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

Improve the security of your home network by changing the SSID

Router
Tetra Images / Getty Images

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 predefined default SSID network name by the manufacturer at the factory. Typically, all of a manufacturer's routers are assigned the same SSID. If you are wondering if you should change your router's name, the answer is simple. Yes, you should.

Typical default SSIDs are simple words like:

  • Wireless
  • Netgear
  • Linksys
  • Default

There's a good chance that you have neighbors with the same type router you have using the same default SSID. That could be a recipe for a security disaster, particularly if neither of you use encryption. Check your router's SSID, and if it is one of these defaults, change the network name to something only you know.

How to Find the SSID of a Wireless Router

To find your router's current SSID, enter its IP address to access its administrator configuration pages using a computer. Most router manufacturers use a default address such as 192.168.0.1. For example, if you have a Linksys WRT54GS router:

  1. Enter http://192.168.1.1 (or another address of the router, if its default was changed) in a browser.

  2. Most Linksys routers use the username admin and require no password, so leave the password field blank. 

  3. Click the Wireless menu option.

  4. View the current SSID name in the Wireless Network Name (SSID) field.

Other router manufacturers follow a similar path to the SSID. Check the website of your router manufacturer or documentation for specific default login credentials. The IP address may even be written on the bottom of the router, but you still need the username and password, if one exists.

Deciding Whether to Change Your SSID

An SSID can be changed at any time through the router configuration screen. Changing it after a wireless network is established causes all the wireless devices to disconnect, and they must rejoin the network using 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 could become confused and try to join 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 find the duplicate names annoying.

Experts 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 those households have taken less care in setting up their home networks.

Choosing Good Wireless Network Names

To possibly improve the security or usability of your home wireless network, consider changing the router's SSID to a different name than the default. An SSID is case sensitive and can contain up to 32 alphanumeric characters. 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.
  • Don't use any of your Windows or internet website passwords.
  • Don't tempt would-be intruders by using tantalizing network names like MakeMyDay 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.
  • Write down the new SSID name somewhere you can find it—maybe on the bottom of the router.

Once you've chosen a new network name, making the change is simple. Type it in the field next to Wireless Network Name (SSID) for a Linksys router or in a similar field for a different manufacturer. The change isn't activated until you save or confirm it. You don't have to reboot the router.

You can find how-to information at your router manufacturer's website or in an online step-by-step guide to changing the SSID on a Linksys router.