SSID broadcast – what is it and how to disable it?

5 min
ssid service set identifier broadcast

In this article, we shed a little light on a pretty technical issue of SSID in a wireless network. You will learn what it is and what its broadcasting means. We also explain the consequences of turning off the SSID broadcast. Keep reading!

SSID broadcast meaning

First things first: what is SSID? It stands for Service Set Identifier. In simple words, SSID is just a name of a given Wi-Fi network. 

To be more precise: a “service set” is a group of devices connected in a network with the help of the IEEE 802.11 standard. SSID is an identifier they all share as a label of this network. It sounds a little confusing, but the “standard” is simply a technical document describing the Wi-Fi technology, and SSID is the name by which a specific wireless local network is recognized. It can be up to 32 characters long, UTF-encoded. It means that special characters are generally allowed, but not every device supports them fully.

What is an SSID broadcast? It is an explicit announcement of the wireless network name. To be a little more technical, it is plaintext – not hidden or encrypted. It lets the Wi-Fi be publicly visible for any device within the range. For sure you have seen a list of networks available in many public places, where several access points are active nearby. All popular operating systems support displaying such a list in the system tray or wireless settings. It allows you to choose a specific network and connect to it. In order for the network to be easily found and distinguished from others in the same area, the router administrator can easily change the SSID. 

Should I broadcast SSID?

The standard specifies that SSID broadcast can be disabled. As a result, a given network will still exist normally, but will not be listed anywhere and will not be available for others to see. In order to connect with it, you need to enter wireless settings on your device and manually type the SSID you already know.

Manual configuration of Wi-Fi connection in Windows 10.

Free Wi-Fi at a train station, a restaurant, or at any office has been a usual perk for several years now. Workers or customers want to be able to connect quickly and easily. Owners of these places usually give the network a meaningful name, so that anyone can just guess which is the correct one. Most often SSID contains the owner’s name or brand, like ‘Grill_Bar_Wi-Fi’. 

But let’s get to the point: should you enable or disable SSID broadcast? In the above example, the network administrator wants it to be accessible, so the answer is obvious. Users must be able to see the network name in order to connect to it, so the broadcast should be enabled. It is similar in most workplaces, offices, shops, malls, cinemas, universities. Regardless of whether the Wi-Fi is password-protected or open, customers want convenience, so disabling SSID broadcast is not very common (although such cases do exist, of course).

Why would you want to disable SSID broadcast?

There can be two reasons for wanting to disable the SSID broadcast. The first one is: for privacy. Your personal wireless network is your own business, so if you wish to keep it from prying eyes, you are entitled to do so. It is a little like planting a hedge around your garden so that passers-by cannot easily peek inside. It still exists, only it is a little less visible. First-time users will have to type the SSID manually. If they choose to save it in the settings of their device, next time they can connect automatically with the remembered name and password.

The other reason is security. Disabling the wireless SSID broadcast makes it more difficult to find in the first place. The logic is that a potential hacker will probably choose the more obvious victim (the non-hidden one). However, broadcasting SSID is only like putting a label on the network. From the cybersecurity point of view, the network itself remains equally safe or unsafe, no matter whether it is hidden or not. Obscuring the name does not mean encrypting the data or taking any other data protection measures. It does not hide the network itself, too. The Wi-Fi signal will still be aired by the router, so it can be easily detected, even without professional know-how. Moreover, the SSID can be easily intercepted if sent to or from already connected devices. It can also be hacked with a brute force attack.

Enable SSID broadcast

This is the usual default setting. As mentioned above, most administrators don’t want to hide the network from anyone. Quite the opposite: convenient Wi-Fi access could be a part of good marketing. The data transfer speed and capacity, as well as the maximum number of devices connected, are always somehow bounded by hardware capabilities. Apart from that, users can be restricted with means other than a disabled SSID broadcast: password protection. This introduces encryption, which is a standard way of securing network users from outside attacks. 

The network owners are often not IT specialists, so they need a simple, stress-free, working configuration. That is why enabling SSID broadcast is the default setting. It basically means that a mere name of your network is not something you would want to hide. Disabling it should not be a problem, though.

Disable SSID broadcast

This should be a very simple task after accessing router settings. There is a wide range of devices, their interfaces, and configuration possibilities. There is no telling how you can turn off the SSID broadcast in your network. However, most routers can be managed via an administration panel in a web browser. Its URL is typically the router’s IP address within the local network. In a simple setup, it is the address of the default gateway. This in turn is the device through which you connect online. In most local networks the router is the default gateway – a common path to the Web. So in order to hide SSID, type the default gateway address in your browser’s address bar. It should be easy to find in wireless connection properties. After accessing the panel (logging in will probably be required), search for wireless settings. SSID broadcast should be configurable as a switch or checkbox.

An example GUI of wireless router settings with SSID broadcast checkbox.

Hiding the name of your network is as easy as naming it. But remember: it does not bring any additional protection to your Wi-Fi. Also, do not disable the SSID broadcast if you offer convenient W-Fi access at a public place. If you need more security, use WPA2 encryption or even better: a VPN. This protects data transmission within the wireless network, improves privacy browsing, hides your IP address, and even hides you from your Internet service provider.

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