Should You Change the Default Name (SSID) of a Wireless Router?

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Wireless broadband routers (and wireless access points) establish a wireless network using a name called a Service Set Identifier (SSID). These devices are configured with a pre-defined default SSID (network name) by the manufacturer at the factory.

Typical default SSIDs are simple names like

  • wireless
  • netgear
  • linksys
  • default

How to Find the SSID of a Wireless Router

A router's SSID can be accessed from its administrator configuration pages.

For example, these steps reveal the network name of a Linksys WRT54GS router:   

  1. Point a Web browser to http://192.168.1.1 (or other address of the router if its default was changed)
  2. Click the Wireless menu option
  3. View the name as shown in the "Wireless Network Name (SSID)" field

Deciding Whether to Change Your SSID

An SSID can be changed at any time via these router configuration screens. Changing it after a wireless network is established causes all wireless to disconnect and need to be re-joined to the network via the new name. Otherwise, the choice of name doesn't affect a Wi-Fi network's operation at all.

If two networks with the same name happen to be installed near each other, users and client devices may get confused and try joining the wrong one. If both networks are open (not using WPA or other security), clients can silently leave their correct network and join the other. Even with Wi-Fi security in place, users will find the duplicate names annoying.

Experts can debate whether using a manufacturer's default SSID poses a security risk to the home network  On the one hand, the name has no bearing on an attacker's ability to find and penetrate the network. On the other hand, given multiple networks in a neighborhood to choose from, attackers may target ones with default names on the likelihood that these households have taken less care in setting up their home networks than others.

Choosing Good Wireless Network Names

To possibly improve the security and/or usability of your home wireless network, consider changing the router's SSID to a different name than the default. Follow these guidelines based on recommended network security practices:

  • Don't embed your name, address, birth date, or other personal information as part of the SSID
  • Likewise, don't use any of your Windows or Internet Web site passwords
  • Don't tempt would-be intruders by using tantalizing network names like "SEXY-BOX" or "TOP-SECRET"
  • Do pick an SSID that contains both letters and numbers
  • Do choose a name as long or nearly as long as the maximum length allowed
  • Do consider changing your SSID periodically (at least once every few months)

See also: Changing the SSID of a Router Step by Step

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