Windows 10 has a potentially useful tool for sharing your home Wi-Fi with friends. However, it’s well worth taking a closer look and thinking about whether you want to use it.
The feature, known as Wi-Fi Sense, has been brought over from Windows Phone. It’s designed to overcome the minor hassles that come with giving visitors your (no doubt embarassing) wireless password, typing it on their device, or reminding yourself that WPS is often that little bit more fiddly than you’d like.
Instead Microsoft’s idea is to make it possible to automatically share your connection with contacts, specifically those in Skype, Outlook and Facebook. While those people won’t see your password, they’ll access an encrypted version on their computer that lets them connect.
There are several different stages of default and changeable options, which combine to mean nobody should have anything shared without their knowledge:
- Wi-Fi Sense can be switched on and off through the Wi-Fi settings. If, during Windows 10 set-up, you choose to use the Express Settings, Wi-Fi Sense is switched on; otherwise you’ll be asked to make a decision.
- Even if Wi-Fi Sense is switched on, it only becomes active if you are signed in to a Microsoft account. It then works on a network by network basis: each time you connect to a new Wi-Fi network you’ll get asked if you want to share it. A shortcut is to add “_optout” to the end of the network name, which will act as a flag to block it from the tool.
- When active, the default is to share with all Outlook and Skype contacts. You can also optionally choose to share with all Facebook contacts. In both cases the password is only accessible by direct friends and they can’t pass it on or share the network access.
- The tool only shares “ordinary” encrypted passwords such as those with WPA or WPA2. Passwords from networks with additional protections such as 802.1x won’t be shared.
The password itself doesn’t actually go on to your contact’s computer or device. Instead it’s stored in encrypted form on a Microsoft server. Network discovery is switched off, which means in theory that people you share the access with can merely get online and can’t even see the devices on your network, let alone access them. Of course, in both cases it’s really a personal decision whether you think the risk of somebody overcoming these barriers outweighs the practical benefits of using the tool.
One major drawback is that you can’t select individual contacts to access or be blocked from the tool: it’s all of your Outlook/Skype contacts (and optionally all of your Facebook contacts) or none of them. If you use Wi-Fi Sense and, for example, you’ve added a neighbor on Facebook out of politeness, you might want to rethink your decision so you aren’t inadvertently giving them access to your network.