Guest networks on routers aren't as safe as they seem

Photo (c) simpson33 - Getty Images

Researchers suggest the trouble comes from routers initiating the use of separate networks

A new study could have consumers thinking twice before connecting to guest networks at their next concert or sporting event. 

According to experts from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, companies and homes that run two networks on their routers (a guest network and a host network) are susceptible to both hacking attacks and data leaks. 

“All of the routers we surveyed regardless of brand or price point were vulnerable to at least some cross-network communication once we used specially crafted network packets,” said researcher Adar Ovadya. “A hardware-based solution seems to be the safest approach to guaranteeing isolation between secure and non-secure network devices.” 

How the hacks happen

The researchers explained that on most routers, whether used for commercial or residential use, companies offer consumers two networks: one for personal use that houses all of the more important data, and one for public use that doesn’t contain private information. 

The goal of creating two networks is to ensure that private data stays private and that users feel safe and secure when their devices are connected to the network. However, the researchers discovered it was this hyper-attention to cybersecurity that ultimately led to data breaches on guest networks. 

Their study included routers from a variety of popular brands, and each revealed the same thing: because the router ultimately hosts two networks, hackers can utilize shared channels between both of them to either steal information or share data between the two networks. 

This can be particularly dangerous on both the residential and commercial level. No consumer wants a hacker to have such easy access to their information, and no company wants their private data -- or their customers’ private data -- leaked. 

This issue appears to be rather pervasive, and the researchers suggest the best way to avoid such data leaks is to have separate devices for personal and private networks to ensure all information, whether for personal or professional reasons, is secure. 

Take an Identity Theft Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.