Does Google know your Wi-Fi password?


With everything going on surround the NSA and privacy, a lot of people are nervous about just about every form of security. The latest is Wi-Fi passwords. Michael Horowitz of Computer World is reporting that Google knows all the Wi-Fi passwords that are stored on your Android devices. He states that in Android 2.3.4, if you go to Settings/Privacy and choose “Backup my settings”  it will backup your Wi-Fi password on Google servers. Now fast forward to Android 4.2. If you go to Settings/Backup and reset, the option for “Backup my data” specifically says, “Backup application data, Wi-Fi passwords, and other settings to Google servers.”

Also take a look at this snippet from the Android 2.3.4 users guide (page 374)…..

Check to back up some of your personal data to Google servers, with your Google Account. If you replace your phone, you can restore the data you’ve backed up, the first time you sign in with your Google Account. If you check this option, a wide variety of you personal data is backed up, including your Wi-Fi passwords, Browser bookmarks, a list of the applications you’ve installed, the words you’ve added to the dictionary used by the onscreen keyboard, and most of the settings that you configure with the Settings application. Some third-party applications may also take advantage of this feature, so you can restore your data if you reinstall an application. If you uncheck this option, you stop backing up your data to your account, and any existing backups are deleted from Google servers.

Something similar is stated in the Galaxy Nexus user guide (page 97)….

If you check this option, a wide variety of your personal data is backed up automatically, including your Wi-Fi passwords, Browser bookmarks, a list of the apps you’ve installed from the Market app, the words you’ve added to the dictionary used by the onscreen keyboard, and most of your customized settings. Some third-party apps may also take advantage of this feature, so you can restore your data if you reinstall an app. If you uncheck this option, your data stops getting backed up, and any existing backups are deleted from Google servers.

Obviously Google encrypts the information that is stored on their servers, but they can decrypt the info if the NSA wants it. I personally don’t have a problem with that. Again, if you are a criminal, than I really don’t care. My concern is hacks. If someone can hack into Google’s servers, could they potentially get my Wi-Fi password and do something malicious to me? This is not necessarily an issue with Google, as this is the case with just about any cloud service you use. Many people use other online cloud services to store other personal passwords and files. I personally don’t think someone is sitting at these companies and looking at all my information. Who am I that they would care? The only concern to me is hackers. Now if you are going to trust someone to keep your information safe from hackers (not necessarily the NSA), Google is probably the one company that you can.

Google did make the following comment….

Our optional ‘Backup my data’ feature makes it easier to switch to a new Android device by using your Google Account and password to restore some of your previous settings. This helps you avoid the hassle of setting up a new device from scratch.  At any point, you can disable this feature, which will cause data to be erased. This data is encrypted in transit, accessible only when the user has an authenticated connection to Google and stored at Google data centers, which have strong protections against digital and physical attacks.

So you can opt out, but does Google still have access to your plain text file stored on your phone? I have no idea, and again for Google to go after that, it would mean the person is considered dangerous, and again, I don’t have a problem with that. If you are truly concerned, than I would opt out of backing up such data, but if you do, be sure to change your Wi-Fi password. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but it’s your best defense.

sources: Computer World / Android 2.3.4 User Guide / Galaxy Nexus User Guide

About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • Kary

    All I have to say is “Duh!”

    All you have to do to know Google knows your wi-fi passwords is replace an Android phone with a new Android phone. The new phone will automatically connect to your wi-fi accounts as soon as you sign in to your Google account(s).

    • Tinkfoil Paranoia

      If you changed the Wi-Fi password, how the tablet is connected to the internet to contact google to retrieve the password nedded to connect to the internet?

      Also, there are an army of google map “cars” scouting many cities in the world… the people in those cars had the passwords of most of the wi-fi networks they “see”… What kind of info the may be collecting?

  • Emp

    If Google know my WiFi-passwords, why doesn’t it sync those across devices?
    I have been looking for such an option for ages! It would be awesome if entering a new WiFi-password on my phone would sync to my tablet.
    Having to remember and enter the same WiFi-passwords on different devices is annoying. Just like gmail, etc is synced across devices so shoud WiFi-passwords.

  • Jimmy

    I’m glad this reporter exposed the last guy for giving misinformation and scare mongering. I’ve been trying to tell people since this news was first releases that the wifi password is an optional backup. I’m pretty sure most users still don’t use the option because they want to keep their wifi connection as secure as possible. Though this is more of a superstition, the suspicion remains valid at least.

    • Kary

      If you use two factor authentication on Google, is it really that insecure?

  • Mr_Stelio_Kontos

    Unless Google are going to come round and start using my wifi or sharing my password without my consent, frankly I don’t give a toss – it’s not like it’s difficult to change it, and it makes life a sh*t load easier when setting up a new ROM on one of my droids.

  • Beer Chang

    @Emp: Use WiFi Key Recovery, it will show a QR-Code of necessary data which Barcode Reader can pick up and your new/other device can easily connect to the network. The only problem: WiFi Key Recovery needs a rooted device to work.

    — Sorry, should be a reply to Emp —

    • Emp

      Thanks. That would work at bit better.
      But I would prefer if Google just synced it like mych other data

  • johnny

    If Google really not with NSA, they can easily let you choose what you want to back up on their server. I.e allow you to choose not to back up wireless info onto their server. by having back up as default pretty much they are telling you they wants your wireless password and username

  • duhhhh

    Ehh… if I gave you my wi-fi password right now… what could you do with it?? You would have to be within range of my network… i.e. standing at the end of my road you fu**ing moron!