What Is an SSID and What Does It Do?

Find out why an SSID (AKA your Wi-Fi network name) is important to your network security and learn some tips on how to locate your SSID.
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A Service Set Identifier (SSID) is a fundamental part of a Wi-Fi network. It's how people can find a specific network from their computer or mobile device when there are multiple network options. The SSID also enables an automatic connection to previously accessed networks. In short, your SSID is simply a way to distinguish your network from other Wi-Fi networks.

Keep reading to learn more about how SSIDs work, where you can find them, and how to use SSIDs to enhance your network security.

In this article
What is an SSID?
What to do if you can’t find the SSID
Why change your default SSID
How to secure your network
The best VPN services for network security and privacy
FAQs
Bottom line

What is an SSID?

SSID is the technical term for a network's name. Your wired or wireless router sends out a network signal, and you use the SSID to identify the specific Wi-Fi network. On your device, you'll see a list of available networks when you connect. Those network names are SSIDs.

In a nutshell, an SSID is a changeable passkey that can be up to 32 characters long. When your Wi-Fi router sends a wireless access point, you use the SSID to locate the hotspot and connect to it.

SSID vs. MAC address vs. IP address

Technical terms can sound like they’re the same, but knowing the key characteristics helps you understand the differences between them. Here are a few common terms that often get confused:

  • SSID: The unique name that identifies a Wi-Fi network.
  • MAC address: The unique name that identifies a specific electronic device. It never changes — like your city's zip code. It's used to help reliably move data from the router to the right device.
  • IP address: The unique string of numbers that identifies a specific electronic device, but it can change. For example, if you are using a VPN, it masks your IP address and shows the internet a new IP address.

How to locate your SSID

Whether you're connecting to your home network or the free Wi-Fi at your favorite cafe, you need to know how to locate an SSID and connect to the network. Here are step-by-step instructions on locating an SSID on popular devices:

How to find an SSID on Windows 11

  • On the far right side of the taskbar, open quick settings by clicking on the network, sound, or battery icons.
  • Select the Manage Wi-Fi connections icon, which looks like an arrow pointing right.
  • Select your SSID from the list of available networks.

How to find an SSID on macOS

  • Click the Wi-Fi icon on the menu bar.
  • Review the list of available networks.
  • Select Other networks to display additional nearby SSIDs.

How to find an SSID on iOS

  • Go to Settings and tap on Wi-Fi.
  • Ensure Wi-Fi is enabled.
  • Select your SSID from the list of available networks.

How to find an SSID on Linux

  • Open the Network Manage.
  • Select Wi-Fi settings.
  • Locate your SSID in the Network tab.

How to find an SSID on Android

  • Go to Settings and tap on Network & internet.
  • Select Internet and ensure Wi-Fi is enabled.
  • Select your SSID from the list of available networks.

How to find an SSID on a router

Routers typically have a sticker on them that displays the default SSID number or Wi-Fi network name. However, if you have changed your SSID (as you should), then the information on the sticker isn't relevant. You'll have to use your device's operating system to find the SSID.

What to do if you can’t find the SSID

In some cases, the SSID won't appear when you search for it. There are a few reasons why this could happen to you:

  • The device is not within your network range.
  • The router isn't working properly or is turned off.
  • The SSID is hidden from public view.
  • Your device's network adapter isn't working or is turned off.

When you can't locate your network's SSID, here are a few steps you can take to resolve the situation:

  • Move your device closer to the router (or use a wireless extender device to expand the network reach).
  • Make sure there aren't any obstructions near the router.
  • Restart the router or your devices.
  • Update device drivers.
  • Restore the router’s settings to factory settings. (This will reset the unique SSID to its default name.)
  • Verify the network name.
  • Ask the network owner if the network is hidden. (If it is, you'll need to do a manual search to find the access point.)

Why change your default SSID

It's recommended to change the default SSID to a unique name. This action is one part of ensuring overall network security. Giving your network a distinctive name makes it more difficult for hackers to discover the router brand and exploit any known vulnerabilities.

Besides security reasons, changing your default SSID makes it less confusing to find your network. Your SSID will stand out from the "Netgear," "TP-Link," and “Linksys” in your neighborhood. Correctly identifying your network will make it easier — and safer — to connect.

Selecting an SSID for your Wi-Fi network

You should change your default SSID as soon as you set up your Wi-Fi network. A custom name makes it easier to recognize your network while also making it more difficult for hackers to exploit it. Additionally, you want to ensure that your devices auto-connect to the right network.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing an SSID name:

  • Choose a name easily recognizable by you.
  • Don't use personal details like your last name.
  • Create different names for each router or Wi-Fi extender.

How to change your SSID

Changing your SSID may look different for every router brand. In general, the instructions are the same. To change your default SSID, you need to navigate to the service provider’s website and use the passcode on the router sticker to log in.

For example, here is how to change your SSID if you are using a NETGEAR router:

  1. Open a web browser and go to www.routerlogin.net.
  2. Enter your username and password.
  3. Select Wireless.
  4. Enter your new SSID name (32 characters max).
  5. Click Apply to save changes.

Does hiding your SSID matter?

Some people may want to hide their SSID and stop it from public broadcasting. This means that your network name won’t appear in the list of nearby networks.

The theory is that concealing your SSID broadcast will prevent uninvited people from joining the network. However, disabling your SSID broadcast may make your network performance slower since the network requires more requests to establish a connection.

If you would like to prevent your neighbors from using your Wi-Fi, change your SSID and use a strong password. Update your password to something more complex and hard to guess.

How to secure your network

Changing your default SSID to a new name is part of good network security measures. But there are many other ways to secure your network and prevent it from misuse. Here are a few other ways to keep your Wi-Fi network safe:

  • Create a strong password for your network.
  • Regularly update your Wi-Fi password.
  • Share Wi-Fi passwords only with trusted people.
  • Consider creating a network specifically for your guests.
  • Keep router firmware and software updated.
  • Make sure your firewall — a built-in network security device — is enabled.
  • Install a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your network traffic.
  • Use separate networks for smart home devices.

Cybercrimes with SSIDs

Being aware of cybercrimes can help you learn what you need to do to protect your online security. Hackers like to target default SSIDs as part of their cyberattacks. They may use the default SSID to identify your router and use any known vulnerabilities to exploit it.

Another cyberattack method called Fake WAP, or Evil Twin, involves creating a malicious network with the same wireless access point, or default SSID. You may connect, not realizing it's the wrong network, and possibly download malware.

How to check which devices are connected to your Wi-Fi network

Checking what wireless devices are connected to your Wi-Fi network is a crucial part of network cybersecurity. It can help you spot unauthorized activity, like neighbors using your Wi-Fi or a hacker in your router.

Luckily, you can check your router's network map or logs. Each router provider will have different instructions on how to find devices connected to your Wi-Fi network. Generally speaking, you will need to log in to your router admin account and then check the router settings.

The best VPN services for network security and privacy

A virtual private network (VPN) is a valuable tool to enhance your network security and safeguard your privacy. VPNs create a secure connection between two networks (your device and the VPN’s secure remote server).

The established point-to-point connection allows the VPN service to encrypt your personal data and traffic, mask your IP address, and hide your web browser activities from others on your network. Installing a VPN can even let you bypass blocked websites and firewalls to access geo-restricted or paywalled content.

Using a VPN is especially useful if you frequently connect to public Wi-Fi networks. Here are some top choices for the best VPN services:

  • NordVPN: NordVPN is a high-quality VPN that doesn't compromise on security or privacy. It's a reliable option if you are looking for premium safety features.

    Get NordVPN | Read Our NordVPN Review

  • Surfshark: Surfshark is one of the most affordable VPN options available. With unlimited device connections and serious security, it's designed for everyday use.

    Get Surfshark | Read Our Surfshark Review

FAQs


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What does SSID on the Wi-Fi network stand for?

SSID on the Wi-Fi network stands for Service Set Identifier. It's the name of the Wi-Fi network. Routers come with a default SSID, and it's recommended to change the SSID to something unique and more identifiable.


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Is an SSID the same as a Wi-Fi password?

An SSID is not the same as a Wi-Fi password. An SSID is the technical term for a Wi-Fi network name. To access a network, a person will need to select the network's SSID and enter the correct Wi-Fi password.


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Is an SSID the same as a Wi-Fi address?

The SSID isn't the same as a Wi-Fi address. An SSID is the Wi-Fi network name. Meanwhile, a Wi-Fi address refers to the MAC address. The MAC address identifies devices connected to the network.


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What is the purpose of an SSID in a wireless network?

The purpose of an SSID in a wireless network is to make it easy to identify the network. It allows people to distinguish between different networks and connect to the right network.


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How do I find my Wi-Fi network's SSID?

You can find your Wi-Fi network's SSID by checking the Wi-Fi network on your device. You can also find your default SSID on your router. You should change your default SSID while you set up your router for security reasons.


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Can I have multiple SSIDs on my Wi-Fi network?

You can have multiple SSIDs on your Wi-Fi network. Each SSID can have its own network and security configuration. For example, many people choose to have a guest network with its own SSID, so guests don't connect to the main network.

Bottom line

The SSID seems insignificant at first glance, but it's a huge part of your network security. Configuring an SSID can ensure quick connections and fast internet speeds. You should change your default SSID the moment you set up your router. It advances your network security to choose an SSID that is easy to distinguish from other networks.

If you already have secured your SSID, you can start to look into the best VPN services to keep your connection private.

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Author Details
Sara J. Nguyen is a freelance writer specializing in cybersecurity. She aims to help people protect their data while enjoying technology. She has written about online privacy and tech for over 5 years for several organizations. When she's not writing about the latest cybersecurity trends, you can find her on LinkedIn.