Friday, December 28, 2007

Ssid Broadcasting - Ending The Misconception

Today I received a question from a reader who asks; "I have a small wireless network, should SSID broadcast be enabled or disabled? I keep hearing conflicting reports." That's an excellent question and one that is often very misleading. Let me start by stating a simple fact. Disabling SSID broadcast does not hide your network.

This is a common misconception that goes hand in hand with MAC address filtering which is also useless in deterring a hacker. Let me explain a little here. The SSID was never meant to be hidden. Its purpose is to essentially distinguish one network from another. When you disable SSID broadcast technically all you are doing is hiding SSID beaconing on the Access Point. In other words you are preventing the average Joe from seeing your SSID within a wireless network manager program. But there are 4 other protocols that also broadcast the SSID. Probe requests; probe responses, association requests, and re-association requests. And these cannot be turned off. So unless you have absolutely no activity on your network, which is highly unlikely, then it is impossible to hide your SSID.

A hacker can easily find your hidden network within minutes. You may be asking okay so disabling SSID does not hide my network but in most cases it prevents my neighbor from accessing my Internet, so what does it hurt? Well that's what encryption is for. WPA and WPA2 prevent unauthorized access to your network, thus preventing loss of data and bandwidth so use encryption, if possible do not use WEP all that does is deter a hacker for 10 minutes or so. What does it hurt? Well, a hidden SSID can make wireless LANs less user friendly, it also forces your wireless devices to probe for your SSID, as well as cause some network devices from connecting at all. Another downside to cloaking your SSID is that it prevents others from knowing what channel your network is using.

If many networks use the same channel then network performance will suffer, and interference may occur. To summarize, I would personally leave SSID broadcast on. If a hacker is within range of your network chances are he will find your Access point regardless if your SSID is broadcasting or not. It will also make your life easier if you need to allow another computer access to your network. I hope this article clears up any misunderstandings you may have had regarding SSID broadcast.

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