If you’re noticing times when your Wi-Fi network is unusually slow or bogged down, there is a chance that someone might be stealing your bandwidth. Potential causes could be that your network is not secured properly and open to anyone wishing to use it, or someone has hacked or guessed your password. And it’s not only your bandwidth that might be in trouble, but your personal files could be available for the world to see as well.
So how do you find out if there is someone hacking into your Wi-Fi network?
The first and simplest way is to check if there is any activity on your wireless router when you’re not using it; which usually indicates that someone else is. The way to do this is to first power off all of your devices that use the network; this means laptops, desktop computers attached to the router, and any smartphone or iPod that could be tapping the bandwidth.
Once you are sure that all of your Wi-Fi using devices are off, look at your router’s activity lights. Most routers have blinking lights on them that indicate Internet connectivity, hardwired network connections, and wireless activity. So when you are not using your wireless devices and the activity light is still blinking, it means that your bandwidth is being used, just not by you.
A second, and more complex and accurate way to check if someone is using your Wi-Fi network is by logging into your router and checking the connected devices list.
To do this start off by finding your router’s IP address and enter it in your web browser’s address bar. To find the IP address on Windows go to the command prompt (by pressing Win+R then typing “cmd”), type “ipconfig” in the window and press enter. This will give you some connection information along with the “Default Gateway” IP address, which is what you should enter into your browser. And if you’re using a Mac just open the Network preference panel and get the IP address listed next to “Router.”
Next, go back to your web browser and enter that IP address into the address bar, which is when you’ll be asked for a login username and password. If you’ve never changed your login information before, it should be a combination of “admin” and “password,” or just open when left blank.
Once you get into your router, if from a default password, make sure to change your login information before a hacker does it for you.
The next and final step is to check which devices have been using your router to connect to the web. These lists are called different things in different routers: “Attached Devices” (Netgear) or “My Network” (Verizon routers), “Device List,” or anything else that sounds like it would list the connected devices.
The list should provide IP addresses, MAC addresses, and device names (if detectable) that you can check against your devices. If you see something that doesn’t belong to you, like a laptop model or wireless device that you don’t own, it would be a good sign that your Wi-Fi network is being shared without your permission.
To make sure no one else can connect to your router, simply change the security password or, if you’re still using the default, create a new one. This should be done whether someone is using your network or not, because leaving default settings can enable others to use your bandwidth. Plus, when your Wi-Fi connection is left unprotected, your shared files might also be exposed.
It’s also good policy to ensure that your password is hard to guess and, as an added level of protection, to use a security encryption like WPA2.