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My partner and I have just moved house and we're waiting for our internet to be connected. We're living in a group of units and as you'd expect there are numerous WiFi networks, all secured... or so I thought.

The other day I was using my phone as a wifi hotspot and my partners phone was connected to it (I had more data allowance). I turned off the hotspot and waited for her streaming music to cut out... and waited... and waited. I was becoming more and more amazed by how much of the song was buffered. I went to check what was going on and noticed her phone had somehow connected to an apparently secured WiFi network. The streaming service continued uninterrupted.

I thought, that's really odd, but hey, maybe we can mooch off the neighbours until our connection comes online. I tried my own phone and laptop... both were prompted for passwords and unable to connect.

How on earth can this have happened? We can connect and disconnect to this secure WiFi as we please, but only on my partners phone. My only guess is that by pure coincidence our neighbour pressed the WPS button around the same time, but that seems ridiculously unlikely.

How could my partners phone have connected to this secure WiFi network?

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    Either your partner had the password for this network or your assumption that this network was secured was wrong. – Steffen Ullrich Oct 4 '17 at 4:35
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    What's the Wi-Fi security settings for this network? There are some EAP method which allows one to connect to secured Wi-Fi without any apparent credentials, for example EAP-SIM/EAP-AKA, which uses the SIM card to authenticate to the network. – Lie Ryan Oct 4 '17 at 5:18
  • You don't give enough information to say for sure (device models, the carriers used by you and your partner, name of the 802.11 network connected to, etc), but this is likely the result of 802.11u/Hotspot 2.0 in action. – YLearn Oct 4 '17 at 6:45
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    This is I'm assuming a faithful partner with no prior history of having been to the area. Did you use WPS to allow setup on your phone hotspot? – Robert Mennell Oct 4 '17 at 6:55
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    Not suggesting anything, but the easiest answer would be s/he connected to that network before. – downwardCorgi Oct 4 '17 at 14:30
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I believe what happened is that your partners phone is connecting to this network through the use of 802.11u/Hotspot 2.0/Passpoint. Passpoint allows a device to learn details about a wireless network and if the conditions are right authenticate to it prior to automatically joining the network.

While the evidence is circumstantial unless you can provide a lot more information, this matches up with the capabilities of the devices you mention or that are probable based on the information you provide. It also explains why your partners phone automatically connected to this network in a secure fashion without any action on her part.

For some period of time, Passpoint support was only implemented in a handful of Android devices by the device manufacturers (AFAIK, only in LG and Samsung devices). Google officially added Passpoint support in it's Android "Oreo" v8.0 release, even if it is up to the OEMs if they actually implement this feature.

Your Motorola Moto G 2nd Gen is neither capable of running Oreo nor is it one of the devices where support was added prior to Google's implementation. However, from what I can find, your partners Huawei Google Nexus 6P's officially supported current version is listed as Oreo. I can't find details about if the Nexus implemented the Passpoint feature, but as a device co-developed by Google, the chances are probably good.

The generic "NetComm Wireless" network you mention is likely a ISP/carrier provided CPE device. NetCommWireless is a company that produces hardware for both Carriers and ISPs. Many ISP/carriers are implementing features that turn your local wireless into a public Wi-Fi hotspot, specifically to offload traffic from cellular networks where possible. It is likely that this network is such a device.

You aren't really "mooching" off your neighbors. The ISP/Carrier is likely quietly providing additional bandwidth above and beyond your neighbors contracted bandwidth to support such a service. Since the connection uses WPA2-Enterprise/AES based encryption, the wireless connection is more secure than connecting to your phone's hotspot. And most likely, as part of the authentication process, your traffic is isolated from your neighbors traffic (for instance by a different VLAN assignment returned by the RADIUS server).

  • Thanks for the answer! So would this require the WiFi device to have been supplied by the same ISP/carrier as my partners phone? – Phill Oct 5 '17 at 7:59
  • @Phill, no, roaming agreements have already been reached by a number of carriers, for instance AT&T and Verizon (among others) have both joined the WBA in 2010 which mean they intended to allow subscribers to roam on each others' Wi-Fi services. These relationship will probably change over time, but it means you will be able to roam onto Wi-Fi of any service provider that has a current agreement/implementation with your own carrier. – YLearn Oct 5 '17 at 16:32
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Not to be paranoid (just because I am doesn't mean that they're not out to get you, right?) but you could be falling victim to a hack such Evil Twin, Pumpkin, and some other scheme where they hacked your password because at one point your were on a "Secured" but broadcast network using that password.

To be safe, forget that password and that network. Start again with your own WAP, and just don't use someone else's wireless network.

/paranoid

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