SSID from one called “WiFiNetwork”.
Routers and Wi-Fi broadcasting devices come with a default SSID, usually composed by the brand and the model number of the device, or by your ISP’s name. Changing the SSID isn’t necessary, but allows you to better differentiate your own network from other networks in the area.
After the SSID has been set up by the network manager, the router, or another Wi-Fi base station, broadcasts it to the nearby area. Afterwards, when a device scans for nearby networks, it displays their SSIDs — the user just needs to choose the appropriate one and the device will connect to it.
Of course, the device will only be able to connect to the SSID if it’s an open network. If the network is secured by any type of encryption (the most common being WPA2), the user will also need to enter the correct password.
Network managers can choose to have the router not broadcast the SSID. This might seem to further increase network’s security to the common user, but it is false. Users wishing to connect to a non-SSID-broadcasting network will need to know the case-sensitive SSID and the correct password.
Although this effectively means that the user will need to know two passwords in order to connect to the network, sniffing an SSID is easy to do if you have the know-how. Data packets flowing through the router usually have the SSID attached to its header.
What Happens If Two Networks Share the Same SSID?
Most devices remember the details of networks you connect to. This is what allows your phone to automatically connect to your home network whenever you arrive home. The phone realizes that a known SSID is in its vicinity, tries to connect to it with the password it has stored and if nothing has changed in the network, the connection is successful.
But what if your neighbor has the same SSID as you do? It’s not uncommon for people to name their networks something like “Home”.
When two networks share the same SSID, your device will try to connect to whichever network it sees first. Obviously, if the network isn’t yours, the connection will fail. Even if you successfully connect to your network, your device will often drop it and attempt to connect to the other one, thinking it’s the one it was connected to.
This brings us to…
How to Change your SSID
To change your SSID, you first need to access you router’s web address. Although it can differ, it’s usually something like “192.168.0.1”. If you can’t connect to your router through this address, google your router’s brand and model and try to find the default address.
After connecting to your router’s home page you will need to log in as an administrator. Again, most routers have a default user and password (something like “admin” for the user, and “admin” for the password), but it can differ from brand to brand and even from model to model.
If you don’t know your router’s administrator user and password, and “admin; admin” doesn’t work, google your brand and model to find out.
Once logged in you just need to make your way to the network settings page. Again, this varies from brand to brand. Usually the SSID is located in the same place where you change your Wi-Fi password. So if you know how to change the password, the SSID will be there as well.
Remember you can change your SSID to any string of 32 characters, and that the SSID will be case-sensitive. You can also use some special characters, like dashes, spaces, and underscores.
Should You Broadcast Your SSID?
Like we’ve said previously, not broadcasting your SSID can give common users a false sense of added security. If no one can see your network, no one can “hack” into it, right?
Very, very wrong.
Hiding your SSID actually worsens your network’s security. Although your network will not be displayed to most smartphones and other Wi-Fi-capable devices, any traffic monitoring software will be able to find it very quickly.
The false sense of security is not the only problem. When you have a hidden SSID and your phone is connected to the network, your phone will constantly need to broadcast the SSID in order to attempt to connect to it. Again, this makes finding your SSID a very easy thing to do.
If you wish to secure your network, you shouldn’t rely on protecting it through hiding your SSID. The best way to protect your network is to have a strong encryption type, such as WPA2, and a hard to crack password — which you don’t give out randomly.
If you’re still thinking about SSIDs, just think of them as your network’s name. It’s essentially what they are and their main purpose.
If you still have any doubts regarding SSIDs or anything else related to your network and its security, then just shoot us a question. We’ll be glad to answer it and to help you!
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested about mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.