What’s a guest Wi-Fi network, and why do you need one?

The modern world is so hooked up to online services that when guests come around, “How ya doing?” will probably be followed by “What’s your Wi-Fi password?” But the hospitable host probably doesn’t realize that revealing this information could pose a network security risk.

For example, guests might accidentally download a malicious program or connect an already infected phone or laptop to the network. Many pieces of malware are able to spread themselves over a local network, and if an infected device is connected to your Wi-Fi, it will try to contaminate everything in its range.

Why set up a guest Wi-Fi network?

It’s possible to be both hospitable and safe — by setting up guest Wi-Fi. A guest Wi-Fi network is essentially a separate access point on your router. All of your home devices are connected to one point and joined as a network, and the guest network is a different point that provides access to the Internet, but not to your home network. As the name suggests, it’s for guests to connect to.

A guest network is a win-win: Friends and acquaintances don’t lose touch with the outside world and your data isn’t compromised. Malware that somehow ended up on a guest’s smartphone will not be able to get into your family photo archive or other important files.

Why it’s better to connect IoT devices to a guest network?

Incidentally, a guest Wi-Fi network is a good idea not only if you have lots of friends, but also if you have lots of home smart devices. Smart TVs, smart teapots, video game consoles, and the like also need an Internet connection. But they tend to be far more vulnerable than computers with the latest updates installed. That means that if they are connected to the main network and hacked, intruders can get into your other devices.

At the mention of smart devices, many experts say that it’s not that there’s a possibility they’ll be hacked — they’ll be hacked for sure. And whereas a smart light bulb becoming part of a botnet is manageable, a computer turning into a zombie isn’t. Among other things, botnets are used to spread various malware, and if your computer has been turned into a zombie, this malicious code basically has an open pass to its memory.

Connecting all IoT devices to a correctly configured guest network instead of the main network provides additional protection against such attacks. Even if cybercriminals hack one of the IoT devices, they will not be able to penetrate your main network and compromise the computers and smartphones in it.

Sure, a smart washing machine connected to the guest network could still become a member of a botnet and take part in DDoS attacks or cryptocurrency mining (that’s pretty much a standard risk of buying smart things). But in that case, your computer containing bank data and other sensitive information will remain safe.

One last tip: Routers are in fact a typical target for botnet creators, so don’t forget to periodically update the firmware of your home router. The latest versions usually patch hackable vulnerabilities.