Technology Blog »

A Guide to Windows' Wi-Fi Sense

A Guide to Windows' Wi-Fi Sense
July 28, 2015

In less than two days, Windows 10 will be released for free to all Windows 7 and 8.1 users, bringing new features and capabilities. Some features which are touted as helpful or beneficial, however, are much more risky than they look. With the release of Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft introduced Wi-Fi Sense, a feature which allows users to share their saved Wi-Fi networks and passwords to their Skype and Outlook contacts, as well as their Facebook friends. In addition, Wi-Fi Sense, when enabled, will auto-fill user information fields on public Wi-Fi sign-ins to reduce a user’s need to manually enter their information in order to connect to the internet wirelessly. Here at DCS, we've researched this feature extensively and have created a guide to Windows' Wi-Fi Sense and its advantages/disadvantages.

 

What are the benefits of Wi-Fi Sense?

Wi-Fi Sense is a potentially major time-saver for internet users who take their devices to the homes and offices of friends and business associates and are bothered by the menial task of asking for a Wi-Fi password, then manually entering it in. When a user and their friends or colleagues use Wi-Fi Sense, they can choose to share their Wi-Fi passwords with their Facebook friends, Skype or Outlook contacts, allowing for everyone they are in contact with to connect to the internet effortlessly and automatically.

It also ensures the privacy of network administrators by encrypting Wi-Fi passwords and by limiting their contacts to only use the joined network for internet access. This means that contacts cannot access their stored files or other computers and devices on the network. Additionally, Wi-Fi Sense allows you to choose the networks you would like to share, making it possible to keep a private network. A network administrator can also choose to “un-share” networks that have been previously shared, eliminating the ability for users to reconnect to their network once they have decided to disable sharing through Wi-Fi Sense.

For Windows Phone users who are concerned about data overages, Wi-Fi Sense prefers Wi-Fi networks to cellular data when networks are available. This could potentially give users more internet connectivity options and allow them to save valuable cellular data when they are in range of a network that has been shared with them.

What are the risks of using Wi-Fi Sense?

As with everything in life, with advantages come disadvantages, and Wi-Fi Sense has certainly been gaining media attention for its controversial features and settings. Although Windows 10 has not officially launched to the public yet, those who have access to beta versions are reporting that Wi-Fi Sense is activated by default on all Windows 10 devices when the operating system is installed. This is troubling as many users may not understand the security risks of sharing their network information with a large group of contacts and therefore, put their personal information at risk.

Although users are given the ability to decide with which services they share their networks, they are not given the granular ability to choose only specific individuals within those services. In a hypothetical situation, a user could set their Wi-Fi Sense settings to share their networks with all Outlook contacts, giving access to their networks and passwords to not only business contacts, but also to spammers and hackers who have found their way into the contact list of the user. This is hazardous for the user, whose passwords, while encrypted, are still vulnerable to attacks.

Fortunately, Wi-Fi Sense does give the user the ability to customize their settings and to control the type of information provided to the network to which they are looking to connect. The catch: you have to know where to look and what to look for.

By default, Wi-Fi Sense is set to accept a public network’s Terms of Use on a user’s behalf. This feature will automatically provide additional information, such as a user’s full name, email address and/or phone number, to networks who require it at sign-in. This could potentially be problematic should a user attempt to login to a public network that is malicious, as Wi-Fi Sense will provide their personal information to spammers, hackers, or companies with invasive privacy policies. If the user decides to disable this in the Wi-Fi Settings menu of your computer or device, they can still choose to connect manually to a public network by entering the necessary additional information in their web browser.

Wi-Fi Sense also requires the user to be vigilant about the security of their personal information. The risk of sharing your passwords with your contacts is small, but it’s not nonexistent. Protecting your personal information is vital, no matter how secure Wi-Fi Sense is advertised to be. Theoretically, even though Wi-Fi Sense encrypts all passwords and information, an attacker could potentially gain access to a user’s network and passwords through Facebook, Skype, or Outlook. Therefore, it is important to only add trusted friends and contacts if a user chooses to use Wi-Fi Sense.

Making sure you understand this service and what information you can and cannot control is crucial if you are considering using Wi-Fi Sense. Large companies, like Microsoft, could be creating security risks or flaws for users with little risk on their end. To reiterate, it is imperative that you understand the way this service works before you allow it to collect your information and share it with your contacts.

How to Opt Out of Wi-Fi Sense

Although Wi-Fi Sense is enabled by default on Windows 10, the user has the ability to change settings or completely deactivate the feature altogether. If you’ve done the research or are convinced you do not wish to opt-in to Wi-Fi Sense, here are a few ways to ensure your network and information privacy.

In the Wi-Fi settings menu (Settings App > Network & Internet > WiFi > Manage Wi-Fi Settings) make sure you have turned off/un-checked the following:

-Connect to suggested open hotspots
-Connect to networks shared by my contacts
-Outlook.com contacts
-Skype contacts
-Facebook friends

Additionally, you can rename your Wi-Fi network to include “_optout” at the end of your SSID (network name). For example, if your network is named “DCSNY”, changing your network name to “DCSNY_optout” would make your Wi-Fi network ineligible for sharing through Wi-Fi Sense.

Although this feature is handy for users who understand the security risks, the amount of time you’re saving is negligible. Manually entering your Wi-Fi passwords for guests or asking for a password from someone else’s shared network only takes minutes, if not seconds. Is putting your home or business network at risk worth the few moments you would save?

Wi-Fi Sense is only available for Windows 10/Windows Phone 8.1 users.
Wi-Fi Sense is not available in all countries or regions. Click here to find out whether the feature is compatible with your region/language.
For further information or if you have additional questions regarding Wi-Fi Sense, click here.