This is a not uncommon thing to be reported, where someone checks the list if Wi-Fi networks in range and suddenly finds one that looks like it’s an intelligence agency spying on someone.
Here are some common Wi-Fi names that people see:
- FBI surveillance van
- NSA surveillance van
- CIA surveillance van
- DEA surveillance
- MI5 surveillance van
This can get some people worried, so let’s answer the bottom line question of whether any of these “vans” are legitimate:
These “surveillance/surveillance van” Wi-Fi names are not real and are practical jokes, since intelligence agencies like the FBI and NSA do not undertake surveillance in this way in the modern world. Moreover, even if they did, they would not reveal themselves by making their Wi-Fi name so obvious.
In other words, it’s just a local resident messing around, trying to get people scared for their own amusement. When it’s broken down logically, the whole idea of surveillance/surveillance van Wi-Fi names is a little bit silly. Let’s look into it a little bit more to show why.
Intelligence Agency Surveillance Wi-Fi Names Are Not Real
This stuff used to get me a little nervous years ago as well. Those of us who are more prone to worry and anxiety may jump when we see these sorts of Wi-Fi names nearby, and think we are somehow under surveillance.
But once we slow down and think about it rationally, it obviously isn’t really the NSA or FBI or MI5. If they actually were doing surveillance on a particular street, why would they broadcast it to everyone by calling their Wi-Fi name “FBI/NSA/CIA surveillance van”, or something similar?
The whole point of surveillance is that it is meant to be done in secret, so you know right away it’s just someone messing around. If the FBI or NSA or any other intelligence agency were to do surveillance in your area, you can be pretty sure you wouldn’t know about it, since they are trained to do that sort of work undetected to ensure it’s successful.
Also, this entire concept of “surveillance vans” is based on an outdated views in terms of how intelligence agencies actually go about their business in the modern world. For sure, undercover surveillance does exist, but more tracking real world (not online) crimes like drug trafficking/dealing and terrorism, and not for online activity.
Technology is so advanced now that agencies like the FBI and NSA are long past the need to park vans outside someone’s home to track their online activity (when you think about it, it’s kind of laughable to even think they’d do that!). They can track everything that happens online without even leaving their plush headquarters, so they certainly aren’t going to park vans on streets to try and spy on what residents are doing online.
Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
Despite the fact that these FBI/NSA/MI5/DEA surveillance Wi-Fi names are not real, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some common sense, practical things you can do to protect your online privacy and security:
Here are some key suggestions to improve Wi-Fi security in particular:
- Always use long, complex and unique Wi-Fi router login credentials (router admin/password).
- Also use long, complex Wi-Fi usernames and passwords. Do not just stick to the default ones.
- Hide your Wi-Fi name (SSID) so it isn’t so easily detectable.
- Turn off WPS (auto pairing) settings on your router as they’re easy to hack.
- Use wired connections when possible, since Wi-Fi is much easier to hack.
- See our article on making Wi-Fi networks more secure, for more on these steps, plus other things you can do in this regard.
- Use a Virtual Private Network on VPN (the biggest security tool) to secure Wi-Fi connections. Almost impossible to hack in the civilian world. The NSA can still hack them, but pretty much no one else can.
- VPNs are useful on home Wi-Fi networks, but are absolutely essential whenever you use public Wi-Fi, to prevent personal data and logins being hacked. See our article on this.
- Make sure you’ve got up to date antivirus and anti-malware software installed to remove and keyloggers and other pesky viruses/malware. McAfee are an excellent option but there are many others as well.
What is a VPN?
Some Paid VPN Services – Click to Compare (affiliate links)
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*Tunnelbear do offer a free plan but it only comes with a 500MB monthly data allowance. For any kind of heavy browsing, video streaming or downloading you will probably need a paid plan.
*Flash deals and discounts are common with VPNs, so if you click the links to check the price, you may often find a cheaper price than the one listed.
*See our review of the VyprVPN service.
Signing up for a VPN is usually very easy. You simply visit their site (click on one of our affiliate links above for each provider), sign up, pay your subscription, download their product and boot up the program.
Once running you simply select a preferred server location and open the VPN connection. You now have a secure connection that no one else on that Wi-Fi network can see or access.
However, all of this being said, none of these measures guarantee your online activity cannot be tracked or traced. VPNs are very good at hiding your online activity from others in the commercial/residential world, but the NSA can hack even VPNs if they want to with the technology they currently have.
A good rule of thumb to go by is that anything that is digitized can be hacked given enough time and resources. But taking even a few of the steps mentioned above will be plenty enough to protect your privacy online, since it is the least secure networks that get hacked – the old adage of criminals going for the easiest targets.
Don’t be at the bottom of the ladder in terms of Wi-Fi security and you won’t get picked off in terms of hacking in the private world. Surveillance from authorities you have less control over, but they aren’t going to do this on someone unless they have a very good reason to. As long as you’re a law abiding citizen who isn’t doing anything illegal online or anywhere else, you’ve not got anything to worry about.
Some Other Funny Wi-Fi Names
Here are some other funny Wi-Fi names you might see, designed to scare people or wind them up, or just as a practical joke:
- FBI Protected Access
- FBI Station …..
- CIA Station ….
- DEA Surveillance
- TV Licensing van (for UK readers)
- Smile You’re On FBI Network
- Undercover Police Car
- Denied Access Security
- Systematic Security
- Careful Watchers
- 24/7 Security Team
- Surveillance Today
- Empire Surveillance
- Professional Security Squad
- …. Protective Services
- Any other official sounding security company (if they were really doing proper surveillance, they would make sure you didn’t know about it)
- Neighborhood Patrol
- Anything with the word Vigilante in it.
- Anything with the word Danger in it.
- See here for more prank Wi-Fi names related to security/surveillance.