Is Windows 10 WiFi Sense Nonsense?
A storm of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) swept the tech media world this month. The rumor is that Windows 10 will include a new feature called WiFi Sense which gives all of your contacts the keys to your WiFi networks. There's a kernel of truth here, but let’s separate facts from fiction…
What is Wifi Sense?
At least one report claimed that Wifi Sense, in addition to "sharing" your wifi login credentials with your contacts, would then cause them to automatically share your WiFi keys with their contacts – people you don’t know even casually. So how much of this story is true?
First, WiFi Sense is not new; it’s been part of the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system for two years. That’s probably why most people, even tech journalists, have never heard of WiFi Sense. Globally, 96 percent of smartphones are powered by iOS or Android, according to figures from IDC. None the less, we haven’t heard any reports of WiFi networks being comprised via WiFi Sense.
Here is how WiFi Sense works, if you leave it enabled. The keys (passwords) to WiFi networks that you store on your device are encrypted and stored on a remote Microsoft server. If one of your contacts comes within range of one of your WiFi networks, that network’s key is automatically fed to the WiFi access point to grant the contact access to that network.
But unilateral sharing wouldn't be fair. In return, you have reciprocal WiFi Sense access to your contacts’ WiFi networks.
The purpose of WiFi Sense is to make sharing WiFi Internet access easy, according to Microsoft. You don’t have to give the WiFi key to a visitor to your home or office (assuming they are in your Contacts list), and the visitor doesn’t have to enter it in his/her device. WiFi Sense is more secure than the usual person-to-person sharing method because your contacts never see the actual key, argues Microsoft.
Access is Limited
It’s important to note that only Internet access is shared via WiFi Sense. Guests cannot rifle through shared folders and files on your local network, or use shared devices such as printers. They can only surf the Web, check email, and do other things “out there” on the Internet.
Password sharing via WiFi Sense is enabled by default for Outlook/Hotmail and Skype (both owned by Microsoft) contacts. You do have to give permission to make it available to your Facebook contacts. Your contacts in any of those three services who are using Windows Phone or (soon) Windows 10 can access your WiFi networks via WiFi Sense.
Obviously, your contacts must also be within range of one of your WiFi networks. They must also have WiFi Sense enabled, sharing their WiFi networks with you and their other contacts.
WiFi Sense can be disabled completely in one of two ways. You can go to the Windows WiFi Settings menu and uncheck the box labeled, "Share WiFi networks I Select" option. Alternatively, you can add the string “_optout” (note the underscore) to the end of your WiFi access point’s SSID.
You can also disable WiFi Sense on selected individual WiFi network profiles stored on your device. The key to a deselected network won’t be available to your contacts.
WiFi Sense will not let you be so selective about the contacts with whom you share WiFi network keys. Your only choices are very broad: all of your Outlook contacts or none; all Skype contacts or none; all Facebook contacts or none.
Too Much Sharing?
That’s another security weakness. It’s one thing to share WiFi keys with family and close friends, and quite another to share with a Facebook “friend” who could be a hacker in real life. I have hundreds of Facebook "friends" that I don't personally know, and I would be nervous if any of them could park in front of my house and tap into my Wifi.
Some of “your” WiFi networks probably belong to someone else, like a coffee shop, client, employer, or relative whose WiFi key is stored on one of your devices. None the less, WiFi Sense will allow your eligible contacts access to the WiFi Internet of people who have no relationship to your contacts.
WiFi Sense will not work with the 802.11x protocol, a WiFi authentication scheme typically run on a RADIUS or EAP server. Many enterprises and WiFi service providers (often used by coffee shops and other small businesses) use 802.11x, so the utility of WiFi Sense will be limited in some business environments.
But plenty of small businesses take a do-it-yourself approach to providing wifi to customers. It might never occur to them that by "friending" one patron, they've given access to 100 other people. And just think how this could spiral out of control in a household with Mom, Dad and several children sharing a WiFi access point. How many people would have access to your WiFi if each family member used WiFi Sense? "Honey, why is there always a line of cars parked in front of our house at night?"
Overall, WiFi Sense poses too many security risks for my liking. Managing it or opting out completely is too complicated for the limited benefits it provides. I'm surprised that it's turned on by default in Windows 10, and my advice is to disable it using one of the methods above.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 20 Jul 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Windows 10 WiFi Sense Nonsense? (Posted: 20 Jul 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved