How to set up a guest Wi-Fi network: Guest networks explained
October 28, 2021 2 min read
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There's probably no better time of year than the holiday season. Joy is in the air as you share your home with family and friends — and inevitably share your Wi-Fi password too, so everyone can stay connected. But you might be surprised to learn that oversharing your Wi-Fi password could expose your network and loved ones to potential cybersecurity threats. That’s where a guest network comes in.
Taking the time to set up guest Wi-Fi for your visitors can help make your holiday get-togethers more safe and secure for your home and devices. Here, we’re overviewing just what is the point of a guest network, the benefits of guest Wi-Fi, along with step-by-step instructions for how to set up a guest Wi-Fi network.
What is a guest network?
A guest Wi-Fi network provides an alternate and independent access point to your internet router. This connection is separate from the main network you use every day. By creating two separate Wi-Fi networks, you can grant internet access to devices that may be at a greater risk of falling victim to data breaches or other types of cyberattacks.
You might think of a guest network like offering your guests their own cup of hot cocoa versus having them taste the one you’re sipping on. You don’t want to be spreading germs during the holidays, right? The same can be true for guest networks: It's tougher to transfer cybersecurity threats between devices if they're on different networks.
Why set up a guest Wi-Fi network?
You probably don't mind sharing your Wi-Fi password with close friends. But you might feel differently if you're throwing a holiday party and multiple plus-ones are making their way over. A guest network can come in handy here, along with the following benefits of a guest network.
1. Defense against malware
Guest networks provide an extra layer of protection against viruses and programs, such as worms or other forms of malware, that could attach themselves to some of the devices coming through your door. With a separate Wi-Fi network, you can protect the devices using your primary network, keeping your most sensitive information safe.
2. Password protection
If you tend to reuse passwords, sharing your Wi-Fi password could put many of your other accounts at risk. The potential viruses lurking on neighboring devices could break into your network to carry out credential stuffing attacks, allowing hackers to make a profit off your stolen information.
To this end, a guest Wi-Fi password should be different from the one used for your primary Wi-Fi network. This can help prevent hackers from gaining access to your files and data that you have no interest in sharing.
3. IoT device security
Most IoT devices such as gaming consoles and smart TVs are easier to hack into compared with more frequently updated hardware like our phones and smart watches. Who would've thought you would have to think twice before letting your cousin connect his new PS4? By separating those devices onto a guest Wi-Fi network, you can lessen your chances of having hackers get ahold of your data.
4. Speed optimization
Some Wi-Fi routers offer the ability to limit the speed available on your guest network so that you are never dissatisfied with the capabilities of your primary network. Dual band routers provide two frequency bands, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, which allows you to choose which network you’d like to run faster. Consider putting your guest network on your 2.4 GHz network to ensure optimal speed remains with your primary network, which is doing more of the heavy lifting in your home.
How to set up a guest network
If you’ve decided a guest network is a smart decision for your home, the question “Well, how do I set up a guest network?” has probably crossed your mind. Here are a few steps to follow to enable your network’s guest Wi-Fi settings.
It’s also worth mentioning that these steps may vary depending on your internet provider or router.
1. Enter your router’s IP address into a search bar
Type your specific IP address located in your user manual or on the back of your router into a web browser.
After your browser has directed you to your network’s login page, sign in as an administrator.
3. Locate the wireless network guest option
Once logged into your network, navigate to the wireless network guest option.
4. Enable guest Wi-Fi access
Many routers will have guest network settings disabled. Be sure to enable yours.
5. Create a guest Wi-Fi network name
Create a name or SSID for the guest network you are setting up. Think of something different from the name of your primary network.
6. Broadcast or hide the network name
Leave broadcast on if you’d like your guests to visibly see the network on their own. Disabling broadcasting will require guests to get the login credentials and security details from you personally.
7. Create a strong guest Wi-Fi password
Finally, create a strong, unique password for your guest network that is different from your main network.
4 guest network security tips
Setting up a guest network is, well, the first step in using a guest network. You need to also keep guest network security best practices in mind to have a safe and fully functioning connection. Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting up your guest network.
1. Consider router placement
When setting up your guest network, keep in mind the location of your router. The strength of the Wi-Fi doesn’t need to cover the entire house — just where visitors will likely be. So, think of other places people might like to congregate. In a living room around a Christmas tree or around a dinner table, for a holiday example.
2. Restrict access with a guest network password
Without the proper security measures in place, unwanted users can access your guest network. This increased traffic could result in slower performance and potential cybersecurity concerns if those unwanted visitors are indeed cybercriminals. Consider a password to take control over who can use your connection.
3. Limit guest network bandwidth
If you have a router that supports a dual connection, you have the option of choosing the bandwidth setting that works best for your home. Entertainment and sound systems will likely need a more reliable and consistent speed, so giving your main network the most bandwidth is a wise decision. Guest networks can have a slower speed because they’re often only used periodically.
4. Monitor your guest network
To maintain a safe guest network, it’s smart to keep an eye on the devices that gain access to your guest network. Though this type of connection can lessen the chances of malware corrupting your main network, you still don't want malicious programs lurking around on the network your guests are using.
Setting up guest Wi-Fi in your home takes you one step closer to hosting a perfect holiday get-together. So, go on. Bake those cookies and sing those carols—maybe even with one of your new devices blaring the tunes—knowing you’ve got yourself and your network protected.
Guest Network FAQs
Is guest Wi-Fi safe?
Guest Wi-Fi is a solid means to provide a secondary, secure internet connection without putting your main network at risk. Should one of your guests connect to your main network with an infected device, you’ll run the risk of having their infection spread throughout the devices using that network.
Should guest Wi-Fi have a password?
For the utmost security, all guest Wi-Fi networks should have a password. Just as you did with your primary network, create a unique guest Wi-Fi password to help protect your guests from potential online threats.
Is a guest network slower?
In some instances, creating a guest network can slow down your Wi-Fi. However, having a dual band router, meaning a router that provides two frequency bands (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, commonly), can give you a little more control over the performance of your guest network and how much bandwidth you’d like to allocate.
Why connect IoT devices to a guest network?
IoT devices can be more vulnerable to cyberattacks because software updates and security patches aren’t rolled out as quickly and commonly as our everyday devices. And with the past year seeing more than 1.5 billion breaches of IoT devices, connecting your smart TVs and gaming consoles to a guest Wi-Fi network has become a wise choice. This prevents your more vulnerable devices from compromising the rest of your home’s network.
Does your router support guest networks?
Not all routers support guest networks. Before attempting to set up a guest Wi-Fi network, you should check to see if your router does, and this should be as simple as referring to your router’s user manual or contacting your internet service provider. Worth noting is routers might label their guest network setting differently. For example, Google Wi-Fi names their feature “Guest Wi-Fi” and D-Link routers typically label their feature as “Guest Zone.”
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Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.
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