Among the many new features Windows 10 brought to the table, there’s one interesting feature that hasn’t gotten much attention. It’s called Wi-Fi Sense and it’s either a major convenience or a major security risk, depending on who you ask.
Basically, Wi-Fi Sense lets people log in to your Wi-Fi network without needing the encryption password (you did set up encryption, right?). OK, that sounds dangerous and scary, but it isn’t quite as bad as you might be thinking.
A bit of history: Wi-Fi Sense isn’t actually new; it’s been a feature in Windows Phone 8.1 before. However, Windows 10 finally brought it to laptops, desktops and Windows-based tablets, so a lot more people are going to have it.
If you’ve ever been to someone’s house and wanted to log into their Wi-Fi network, you know it’s a hassle. They have to hunt down the password and you have to type it into your gadget. It’s even worse if they take my advice and have a strong Wi-Fi password, which is usually hard to type.
The same goes for a business Wi-Fi network. It might ask you to provide your name, email address or phone number before you can log in. Wi-Fi Sense will provide that information for you automatically, so you can just start using the network.
How Wi-Fi Sense works
If you choose to share a Wi-Fi network, Microsoft will store your encryption password on its servers. When a visitor who has Wi-Fi Sense enabled shows up, Windows will log them into your network automatically. Your visitor will never see the password, however.
To get on your network, the person has to be a contact of yours in Outlook (or on Outlook.com/Live/Hotmail), Skype or Facebook (with an add-in). So, if your parent or child shows up, they get logged in. A random stranger walking by your house won’t.
One concern, however, is that a near-stranger could get logged in. There are some friends you have on Facebook that you might not actually want on your network. Or maybe a long time ago you created a contact in Outlook for someone you emailed only once or twice.
True, if you don’t know the person that well, what are they doing near your house? Unless it’s that neighbor you got in an email war with over where to put the trash cans on the curb. Do you want them on your network?
Of course, Microsoft is quick to point out that Wi-Fi Sense doesn’t give someone access to your network, just your internet connection. So, they can steal your bandwidth, but they can’t actually see any of your computers or gadgets. That’s something, at least.
How to make Wi-Fi Sense safe
If you don’t want someone automatically logged in to your Wi-Fi, there are a few options. The best option is to turn Wi-Fi Sense off from the beginning.
When you first install Windows 10, choose the “Custom” install so it takes you through all the setup options. Turn off anything related to sharing your information or logging into Wi-Fi networks automatically.
If you jumped over these options during install, you can turn off Wi-Fi Sense later. In Windows 10, click the Start button and choose Settings to go to the new Settings screen.
Go to Network & Internet >> Wi-Fi >> Manage Wi-Fi Settings (only available on computers that support Wi-Fi). Turn off “Connect to suggested open hotspots,” “Connect to networks shared by my contacts,” and uncheck all the options under “For networks I select, share them with my contacts.”
Of course, you don’t have to turn off Wi-Fi Sense completely. If you still want to use it but want more control, here are some simple ways to customize how it works.
To start, you can remove people from your Outlook, Skype or Facebook contacts. However, if you actually need to contact them, then that’s not always practical.
Your next best option is to not share all your Wi-Fi networks. The first time you log into a Wi-Fi network with Windows 10, it will ask if you want to share it with others. Simply say no and it won’t be shared.
If you want to go the other direction and be really sure that Wi-Fi Sense stays completely away from your network, you can change your network name in your router to include “_optout” (minus the quotes) at the end. So, if your network name was “my network,” you would make it “my network_optout.” Learn how to change your network name, and pick a good one.
What do you think about Wi-Fi Sense? Does it sound like a useful tool or another security risk? Let me know in the comments.