What is used to identify a wireless access point?

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Wireless networks surround us in virtually every place we spend our day in. These complex systems involve hardware and software refined over decades to deliver optimal performance, and they’ve only gotten better over time. This article will outline exactly what is used to identify a wireless access point, and some common questions around the technology.

Wireless access points are identified by an SSID, or Service Set Indicator. An SSID is a 32-character alphanumeric unique identifier attached to the header of packets on a wireless network. The SSID is used for identifying and connecting to wireless access points. It acts like a password in joining wireless networks as the network interface of the connecting device must know the same SSID as the access point, otherwise it will not be able to connect. The SSID is often the human readable version of the BSSID (Basic Service Set Indicator) which is the MAC address of the access point which uniquely identifies the access point. Similar to a domain name, the SSID can provider an easier method for humans to identify the network they wish to connect to, rather than memorizing numbers.

Does disabling broadcasting the SSID make the network more secure?

The access point is not required to broadcast the SSID. In fact, some network operators choose not to broadcast the SSID in order to prevent connections from unauthorized users. This is often called network cloaking. It is a method of security through obscurity. This may block amateur users, but more sophisticated users will still be able to identify the SSID even when it is not broadcast by sniffing the packets of frames that devices use when associating with the access point. Disabling the SSID should be considered a weak security measure, and efforts are best placed on securing other segments of the network.

Is it possible for a network to have multiple SSIDs on an access point?

It is becoming more common for consumer level access points to be able to broadcast multiple SSIDs. This allows users to connect to different parts of a network from the same access point. For example, a more sophisticated router could broadcast one SSID for the 2.4GHz network, another for the 5GHz network, and third for an isolated guest network that cannot access the computers on the other two portions of the network.

What is the best name for my wireless network SSID?

There is no standard naming convention for SSIDs. It is recommended that you change the default SSID of your browser so that other devices using the same name do not mistakenly connect to your network. Aside from that, any memorable network name will do. Just remember, when you have guests over you may have to tell them your network name, so try to pick something not too embarrassing.  

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