You attempt to connect to a WiFi server you've used before, but you can't get logged on. Instead, your phone tells you an authentication error has occurred.
The majority of us (about 97 percent) own cell phones. But many of us feel baffled when the devices in our pockets won't do what we expect. If you’re dealing with an authentication error, know this: You can solve the problem. But before you do, ask yourself if the connection is secure and worth fighting for.
What is a WiFi authentication error?
Sometimes your phone will not connect to the internet with a WiFi account you've used before. This is an authentication error, and unfortunately, these problems are relatively common.
Close to 70 percent of us use our own devices while we're at work, and we might tap into the company WiFi to get the job done. But at the same time, about 30 percent of us say that we can't get our work done because the cell connection isn't stable, strong, or both.
A WiFi authentication error could be to blame. This problem is often caused by:
- Airplane mode. You’ve traveled recently, and you’ve ensured your phone won’t connect while you’re in flight. Many devices allow you to turn WiFi back on even while in airplane mode, but the standard airplane mode settings will turn it off.
- Poor connectivity. Your WiFi router is far away or overloaded, so you can’t push your way in.
- Software updates. You’ve made changes to keep your device secure, but they are interfering with your WiFi connection.
This is just a sample list of what might cause a WiFi authentication error. There are many more.
How to fix a WiFi authentication problem
Your phone includes several handy options that can help you get online with ease. But use them carefully.
If you're struggling to connect with a public WiFi account (such as one you might use at a local coffee shop or in the airport), take stock. Hackers can take over these accounts and steal your data. Many experts recommend you do not connect to public WiFi at all. Before you fight to reconnect, ask yourself if it’s worthwhile. Can you use a VPN instead? Or can you wait until you're close to a trusted WiFi signal?
If you trust the WiFi account and you want to get connected, try these six steps:
- Forget the network. Head to WiFi settings on your device, find the network you're trying to connect to, and tap "forget."
- Check your password. Head to WiFi settings on your device, find the network you're trying to connect to, and tap "forget." Find it again, and retype your password.
- Refresh your device. Tap the notification bar on your phone, and look for "Airplane Mode." Turn it on for a few minutes, and turn it back off.
- Change your network from DHCP to Static. Head to WiFi settings on your device, find the network you're trying to connect to, and tap "Manage network settings." Change the IP settings you see there from DHCP to Static.
- Restart your router. Unplug the device from power, or restart using the power button.
- Head back to factory settings. On an Android device, head to "Settings" and "Backup and Reset." Turn on "Automatic Restore," and then tap "Reset Phone." On iOS, Go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone. Then tap Erase All Content and Settings.
Every device is different, and your phone may have slightly different menu options and button names. But this short list can help you understand what typically works for people dealing with WiFi authentication errors.
One way to stay safe and secure while browsing via mobile is to use a VPN. If you're not sure what a VPN is or how it works, see the overview on our blog.
Mobile Fact Sheet. (April 2021). Pew Research Center.
41 Stunning BYOD Stats and Facts to Know in 2020. (March 2021). Tech Injury.
51 Percent of Americans Handle Work Calls, and More, in the Bathroom. (September 2019). Small Business Trends.
Why You Should Never, Ever Connect to Public WiFi. (January 2018). CSO.