What is AP isolation?

Written by stephen byron cooper Google
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What is AP isolation?
AP isolation is a function of wireless routers. (Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

AP isolation is a setting on most wireless routers. The “AP” stands for “Access Point” and indicates the main purpose of this mode, which is to operate “hotspots” in public locations. The mode is also known as “Client Isolation.”

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Public hotspots

The AP isolation setting of routers helps situations where several members of the public connect to the internet through a wireless router. Examples of these situations are free Wi-Fi zones in cafés, bars, public buildings and hotels. In this instance, the network created by the Wi-Fi hub enables computers within range to connect to each other over the wireless network within the Wi-Fi zone range of the router. This situation has been found to be a nuisance to many and so routers now use AP isolation to block computers within range from contacting each other through the Wi-Fi network.


The main reason for AP Isolation mode is to provide better security for each end-user, or “client.” The router does not create a wireless version of a typical office network. Instead, it establishes one to one contact with each client by creating a “virtual network” for each computer using the router’s services.


AP isolation involves encapsulating all the data packets that run between a computer and the router in a special, encoded package. All data moves between computers over networks in a structure called a packet. “Encapsulation” involves encrypting the entire structure of the packet, not just the data carried within it, which may be encrypted again. Packet headers contain routing information and if these are encrypted they are rendered useless. To compensate for this, the encrypted packet is then placed inside another packet, which contains unencrypted headers. Only the router and the computer in that link can decode the package and so access the data inside. The router runs several of these exclusive links simultaneously, with a separate encryption key for each connection. This makes it impossible for one computer user to hack into the traffic of another.


AP isolation is a function of the router and can only influence the way that router communicates with the computers in range of its signal. Wireless networks operate by two methods. One is by communication through a router; the other is by connecting to each other directly. The first of these two states is called “infrastructure mode” because the router provides the infrastructure of the network, albeit invisible. The second option is called “ad-hoc mode.” All computers that have a Wi-Fi antenna can both transmit and receive data and they do not require the mediation of a router to contact each other. If a router has AP isolation set, ad-hoc communication will not be blocked.

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