Pondering the SSID: More Than Meets the Eye

SSID

Ah, the SSID.. On the one hand, it’s just the network name for the Wi-Fi cell you want to connect to. On the other, it’s a pretty big story.

SSIDs at Home

If your ISP provides the wireless router you use at home, your Wi-Fi network probably starts life with some sterile, generic-sounding SSID like “HOME-3328-5” or similar. You may or may not have the ability to change it. If you can alter it, or use your own wireless router, it’s typical to make the new network name something either personal, or perhaps an attempt at humor. There are a lot of “Jones Wi-Fi” and “YourDogPoopsOnMyYard” SSIDs out there. You have 32 characters to play with, and people can get pretty creative, or pretty stupid. The sky’s the limit.

(Whatever you call your personal wireless network, I would recommend not using your name in the SSID, or anything that gives away that it’s connected to your residence. Also use a strong pre-share key/password.)

SMB Wi-Fi SSID

At home, most of us tend to have a single Wi-Fi network and thus one SSID that may or may not be goofy (BrianIsADork), witty (ISpyWiFiWithMyEye), cryptic (693xytr56), or even raunchy (BoobsForPassword!). When it comes to small business Wi-Fi (or hotels, hospitality and retail spaces), it’s not uncommon to use the SSID as part of your advertising and as an offering to entice people to visit. Many SMBs have a business Wi-Fi network, and one for guests. It’s not uncommon to see something a bit murky like “786KNU” and a friendlier “ThomsonDentalGuestWiFi” kind of network name both present in the same small business space.

The Mobile Carriers And Cable Companies Are In On It

Now that the Age of Wi-Fi Offload is upon us, it’s common to see SSIDs like “attwifi” in public spaces as the carriers try to move mobile clients off of their data networks and onto Wi-Fi. Cable companies are also courting and hoping to keep subscribers with hundreds of thousands of hotspots around the country that have SSIDs like TWCWiFi and CableWiFi. A common SSID spread far and wide gives customers a common target to aim for.

The SSID Stakes Get Higher On Business WLANs

When Wi-Fi is an integral part of business operations for companies, hospitals, or universities, the SSID paradigm gets a lot more important. The SSID is pivotal in allowing client devices to roam across multiple access points- from just a few to thousands on big Wi-Fi networks. Very frequently, multiple SSIDs get used to segregate various network functions and guest networking into obvious unique segments.

Using several SSIDs can be handy, but too many can drown the air in management traffic that slows the environment down. Depending on the WLAN system in use, there are tricks you can use to keep a single SSID visible but with numerous networks behind it. Different mechanisms do the segregating/steering of client devices to where they belong in complicated networks.  Some admins would rather have multiple SSIDs and easy(er) troubleshooting, while others are pretty strict about not putting multiple SSIDs in the air even though multiple networks are required. This is one of those areas where personal philosophy and tolerance for overhead comes in to play.

Using SSIDs to STICK IT TO THE MAN

You can have a lot of fun simply being childish with SSIDs, or you can learn how to use different wireless tools to deceive nearby client devices into seeing Wi-Fi networks that aren’t really there in a usable way. Start with Occupineapple and get your protest on, baby.

occu

Higher Education- the eduroam Use Case

The higher ed community has a fascinating connectivity asset available for those who choose to play the eduroam game. Wherever in the world participants roam, if they can find the “eduroam” SSID, an interesting federated RADIUS framework will help them get connected even if they don’t “belong” to the local WLAN. The use of eduroam has gotten quite popular to the point where many schools have retired their “branded” SSIDs in vavor of using eduroam for visitors and local users alike to reduce the number of SSIDs in use.

Regardless of what Wi-Fi network you use, you’re hitting an SSID. What goes on behind that SSID is going to vary wildly depending on the environment in play. And not all SSIDs are as they seem, as the Occupineaple example shows. It’s easy to not really think about SSIDs as you go about your wireless business, but they are worth understanding better whether you are a Wi-Fi user or function in an administrator/support role.

 

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