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How to protect yourself against Windows 10’s controversial new Wi-Fi Sense feature

Published Aug 3rd, 2015 12:46PM EDT
Windows 10 Security

There is absolutely no question that the response to Windows 10 has been overwhelmingly positive. Yes, people are running into some problems after they update — here are some of the most common Windows 10 problems and solutions — and yes, there are some privacy concerns that you should absolutely pay attention to if you don’t want Windows 10 to spy on you. But for the most part it has been smooth sailing.

Well… sort of.

DON’T MISS: Windows 10: The first 5 things you need to do immediately after you install it

Microsoft added a new feature to Windows 10 called Wi-Fi Sense. It’s a very smart feature that allows trusted users to connect to a Wi-Fi network without needing to know the network’s password, and it’s the first time that technology like this has been available so widely.

That said, there are some obvious and serious security implications that have been a big concern for many of Windows 10’s early adopters and critics.

First things first: What is Wi-Fi Sense? “Wi‑Fi Sense automatically connects you to Wi‑Fi, so you can get online quickly in more places,” Microsoft wrote on its website. “It can connect you to open Wi‑Fi hotspots it knows about through crowdsourcing, or to Wi‑Fi networks your contacts have shared with you by using Wi‑Fi Sense.”

The follow excerpt from Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sense FAQ page will fill in a few key blanks:

Wi‑Fi Sense connects you to Wi‑Fi networks around you. It can do these things for you to get you Internet access:
  • Automatically connect you to open Wi‑Fi networks it knows about by crowdsourcing networks that other people using Windows have connected to. These are typically open Wi‑Fi hotspots you see when you’re out and about.

  • Automatically connect you to Wi‑Fi networks that your Facebook friends, contacts, or Skype contacts have shared with you after you’ve shared at least one network with your contacts. When you and your contacts share Wi‑Fi networks with each other, you give each other Internet access, but don’t get to see each other’s passwords. No networks are shared automatically. When you first connect to a network that you decide to share, you’ll need to enter the password, and then select the Share network with my contacts check box to share that network.

The initial settings for Wi‑Fi Sense are determined by the options you chose when you first set up your PC with Windows 10. You can change your Wi‑Fi Sense settings any time by selecting Settings > Network & Internet > Wi‑Fi > Manage Wi‑Fi settings, and then changing one or both of these settings under Wi‑Fi Sense:
  • Connect to suggested open hotspots

  • Connect to networks shared by my contacts

There are two main problems here. First, Wi-Fi Sense means people you don’t know can connect to your secure Wi-Fi network without even knowing the password. Second, Wi-Fi Sense creates a direct connection between two computers that the user of the host PC does not initiate. Today, that connection is safe and secure… but as a version of Murphy’s law modified for the digital age states, anything that can be hacked, will be hacked.

So let’s cut to the chase: How can you disable and block Wi-Fi Sense?

There are a couple of things you’ll need to do. First, on your Windows 10 computer, open the PC’s Settings and then click Network and Internet followed by Wi-Fi. Under Manage Wi-Fi, disable all of Wi-Fi Sense’s features.

Next, you’ll have to protect your home Wi-Fi network and ensure that other users with Wi-Fi Sense cannot connect to it. In order to do this, you’ll have to rename your network’s SSID so that it ends with “_optout.” So, for example, if your network’s name right now is “MyISPstinkz,” you’ll have to rename it to “MyISPstinkz_optout.”

Alternatively, you can set up a guest network that visitors will be able to access, but you’ll need a router capable of supporting multiple wireless networks.

READ MORE: Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do – here’s how to opt out

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.