Routers are wonderful little devices. Yes, we can get angry at them when they fall over or the internet is slow. Yes, setting up more advanced network stuff such as port forwarding or custom DNS setting can be incredibly frustrating. Still, these devices provide a simple way for every network device in your home to talk to each other as well as the internet.

That’s a little scary though, since it means that anyone who connects to your network could be browsing your desktop computer’s shared network folders or otherwise snooping around where you don’t want them to.

It’s not just a concern for people that you consciously let onto your network. It’s not that hard for someone who is determined to hack your WiFi network and leech your internet connection. While they’re there, it might occur to them to explore the other devices on the network, which could include computers and IP cameras.

So what can you do to protect the rest of your network from people with prying eyes on your WiFi connection? The answer might just be wireless isolation.

Feeling Isolated?

So what exactly is wireless isolation? It’s a special feature of many routers that can go by a number of names:

  • Wireless isolation
  • AP isolation
  • Station isolation
  • Client isolation

You get the general idea. Although the names vary, there’s usually a theme of “isolation” involved. Depressing, I know.

If you flip on wireless isolation something very specific happens. Any device that connects to the router will find themselves unable to do anything other than connect to the internet. There’s no LAN connection and only devices physically wired to the router with ethernet cable can see one another.

Why Not Just a Guest Network?

Wireless isolation sounds a lot like the idea behind “guest mode”. Enabling guest mode on a router (if it has it) will create a second separate WiFi network with a different name.

Anyone who logs onto that network will not have access to anything other than the internet. So far so good, right? The problem is that certain router makers don’t secure their guest access which means that the info you’re transmitting can be spied on by anyone with the right software.

Even guest access passwords are often transmitted unencrypted, which means that all a snooper has to do is wait for someone to type in the password and they can just pluck it from thin air.

Sometime Guest Networks are the Answer

It is possible to have a secure guest access point if you have the right router. You can check if access is secure by having a look at the URL of the guest login page. If it starts with “https” then it’s secured.

There are some reasons you may want use dual SSIDs with one dedicated to guests. If you use wireless isolation it means that no devices on WiFi can talk to devices wired in through ethernet. Even your WiFi devices. They also won’t be able to communicate with other WiFi devices. This means that devices such as WiFi printers and cameras simply won’t work.

It can also be used to regulate internet access times for residents such as children. Guest networks often have settings that let you do interesting access tricks. For example, you can set it to disconnect after a child’s bedtime.

A guest access point lets you keep all that functionality and preserve your privacy. Just not perhaps the privacy of your actual guests.

Enabling Wireless Isolation or Guest Networks

If you decide that either wireless isolation or a guest network is right for you, you’ll probably want to know how to actually set it up.

How difficult it is to get up and running can vary from trivial to challenging. It all really depends on the specific router you have.

As with all router setting changes, the only way to do it is by dialing into the router through the web browser on a connected device.

You then have to put in the router’s IP address to access its internal web page. This address is usually either 192.168.1.1 or 10.0.0.2. You can confirm the exact address either in the router’s manual or sometimes on a sticker underneath.

When you navigate to this address you’ll be asked for a username and password. You need to enter the details set by whoever first installed the router. If the initial settings were never changed you can check the manual for the default username and password too.

What’s On the Menu?

Once you’ve successfully logged in you’ll find a menu of some kind. This varies wildly from one vendor to the next, so there is no universal guide I can give you. Just look through every likely tab until you find something that refers to either wireless isolation or a guest network, depending on your preference.

Your router manual will be a great help unless you did what we all do and threw it away with the box.

Even after searching you may not find the settings you’re looking for. No, it’s not your eyes going, many routers simply don’t have these options. However, there may be a way to work around that issue if it proves to be true in your case.

Enter DD-WRT

DD-RWT

DD-WRT is Open Source firmware for your WiFi router that opens up the full abilities of the hardware. If you have a router that’s on their support list you can install the firmware by following their instructions.

Just remember that messing with firmware is always a bit risky and that you do so on your own cognisance. Be sure to check the features of the new firmware before going ahead too. Don’t assume it will add the functions you want. The firmware can’t add features the hardware simply doesn’t support after all.

If all else fails, you can always bite the bullet and go buy a model of router that includes the feature you are looking for out of the box.  If you feel the advantages of wireless isolation or a guest network are worth the effort.