WiFi is very common nowadays. Some WiFi is available for free but some are costly. Most of the wireless routers today come with some security features, such as security encryption (WEP/WPA). Or MAC address filtering, lowering transmission power, disabling DHCP & use static IP. Hiding of SSID is very helpful to keep your wireless network safe from intruders.
The security mechanism is very helpful to prevent from unauthorized users. In fact, each security step increases the difficulty for the intruder. But, if anyone is planning to crack it then not possible to prevent as well. In this article, we will be focusing on one of the options “Broadcast SSID” found in most wireless routers.
You may need to find all the wireless networks that are broadcast in your area. Also including those which have a weak WiFi signal and those that have hidden their SSID (network name). For this task, you have to install a wireless network scanner and use it to identify the WiFi networks which exist in your area.
Basically, you have to enable the SSID option for broadcast. All wireless-capable devices can see your router listed together with a bunch of other wireless networks. This option provides convenience for you to easily connect to it by clicking on your SSID. You have to just enter the security key.
However, this also allows the nearby hackers to find your network. And also able to see the signal strength with the security type directly from Windows without even the need to run a network scanning tool. Non-broadcasting wireless networks are not totally invisible as well because they can be detected by some tools.
List of tools to Discover Hidden Wireless Network
You can complete the task either for free or with the help of expensive tools. One issue is that only a few free tools work properly. Here we are going to provide a list of few tools that will help you to find hidden WiFi.
- NetSpot – Free Hidden WiFi Finder
- Net Surveyor
- Xirrus WiFi Inspector
- Acrylic WiFi
NetSpot– Free Hidden WiFi Finder
It is a free WiFi Analyzer. NetSpot is the professional app for the WiFi survey. First of all install the App. And follow the setup instructions and the installation is over in a couple of seconds.
Then, launch NetSpot. You can use this app for free if all you want is to discover the WiFi networks in your area and analyze them. If you desire advanced features like advanced visual analysis and planning of wireless networks, you need to purchase the PRO version.
Use NetSpot to find the WiFi networks in your area (including hidden SSIDs)
When you start NetSpot, you see a prompt that encourages you to upgrade your license to PRO. Press Continue and you can use the app for free.
- its SSID or the network name
- the MAC address of the router or wireless access point that is emitting the signal
- the alias of the network (set by you)
- a graph with the signal strength history
- the current signal strength measured in dBm, the minimum, maximum and average signal, the level of the network signal
- the wireless band on which signal is emitted, the channel used, and the width of the frequency channel (20, 40 or 80 MHz),
- the vendor of the device emitting the wireless signal
- the security used or the type of encryption
- the wireless mode or the standard used for the network: 802.11ac, 802.11n, etc.
How NetSpot Works?
Wait for a couple of seconds until it analyzes the wireless spectrum in your area and it scrolls down the list of WiFi SSIDs and sees what NetSpot has discovered. Write down those that interest you. Then, on your Windows laptop or tablet, click or tap the WiFi icon in the system tray area of the taskbar. You see a list with all the wireless networks that are not hidden.
Compare the list of SSIDs in NetSpot with those displayed by Windows, and those that show up only in NetSpot, are hidden by their owners. NetSpot can detect any number of SSIDs or network names.
With comparison to Windows, it detects a number of networks. Hidden networks are not detected by Windows. Interesting point is that you can get so much information about the network. For example, the kind of encryption they are using, the wireless networking standard used for broadcasting the WiFi signal.
Another useful piece of information that you get from NetSpot is when a network name is broadcast using many network addresses. This is the case when using wireless repeaters or meshes WiFi systems. If you carefully analyze the data offered by NetSpot, you get an accurate understanding of the wireless architecture in your area.
How many hidden wireless networks did you find?
NetSpot is a useful app that allows you to discover all the wireless networks in your area. When the owner secures their Wireless they thought their WiFi is safe. They are wrong, and you should not follow their example. With the correct tools, anyone can discover your hidden WiFi and lots of details about how it is set up. Before closing this tutorial, share with us examples about what you have found in your area.
It is the most popular free and open-source WiFi scanning tool available today. It is easy to use and understand without all the confusing configuration. After installation, running inSSIDer will automatically select your wireless adapter to start scanning for available access points. You can see the results in a table in the program displaying information. Such as SSID, channel, security, RSSI, MAC Address, maximum rate, vendor and network type.
Here you can see the list of wireless networks in the first line with an empty SSID. And, also get the rest of the information about the wireless network. inSSIDer works on Windows XP/Vista/7 (32-bit & 64-bit) and also on Android and Mac.
All WiFi must share channels with other networks in the environment. Too many networks sharing or overlapping a channel can slow down the performance of all WiFi networks on that channel. This WiFi scanner helps you see the best channel for your WiFi.
Another excellent small and portable utility by Nir Sofer called WirelessNetView allows you to view the available wireless networks around you. By placing the OUI database at the same folder as WirelessNetView, it can even show the brand of the wireless router based on the MAC address. It is possible to generate an HTML report file from the right-click context menu and it also has command line support to save the list of wireless networks into an external TXT, CSV, HTML or XML file.
Here you can see the list of networks. A unique feature found in WirelessNetView is the ability to restart Windows Wireless Service from the Options toolbar or alternatively from the hotkey Ctrl+R. WirelessNetView works from Windows XP to Windows 7.
Winhotspot is actually a stand-alone application that allows you to easily create a hotspot to share your Internet connection using your wireless adapter. However, it also comes with a scanner that can be accessed from the WiFi Stats tab. When you click the Refresh button it shows all the available wireless networks including the hidden ones.
The wardriving feature is very basic that only shows important information such as SSID, Auth, BSSID, Signal, Radio, and Channel. This utility is only 154 KB in size and works only in Windows 7 and 8. The file is hosted in CNET’s server and you should click on the Direct Download link instead of the big Download. Now button to avoid downloading the unnecessary 600 KB CNET installer.
Homedale is another portable and free wireless monitoring tool that is capable of showing hidden wireless networks. The program is categorized into four different tabs. Showing an overview of your wireless adapter, access points, signal graph, and options. At the Access Points tab, you can see all the networks with the signal strength levels. And they automatically updated every few seconds.
An interesting feature found in Homedale is the ability to connect to the access point by right-clicking on the AP and select Connect. Unfortunately, the connect command does nothing to the hidden ones without the SSID.
NetSurveyor– WiFi Scanner
NetSurveyor by Nuts About Nets seems to be a more professional tool. As it comes with logging to record and playback the data. It will generate a PDF report from the file menu. PDF report generates automatically. You can see the discovered networks, beacon qualities, usage of channels and time-course/heat-map/spectrogram of channels.
Hidden wireless networks are shown as UNKNOWN_SSID_BSSID in the program. The channel usage bar graph instantly tells you the overlapping channels with the colored bars. Even if your computer does not have a wireless adapter, NetSurveyor can be run as DEMO mode to get a feel on how it works. NetSurveyor works from XP SP3 with Microsoft .NET Framework version 3.5.
Xirrus WiFi Inspector is the biggest in file size at 21 MB. This is the comparison with other scanner mentioned in this article. The program has a modern ribbon type of user interface which seems a bit unnecessary because it only has 1 Home tab.
This software is designed to provide real-time monitoring of wireless network status and help ensure you are getting the highest performance available from your wireless network. The program categorizes into four different parts which are the radar, connection information, found networks and signal history. The radar simply displays the access points closest to you.
A gadget version of the Inspector can also be downloaded from the official website. It is free and works on Windows XP SP2 or later, Vista, or 7.
Vistumbler is a free wireless network scanner coded in Autoit made for Vista to replace the outdated Netstumbler. It has been around since 2007 and an updated version has been recently released.
Running Vistumbler will report that an update is available even though you have just downloaded the latest version. Clicking on the Yes button will prompt an error about a variable used without being declared. And when you click OK it will close the program. Then you need to do is simply click No when it asks you if you like to update Vistumbler.
There are 3 options to use a GPS with Vistumbler. Kernel 32 is the recommended com interface since it supports both x-32 and x-64. If that interface does not work you can try Comm-MG which should also work with x-32 and x-64 (but is slightly less stable). There is also Net comm OCX, which requires the NETCommOCX ActiveX control to be installed first.
Network shell (Netsh) is a command-line utility that allows you to configure and display the status of various network communications server roles and components after they are installed on computers running Windows Server 2016.
Some client technologies, such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) client and Branch Cache, also provide Netsh commands that allow you to configure client computers that are running Windows 10.
If you are unable to install and run any of the 7 tools above, Netsh would be your best alternative. Netsh is a command shell tool by Microsoft found in Windows operating system. Simply launch the command prompt and type the following command line to get a list of wireless networks. It is advisable to disconnect from any access points before running this command to get a more accurate result.
NETSH WLAN SHOW NETWORKS MODE= BSSID
The Netsh command is useful because it does not require installation of third-party programs but it does not come with a fancy graphical user interface or nice looking graphs. Surprisingly the Netsh tool is able to show quite a wealth of information if compared to the third-party tools mentioned above. Do take note that if both wired and wireless are connected, you will need to disable the wired connection first or else you’ll get the message “There are 0 networks currently visible”.
With the help of Acrylic finding and scanning of WiFi networks is very easy. You can also get network security information. Even if are on the new 802.11ac and 802.11ax networks. Acrylic WiFi Home is a free WiFi scanner for windows.
With a WiFi scanner such as Acrylic WiFi Home, you can improve speed options, configuration and choose the right channels to enjoy the best speed in your entire home. Acrylic will automatically warn you when new versions of the program that include improvements are posted.
Remember that you may try the professional version of the WiFi scanner for free and become a professional WiFi network, analyzing WiFi networks quickly, know details of speed, performance, and advanced information.
There is some wireless utility that is installed together with the wireless adapter driver capable of showing hidden networks. Although the Windows war-driving tools are unable to reveal the hidden SSID in invisible wireless networks, it does not mean that hiding SSID broadcast is safe. The hidden SSID can be revealed by de-authenticating connected users using airplay that is found in BackTrack Linux.