Everything You Need to Know About Wi-Fi Captive Portals

Everything You Need to Know About Wi-Fi Captive Portals


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You may have noticed that you have to log in through an authentication page before using the free Wi-Fi at restaurants, malls, and other places. This page, known as a Wi-Fi captive portal, provides an additional layer of security for users and Wi-Fi network providers alike. But that’s only part of what makes them appealing.

Here’s all you need to know to understand how and why we use Wi-Fi captive portals.

What Is a Wi-Fi Captive Portal?

A Wi-Fi captive portal is a webpage that displays the terms and conditions of using a Wi-Fi network to a newly connected user. Usually, you will be redirected to a captive portal when you try to connect to a public hotspot, also known as a guest SSID. After authenticating, paying, or agreeing to the terms displayed on the web page, you can access the Internet using this hotspot.

Many establishments with captive portals offer users a Wi-Fi password to input into their devices. This password is changed frequently to prevent customers from automatically connecting to the network whenever they are within the Wi-Fi range.

Certain businesses have provided surveys alongside other interactive features on their captive portals. For some, you can only connect to their Wi-Fi after completing a survey and submitting your response. Surveys like these help organizations gain more insight into their clients and get basic data, like their names, gender, or location.

How Do Wi-Fi Captive Portals Work?

Although some features may differ depending on the owner of the captive portal, all Wi-Fi captive portals aim to ensure that only users with the right authentication can access the Wi-Fi network.

A Wi-Fi captive portal leads you to a page called a portal splash page or a custom landing page. Here, all sites are rendered inaccessible until you are authenticated. You must first agree to terms on the captive portal, which may include payment rates and time slots.

If you are the owner, you can determine all settings governing the use of that network. While setting up the captive portal, you can indicate how long each user can browse per log-in, the size of files that can be downloaded, and even the kind of sites that can be accessed.

With a few tweaks to the firewall, captive portals can be used on Wi-Fi and wired networks. If the Wi-Fi network is reserved for a select few, it will request the password they are privy to. This weeds out unwelcome guests attempting to use the hotspot.

You can also enable some sites to be accessed through the network without being led to an authentication page. This is known as a Walled Garden.

What Is a Walled Garden?

A Walled Garden, in relation to wireless networks, permits or prevents access to certain sites. If you connect to a network that uses a Walled Garden, you can only access the parts you’re allowed to, and the ones that are blacklisted will be inaccessible to you.

Walled gardens are often employed to reduce the risks of cyber fraud. Such defenses can help prevent malicious bots or actors from gaining access to the network. A walled garden can even help prevent access to media-heavy sites that may consume too much data.

Why Should You Use a Wi-Fi Captive Portal?

Wi-Fi captive portals are a game changer for many businesses, as they serve as great marketing tools to enhance customer relationships. For individuals, they serve as an extra layer of security to their personal or home Wi-Fi network. Here are some of the top reasons people use Wi-Fi captive Portals:

  • Gain valuable marketing information: Using a Wi-Fi captive portal requires users to sign in by providing either their social media accounts or registering on the webpage. This helps business owners gather more data about their customers.
  • Promote a business: The webpage that functions as the Wi-Fi captive portal can also be used as an advert page for available promos, products, and packages.
  • Improve network security: The major aim of enabling a captive portal with your network is to prevent just anyone from connecting to your Wi-Fi. This is important because hackers can steal private data through Wi-Fi connections.
  • Reduce network congestion: Too many people connecting to your Wi-Fi network causes traffic and slow network connection for users.
  • Weed out bandwidth hoggers: Wi-Fi captive portals serve as a screen to weed out bandwidth hoggers, thus allowing those on the platform to have faster, less congested internet access. By restricting the size of files that can be downloaded using the provided Wi-Fi, you reduce the likelihood of a few ruining the network for everyone use.
  • Remove liability: When users agree to terms before using a public Wi-Fi network, the owner or the establishment will not be held liable for any illegal or fraudulent activity carried out on that SSID. The erring user will be held accountable for their actions, having flouted the Accepted Usage Policy they agreed to upon signing in on the captive portal.
  • Gain more control over Wi-Fi network: The captive portal gives you more control over the bandwidth and usage of your Wi-Fi network. You can set a time limit on the use of your Wi-Fi and also on the number of connected devices to your network.

The list goes on. But if you’ve decided you’re ready to set up your own Wi-Fi captive portal, how do you get started? Turns out, there are quite a few programs that can help you with the job.

The Best Captive Portal Software

There are many captive portal software programs that are easy for you to set up yourself, and they are usually free of charge. Here are the five best captive portal software programs you can use:

m0n0wall is a complete firewall software package that can be utilized for various purposes. This free software will help you include an authorization-requesting page for your Wi-Fi network. It also features a RADIUS server that is commonly used for centralized authentication.

Chillispot is one of the best open-source software programs for creating a web-based signing-in page. Users are granted access to a network connection after providing the correct details. It also uses a radius server and web server that can be installed or downloaded.

Pfsense firewall offers a free inbuilt captive portal through the web browser. Pfsense is regarded as the best firewall for home wireless local area networks (LANs), and you can set it up yourself easily. You may also acquire Pfsense hardware if you’re willing to pay.

The WifiDog software included in the OpenWrt software package repository builds Wi-Fi hotspots and creates captive portals using a gateway and an authentication server. WifiDog is recommended for Wi-Fi networks in guest houses, spas, or restaurants because it features great customization options. You can also use WifiDog to add ads to your webpage.

Pepperspot gives you control of the access point of your Wi-Fi network. It also supports web-based login and Wireless Protected Access (WPA). The verification process is controlled by Internet protocol version six (IPv6), one of the best radio servers available. It is free for you to download and use.

Should You Set Up a Wi-Fi Captive Portal?

Setting up a Wi-Fi captive portal isn’t that hard. You may choose any of the Wi-Fi captive portals available to you and set it up at your business place or home.

From every indication, enabling a captive portal on your Wi-Fi network can do you a lot of good. It’s important for every internet user to stay safe from the various dangers out there, and using an authentication page is a preventive measure to take in that regard.

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November 24, 2022 at 10:05AM

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