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Hidden Networks: What Are They and How to Discover Them

Not many people realize that there are hidden networks all around them, wirelessly transmitting data just like regular WiFi networks. Sometimes, these networks are hidden because they serve a very special purpose, but most hidden networks are invisible as an extra security measure.
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While relatively effective at keeping casual users away, the hidden status of these networks won’t confuse those who know what hidden networks are and how to connect to them, which is exactly what this article is all about.

What Is a Hidden Network?

By default, all WiFi networks broadcast the so-called Service Set Identifier (SSID) every 100 milliseconds to let other devices know about their presence. If you were able to hear and understand the signals broadcasted by your router, you would probably want to cover your ears because all routers around you are constantly shouting something like, “This is BASEMENTWIFI!” or “Hi, I’m CISCO_NETWORK!”

Well, almost all routers. Some routers don’t broadcast their SSID because the hidden network WiFi option has been turned on in the settings. This option stops the broadcasting of the network’s SSID, which effectively causes it to disappear and become invisible to all devices that connect to WiFi networks.

In the past, activating the hidden network WiFi option used to be a popular security mechanism, but it has since fallen out of favor because there are many easy-to-use tools that make it extremely straightforward to find hidden networks and see detailed information about them. One such tool is NetSpot, and we explain how to find hidden networks with it later in this article.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks?

Because hidden networks don’t broadcast their names, it takes a few more steps to connect to them. You also need to know a few things about the hidden network you want to connect to, namely:

If you have all this information, you can follow the instructions below for your platform.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on Windows 10

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Go to Network & Internet.
  3. Select Wi-Fi from the left pane.
  4. Click Manage known networks on the right.
  5. Click Add a new network and enter the required information.
  6. Click Save and wait for Windows 10 to connect to the newly added hidden network.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on Windows 8 and Older

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Go to Network and Internet → Network and Sharing Center.
  3. Click Set up a new connection or network.
  4. Choose the Manually connect to a wireless network option and click Next.
  5. Enter information for the wireless network you want to add and click Next.
  6. Wait for Windows to connect to the newly added hidden network.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on macOS

  1. Click the WiFi icon in the Menu bar.
Click the WiFi icon
  1. Select the Join Other Network option.
Select the Join Other Network option
  1. Enter the required information.
Enter the required information
  1. Click Join.
Click Join
  1. Wait for your Mac to connect to the newly added hidden network.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on Linux (GNOME)

  1. Open the system menu.
  2. Click the WiFi icon and go to WiFi settings.
  3. Press the menu button in the top-right corner of the window and select Connect to Hidden Network.
  4. Add a new hidden network.
  5. Enter the required information.
  6. Click Connect.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on Android

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Go to the WiFi section and select Add WiFi Network.
  3. Enter the required information.
  4. Tap Connect and wait for your Android device to establish a connection.

How to Connect to Hidden Networks on iOS

  1. Open the Settings app.
Open the Settings app
  1. Go to the WiFi section and select Other.
Select Other
  1. Enter the required information.
Enter the required information
  1. Tap Join and wait for your iOS device to establish a connection.
Tap Join

How to Scan for Hidden Networks?

hidden networks can be detected with a wireless network analyzer like NetSpot

Just because hidden networks don’t broadcast their names doesn’t mean they’re completely hidden. Because hidden networks still communicate with other devices, it’s possible to detect using a wireless network analyzer like NetSpot.

NetSpot is a versatile wireless network analyzer that can instantly collect detailed information about all WiFi networks available in the area and present it as an interactive table.

NetSpot Discover Mode

When NetSpot detects a hidden WiFi network, it lists it as “Hidden SSID” and provides the following information:

  • BSSID: A Basic Service Set Identifier is the MAC address (its unique fingerprint) of the router broadcasting the hidden network.
Understanding the Information BSSID
  • Signal strength: Indicated in decibels (dB) with reference to one milliwatt (mW), or dBm for short, signal strength can tell you a lot about your proximity to the hidden network.
Understanding the Information Signal
  • Band: Consumer-grade WiFi routers broadcast either in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band. The former band is able to carry signals over longer distances, while the latter band offers more bandwidth. Often, routers use both of these bands at the same time to combine their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Understanding the Information Band
  • Channel: Because there are only 11 channels in the 2.4 GHz band, it’s useful to know which channels are used the most by other networks in your area so that you can avoid issues with signal interference.
Understanding the Information Channel
  • Vendor: There are many different router manufacturers, including Netgear, Asus, D-Link, Cisco, TP-Link, Linksys, and others. NetSpot is able to tell which company has manufactured the router broadcasting a hidden network.
Understanding the Information Vendor
  • Security: There are still some people who believe that hidden networks don’t require encryption. With NetSpot, you can easily spot such networks and filter them out to avoid exposing your personal information or getting hacked.
Understanding the Information Encryption
You can also use NetSpot to survey a known hidden WiFi network

You can also use NetSpot to survey a known hidden WiFi network, which can be useful when setting up a home wireless network you don’t want your neighbors to see or deploying a business network that’s intended only for employees.

To survey a hidden WiFi network with NetSpot:

  1. Connect to the hidden network by following the OS-specific instructions above.
  2. Open NetSpot and enter the Survey mode.
NetSpot — Start a New survey
  1. Add the hidden network.
Add the hidden network
  1. Click Continue and proceed with your survey.
  2. Analyze the survey results.
Survey mode NetSpot
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FAQ

What does it mean when it says hidden network?

A hidden network doesn’t broadcast the so-called Service Set Identifier (SSID), which is essentially a fancy way to say that it doesn’t disclose its name. Such networks are not really any more secure than networks that do broadcast their SSID because finding them isn’t difficult.

How do I get rid of a hidden network?

To get rid of a hidden network, you need to log in to your router’s admin panel and go to WiFi settings. There, look for an option called Hidden Network and disable it. Keep in mind that you’ll need to restart your router for the change to take effect.

How do I find a hidden network?

To find a hidden network, you need a WiFi analyzer capable of capturing the wireless activity around you and associating with specific networks.

Why is there a hidden network on my WiFi?

Some routers are configured from the factory to broadcast a hidden network for a variety of different reasons. In most cases, you should be able to disable the hidden network from the router’s admin panel.

Have more questions?
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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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