What is a “guest network?”

If you have any techie friends, they probably have them. A guest network is essentially a way to connect to someone’s Wi-Fi without them giving you access to any of their computers. It’s a polite way of saying, “I trust you but I don’t trust you that much.” But that’s ok.

The capability to have a guest network is built into many routers and it’s really just a matter of software. In fact a guest network is the easiest thing for a manufacturer to add to their routers because it’s actually just a regular network with stuff taken away.

See, you think of your internet connection as one big happy thing, whether it’s wired or wireless. But actually it’s (at least) two different networks that communicate with each other using predefined rules. These are common-sense rules, like:

  • Everything on the wireless network can see everything on the wired network.
  • Everything on the wired network can see everything on the wireless network.
  • If you look for something, and you can’t find it on any network that the router can see, then try the internet.

This is kind of an oversimplification but you get the idea. When one device is part of a network, it’s constantly searching for other devices. Because of a router, one device can see all the devices connected to that router (wired or wireless) and all of them can see the internet. The internet can’t see any of the devices but the router (which is good, so people can’t steal your stuff.)

So a guest network is just a second Wi-Fi network where most of this stuff doesn’t happen. Your computer can’t see anyone else’s, period, and all it can see is the internet. Most of those “rules” by which a router actually works are suspended. It’s safer that way, the same way you can’t open a door that you don’t even know is there.

If your router has a “guest network” feature, you really should enable it because then you can give the password to your friends and know that no one who steals their phones could potentially park outside your house when you’re not home and hack into your computers. You think this doesn’t happen? In fact, if you have a guest network, you can feel a lot more comfortable using a dumb password like “123456” because yes, people could mooch off your internet but they won’t be able to get too far into your router. I’m not saying you should use a dumb password but if you are going to anyway, use it on a guest network.