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WiFi, Guests and Common Sense

FEATURE

“It’s called WiFi Sense,” I tell my friend. “It’s a new thing in Windows 10 and people freaked out about it.

“Why?” she asks, reaching for a TimTam.

“Because they think it will let anyone in your contacts get your WiFi password, and your contact list could have randoms in it.”

“So, what’s the big deal? You use my WiFi whenever you come round.”

“Yeah, but it’s not about just using the WiFi… look, I’ll show you,” I sigh, taking out my phone. She squints at me over the rim of her coffee cup, but lets me carry on. We’ve been friends for fourteen years. I set up her internet after she moved house, which is why I know the custom password to log into her modem settings. “Okay, give it a minute.

“What did you do?” she frowns, following my gaze to her laptop, which has been supplying cool jams to our little coffee catch-up via Spotify. Sure enough, after a moment the music stops and Spotify says it’s offline. “Er! Did you turn off my internet?”

“Not exactly,” I grin. “Try to connect to the WiFi again.”

She gets up and gives it a go, bringing up the list of available networks to join. “It’s not there anymore- oh, you jerk! Change it back.”

Her WiFi is now named ‘Gina Rules’. Any computer trying to connect to the old name just got booted off the network.

Sharing WiFi can be risky

My point is that you don’t want just anyone getting full access to your home network, WiFi or otherwise. Figuring out the default gateway address for a modem isn’t hard, and the default password to get into the settings is probably ‘admin’ or ‘password’. Most people don’t customise their modem password, just like most people inclined to mess around in your settings won’t be a friend you can bribe with the last TimTam to undo the changes.

Simple mischief aside, the most common risk of letting other people use your WiFi network is that they’ll download something huge and use up all your broadband quota. Even more sinisterly, compromised modems can be used to hack a Netphone account and use it for toll fraud to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Now, Netphone hacking is much more likely to occur long-distance as a result of a virus infection or an insecure Remote Management feature in the modem settings (unless your WiFi has no password and there’s someone with a laptop lurking in your garden) but you get the general idea. You should keep your home network safe.

Sharing safely

You don’t need to stop sharing to be safe. Just follow these simple rules:

  • Always put a password on your home WiFi and only share it with people you trust.
  • If you do share your WiFi passwords with others, you can keep your modem settings safe by changing the default modem login password. You should always do this if you’re using modem Remote Management.
  • If you’re entering your WiFi password on any Windows 10 device (yours or someone else’s) make sure “Share network with my contacts” is not ticked. If you’re really worried about the possibility of someone with a Windows 10 device getting your password and sharing your network, log into your modem settings and change the name of your WiFi network to end with “_optout”.
  • If your modem has a feature like Guest WiFi on the TG-1 Broadband Gateway or WPS, you don’t even need to worry about your modem login password. Users connected to your WiFi via WPS or Guest WiFi don’t have access to your modem’s settings nor any other devices or file storage on your home network.
  • If you have trouble remembering passwords, writing them down on a piece of paper and keeping it somewhere safe is A-OK. You can also use a password manager to store them digitally.

WiFi Sense – not exactly sensational

As for WiFi Sense, my initial knee-jerk reaction was a flat-out “Ew”.  After combing through Microsoft’s FAQ to soothe security concerns, my response was only upgraded to an “Eh”. Similar to Guest WiFi, WiFi Sense won’t share your password or allow access to the modem settings, but it may not be useful to most people either. The feature only works if both you and your guests have Windows 10, so it won’t work for anyone with iPhones or Android smartphones.

Even if you have a Windows 10 mobile, laptop or tablet, the sharing permissions are pretty limited. You can either share with every single contact from a particular app, or none of them. The ability block that one friend from using your WiFi after breaking your trust (or taking the last TimTam) doesn’t exist yet.

WiFi Sense will save you a few taps in your settings by automatically joining Windows 10 devices to open WiFi networks like public WiFi,  but with the security of open networks being a bit sketchy I’d honestly rather just stick to my mobile data and free WiFi at cafes.

As interesting as recent developments in tech and entertainment have been, we’re still not quite at the point where we can pick and choose who to share WiFi access with at the flick of a wrist. There will probably always be some manual effort to connect devices, but when it comes to keeping your home network secure, a little bit of elbow grease isn’t so bad.

Do you have any home network safety tips? Share them in the comments.

3 comments

  1. Robert Dicker says:

    I agree with Gina, it would be best practice for anyone with a wifi enabled modem/router at home to change the default username and passwords.
    Like all things avoid commonly used Usernames, and passwords are best over 10 characters, they do not have to be convoluted, and if your fine-grained password policies allow, use your favourite quote, phrase or combination of words. You will find “seven brown dogs chased a cat up the tree” will be significantly more secure than #$DFHIEer35%. Especially being as the later is going to be most likely written down or saved off somewhere.

    Also Hide your SSID, there is little need for everyone in the vicinity to see it, other than to save you a few seconds on set-up, its not a fix all and in reality won’t stop those who really want to get in, but it will stop the average Joe. Just be sure to use your wifi’s encryption and not an unsecured network and you should be safe.

  2. Lina says:

    i have changed my username fetich was similar to my iPhone where the trouble started now I have used ozemail.com.au instead of iCloud but I do not get/nor can send out mails I need help

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