Setting up a guest network at your place of business is a fundamental way to add value for visitors. It’s also a rudimentary and effective way to secure a wireless network for a place of business. You may notice that business routers have another feature called access point isolation. It’s another way to provide Internet access to guests while cordoning off your internal network infrastructure. Here we’ll distinguish the features of each so you get a nice guest network vs access point isolation comparison.
What is access point isolation?
Router manufacturers call access point isolation different things. It’s called ‘Wireless Client Isolation’ on TRENDnet and Meraki networks; it is ‘AP isolation’ on Linksys, Ubiquiti, and Netgear equipment. Asus throws a curveball calling theirs ‘Access Intranet,’ while others may call the feature ‘guest mode.’ It all does the same thing: guests are able to connect to the Internet—but your networked equipment remains off limits. Your file servers, endpoints, devices—everything on the LAN—cannot be accessed through a router or access point with AP isolation settings engaged. The benefits are similar to a guest network in this regard.
Additionally, it prevents devices on a wireless network from communicating directly with one another. By definition, AP isolation creates a virtual network unique to each device on the WLAN. Why would you want to ensure endpoints can’t communicate on your WLAN? This prevents hackers from using public Wi-Fi to steal data from other users on the network. It also stops someone taking down the wireless network by flooding it with traffic.
AP isolation stops a malicious technique called ARP Poisoning or ARP Spoofing, also called a Man-in-the-Middle Attack. ARP stands for Address Resolution Protocol, a method of networked communication that discovers the physical Ethernet address of a device by pinging it with an IP packet. Here an attacker might ping an Ethernet-connected device on the LAN by spoofing the IP address of a public access point on that same LAN. The phony IP tricks the other device into exposing its physical MAC address, which makes its data and communications visible to the attacker. Enabling AP isolation on your router protects against the attack by cutting off that type of communication.
How is AP isolation different from a guest network?
Using your router to create a guest network is another way to separate visitors using the Internet and your networked devices and equipment. It’s a separate WLAN with its own ‘name’ – formally called an SSID (service set identifier) in network administration. Having two Wi-Fi networks lets you configure each to meet the bandwidth and accessibility needs of your guests, while protecting company data on the LAN and primary Wi-Fi connection.
With guest network administration, you have granular controls to regulate use of a designated guest wireless network. You might set up quality of service (QoS) restraints that caps the bandwidth available to them, or place time restrictions on how long someone can use it. If you want to cut off communication between endpoints, using AP isolation is best for securing a wireless network.
Note that if you were to set up your office wireless without dedicating a guest SSID, turning on AP isolation would prevent your networked equipment from seeing each other. The PCs wired to the LAN couldn’t talk to your wireless devices, and the wireless devices couldn’t access shared assets like file servers and applications hosted on internal infrastructure. A streaming device like Chromecast wouldn’t be able to mirror your mobile devices or your PC.
AP isolation is great for public Wi-Fi hotspots
Places that frequently have a lot of guest users on their wireless networks should consider a router or access point . It’s great for network security in a hotel lobby, retail stores, a car dealership, or for secure Wi-Fi in public spaces like an airport, bus terminal, or a stadium. Anywhere the general public is offered Wi-Fi, AP isolation helps secure a wireless network against ARP spoofing and man-in-the-middle attacks.