Most broadband routers and other wireless access points automatically transmit their network name—the service set identifier, usually abbreviated SSID—into the open air every few seconds. SSID broadcasting helps clients to see and connect to the network. Otherwise, they have to know the name and set up a manual connection to it.
Most routers support a toggle for broadcasting, or not broadcasting, the SSID.
Is SSID Broadcast a Network Security Risk?
Consider an analogy of a burglar. Locking the door when leaving the house is a wise decision because it prevents the average burglar from walking right in. However, a determined one will either break through the door, pick the lock, or enter through a window.
Similarly, while it's a better decision to keep your SSID hidden, it's not a fool-proof security measure. Someone with the right tools and enough time can sniff the traffic coming from your network, find the SSID, and proceed to further penetrate the network. Suppressing SSIDs creates an extra friction point, like being the only house in the neighborhood with a locked door. People eager to steal network credentials to free-ride on a Wi-Fi signal usually pick the lowest-hanging fruit (i.e., the broadcast SSIDs in range) before they bother packet-sniffing a suppressed SSID.
How to Disable SSID Broadcast on a Wi-Fi Network
Disabling SSID broadcast requires signing into the router as an administrator. Once inside the router settings, the page for disabling SSID broadcast is different depending on the router. It's probably called SSID Broadcast and is set to Enabled by default.
Check with your router manufacturer for detailed information on hiding the SSID. For example, go to the Linksys website for instructions pertaining to a Linksys router, or to the NETGEAR page for a NETGEAR router.
How to Connect to a Network With a Hidden SSID
The network name isn't shown to wireless devices, which is the reason for disabling the SSID broadcast. Connecting to the network, then, isn't as easy.
Since the SSID no longer appears in the list of networks shown to wireless devices, each device must be configured manually with the profile settings, including the network name and security mode. After making the initial connection, devices remember these settings and will not need to be specially configured again.
As an example, an iPhone can connect to a hidden network through the Settings app in the Wi-Fi > Other menu.
Should You Disable SSID Broadcast on Your Home Network?
Home networks don't require the use of a visible SSID unless the network uses several different access points that devices roam between. If your network uses a single router, turning off this feature is a trade-off between the potential security benefits and a loss of convenience in setting up new home network clients.
Suppressing the SSID lowers the profile of your Wi-Fi network with neighboring households. However, the extra effort to manually enter SSIDs on new client devices is an added inconvenience. Instead of giving out only the network password, the SSID and security mode are also required.