What is SSID, and should you change it?

Anton P. | May 27, 2021

SSID is the name devices see when they scan areas for Wi-Fi networks. Next to these titles, users will notice additional information. For instance, they will learn whether networks are open to anyone (does not require a password). You can also find the strength of the signals. For example, weaker ones might specify that you are barely within a network’s range. Thus, if you open the list of Wi-Fi networks on any device, you are likely to see many names. Let’s discuss how to find yours and whether you should change the default SSID.

SSID meaning explained

SSID stands for Service Set Identifier. In simple terms, it is the name of your Wi-Fi network. When smartphones or computers scan for available networks in the area, they put forward the detected SSIDs. Depending on other conditions, you could be able to connect to some networks immediately. Others could require passwords or authentication through a browser (captive portal).

Default SSIDs could relate to the manufacturers as they tend to follow specific patterns. For instance, the SSID could contain an abbreviation of the company name combined with random numbers or letters. You can customize your network name however you like, but you should note several requirements:

  • SSIDs are case-sensitive, meaning that they treat uppercase and lowercase letters as distinct.
  • The network name cannot be longer than 32 characters (numbers or letters).
  • There are no indications of how short the SSID should be.

Overall, the SSID helps wireless clients find the network they need. Typically, these names are visible to anyone scanning the area. However, you could prevent your SSID from being broadcasted to other devices. It is useful, and we will discuss why some network managers might opt to conceal it.

How to find your SSID?

Your SSID should be visible on the router itself. However, this is the default SSID number, and you might have already changed it. Thus, you can also find it by clicking on the Wi-Fi icon on any operating system. Then, the network at the top will be the one you have connected to. The ones below will be other networks within your range.

How do devices use the SSID numbers?

When you scan the area for nearby wireless networks, your device presents SSIDs. According to these names, you can pick the one you need and initiate a connection. However, SSID is not the only thing you see on the list of Wi-Fi networks within your reach.

  • How strong the signal is. The ones nearby will offer better connectivity than those farther.
  • If the network requires a password. A small padlock will be visible next to the connect button in case this security option is present.
  • Whether the network supports 5G, the next-generation internet connection. You should see a 5G label next to networks that do.

However, devices automatically show only those networks that broadcast their SSIDs without any restrictions. Therefore, if network managers disable the SSID broadcasting, you won’t notice such hotspots on the list. Instead, you will need to add the network manually by typing in the SSID.

In general, this decision attempts to improve the security of the network. After all, users wishing to connect will need two things: the network name and the correct password. However, the efficacy of this approach differs. More tech-savvy individuals could still sniff out the SSID from the header of data packets passing through the network.

Common issues with SSIDs

SSIDs might seem trivial, but you encounter them daily. You should also know how to manage your network correctly as well. Here are the usual pitfalls that users might neglect to consider and how to avoid them.

  • Networks that have the same name. Several networks in your area may have identical SSIDs. If you set your device to auto-connect to networks, it might accidentally join an unknown one. Of course, such unfamiliar networks should not require passwords. Only then can you connect to them by accident. In other cases, the password will be necessary regardless.
  • Keeping default SSIDs. Users should always change the default SSIDs. It will help avoid the criss-cross between networks with the same name. Additionally, you won’t have to remember which generic SSID refers to your network.
  • SSID too short. The general rule is that your network name should be easily distinguishable from others. Thus, try to make it appropriate, so you could immediately regard it as yours.
  • Provocative language. Many users might add certain SSIDs as a joke. For instance, they could use inappropriate language or add coded messages. In other cases, the SSID might challenge hackers or other entities to hack them. All these situations attract unnecessary attention to your network. Tech-savvy individuals could accept your provocation and attempt to hack your network.
  • Disabling SSID broadcasting but leaving the network open. You might assume that as long as people nearby won’t see your network, it does not need a password. This assumption is incorrect. It is possible to find your network in other ways. Thus, even though you disable broadcasting, do not forget to add a password. It could help you prevent piggybackers from attempting to use your network for free.

Proper network management consists of many components and tasks. SSID is a part of it, and you should ensure that you do follow these rules. Make your network efficient, easy to find for those who need it, and secure overall.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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