Router Security: Add a Guest Network

Category: Security

You may be aware that your router has a “guest network” feature, and you may think you know what it does. But a guest network is useful even when you do not have visiting relatives or friends. Let’s look at guest networks in detail and see how one can protect your home from cyber-intruders constantly...

Sharing Your Wifi With Friends (and Strangers)

“Can I use your WiFi?” is a common request from visitors to homes (and businesses). “Of course” is the hospitable reply. But you don’t want all of your network’s assets to be available to guests, and you don’t know what malware they may have on their devices.

Just as many homes have guest bathrooms and bedrooms, many routers have guest networks that visitors can use without intruding into hosts’ private areas, and these guest facilities get cleaned thoroughly as soon as guests leave.

Some Internet service providers will pre-configure your router with a guest network. If not, the procedure for setting up a guest network varies slightly from one router brand to another, but in general it is quite straightforward:

How to set up Guest Wifi Access

Log in to your router’s administrator console. (See the sidebar below if you're not sure how to do that.) Find the “Guest” page. Consult the user manual if necessary. Linksys calls it “Guest Access” and D-Link usually refers to it as the “Guest Zone.” Select either the 2.5 GHz or 5.0 GHz radio frequency band.

Enter a name (SSID) for your guest network. Enable broadcasting of the guest network’s SSID, so guests can find it on their devices. Yes, you can hide the SSID but then you’ll hear, “What’s the network name again?” a lot, and guests will have to type it into their devices each time they want to log on.

Remember that any passerby with a smartphone can see the SSID as if it was a sign on your front lawn. Avoid an SSID that reveals too much about you and your home, such as “Rankin_Guests.” Also, don’t be cute with an SSID like “FBI Van” or you may actually hear from law enforcement.

Select the WPA2 security option, the strongest encryption scheme for WiFi connections to the router. Here you will also set the password (encryption key) that guests will need to log on to the guest network.

Make sure the guest network feature is enabled (typically, a checkbox on the page). Save these settings and exit the administrator console.

In my article HOWTO: Protect Your Router Now I gave some advice on how to log in to your router and tighten up several security settings, including disabling remote access to the router. If you missed that article, you should check it out now.

Limiting Access to Network Resources

Generally, the guest network’s default settings allow your guests to access the Internet to check email and browse the web, even chat with each other and exchange data with their own devices. But they cannot access your main home network including the computers, printers, shared folders, media servers, streaming devices, personal assistant gadgets (Alexa, Google Home), smart lightbulbs, door locks, artificially-intelligent doorbells, surveillance cameras, toasters and other connected devices.

Do you see now why it's important to protect your main wifi network from casual (or potentially malicious) users?

Your router will allow you to specify which network resources your guests can use, or even allow multiple guest networks with different privileges. Asus routers allow up to six guest networks, each with different resources.

Once you've configured your guest wifi network, and assigned a password, there's one more important step. Make sure everyone in your home (especially kids) understands that they should not supply the access credentials for the main (non-guest) wifi to friends and visitors. That would defeat the entire purpose of having a guest network.

Don't Try This at Home, Unless...

The following ideas are not for most readers. But if you are an intrepid geek who wishes to test his mettle against hackers, a guest network makes a good “honeypot” to which you can lure them.

A honeypot, in enterprise network security, is a tempting mockup of the corporate network that contains no real sensitive data and provides no access to critical network resources. Its purpose is to fool hackers into playing their tricks on a useless target, so that the network’s admins can see what the hackers are up to. Honeypots send alerts to security staff when they are accessed, and log everything that intruders do.

This article in Network World discusses honeypots in the enterprise. Its applications to home guest networks are easily imagined.

Does your router offer guest wifi access? Do you make use of that feature? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Router Security: Add a Guest Network"

Posted by:

12 Jul 2018

Hi Bob, I navigated to the website for my router/wireless hub provided by Verizon, my DSL provider, which was Actiontec. In support they have a search function. I typed in "guest" and the option to tell me exactly how to add a guest network is on a numbered sequential list of instruction. I was concerned that the guest network did not have a password to be added. I'm going to bookmark the instructions page and temporarily disable the guest network until I get an answer from the support folks. BTW, FIOS is being installed in my neighborhood YAY - can't wait and am willing to lose the patch of grass they dug up during our drought to get it! HOWEVER, I'm pretty sure I will get a different router than the one currently in the house.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
12 Jul 2018

Bob, Your readers might want to know that at least some Linksys routers do NOT normally have the capability for setting up a guest account when the router is accessed directly through a browser. However, if you install the Linksys Connect software, it has guest account management capability when using this software to access the router. My router (Linksys E3000) has this "quirk".

Posted by:

12 Jul 2018

OK unfortunately the Actiontec instructions don't show how to enable the password, but you go to Wireless Security in the router admin and you can enable password for any of the SSIDs you've set up. The Actiontec support admin quickly answered that when I posted a comment on the instructions page. So far, so good!

Posted by:

12 Jul 2018

I've used the "Guest" network successfully for years and it has been quite useful. I've given it an easy password to remember as I always have guests in my home. But the most important use of the Guest network is when I am refurbishing used computers for sale. I set them up to always connect to my Guest network and I do not ever have to worry that the purchaser will ever have access to my private home network. In fact, most purchasers will never visit my home and will have no idea where it is, so they probably will never be able to connect to my Guest network. But I do all my work in my home and I do need Internet access for setup, and I prefer to use the "always connect" when I setup the computer so that I am not always typing in the password.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2018

I was unaware of the existence of this feature and it is something I wish I had known about years ago.
Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

Paul Kelly
14 Jul 2018

Bob: When my current internet provider supplies the router, what value would the three other routers I had to purchase have? My routers are from the days when I had to provide my own.

Thanks you;

Posted by:

John T
16 Jul 2018

I have cable provided internet via their modem, but I use my own (old) Cisco/linksys router model E2500.
I have the guest access activated for years now and that is what I provide for my guests to use.
works well and have no issues.

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