Wireless Network, popularly known as WiFi, is a necessity of the contemporary life. Most homes in modern cities have their own WiFi connections. Any sizeable businesses have a free WiFi connection for their customers. You most likely connect to your WiFi more than your wired connection at home.
There are times that you will notice your connection slowing down. It may happen from time to time due to issues with your Internet Service Provider. However, if it happens quite regularly, you may want to know who's connecting to your router and stealing your bandwidth. You can ask your family members if they're connected. But, we are not in the 90's anymore. The solution is right at your fingertips. Here are a few things that you can do:
So, who exactly are connecting to your WiFi?
Well, the only device that can answer the question is your router. It will take a bit of knowledge and comfort in accessing your router's interface for the following steps to work. Moreover, it is important that you have your router's manual at hand. Or, look for the manual online which is typically available at the manufacturer's website. Also, you must have the login credentials to your router's web interface login.
Your router should have light indicators labeled accordingly. The most common lights are Power, Internet, DSL, Ethernet, and Wireless. The Wireless light indicates wireless network activity such as the transfer of data between a device and the router. Before anything else, troubleshoot if your Internet connection is actually working properly. It is possible that you are experiencing slow or intermittent connection due to your ISP's infrastructure. Follow how to test WiFi strength troubleshooting steps to make sure you are properly connecting to the network.
Now that your Internet connection is working properly, it is time to examine your router further. Turn-off or disconnect all devices that might be connecting to your router (wired or wireless) including your family members'. Your phone, laptop, smart TV, and other wireless devices should be off.
Observe the Wireless light indicator if it is blinking rapidly even when no one is connected. It is acceptable if it blinks once in a while. However, regular blinking or rapid blinking indicates activity over your network.
This is a very low-tech step. However, this will allow you to determine if someone is really connecting to your WiFi without your permission. This will not give you much information. But, it is a quick method to check especially if you don't have too many devices on your network.
One of the best ways to check who's on your WiFi is to log in to your router's web interface. Your router hosts your WiFi network, so it houses the most accurate information. Remember that each router has different user interfaces. Some may offer an easy way to see all the connected devices. Others may not have such option, especially older models.
First, you need to access your router's login page. Click the Start button and type "cmd". Right-click on the Command Prompt and click Run as administrator.
Type ipconfig /all. Look for the Default Gateway and its value. Commonly, it is 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.0.2.
Open a browser. Type the Default Gateway address on the address bar. You should see the login page of your router.
Your login page will look different from others as this relies on the model of your router. Check your router manual for the login credentials.
Once logged in, you will now have to look for a button, link, or tab which says "attached devices", "connected devices", or "DHCP clients". You may have to click on a tab or page named Wireless or Status.
Linksys routers commonly have DHCP Client Table. Follow the instruction on their page. Here's a sample Linksys interface:
Netgear devices identify WiFi users under Attached Devices. Follow the steps here. The table should look something like:
D-Link devices lists connected users under the Wireless tab. View the device manual here. Such as this:
The list of connected devices often shows the devices connected through Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). Simply, these are the devices with dynamic IP addresses which connects to your router. That means devices with static IP addresses will not appear in this list.
Most routers will show the hostname and their media access control (MAC) address. Basically, a hostname is the name of the device which also known as computer name or device name. Take note that you cannot rename the hostname of some devices such as wireless printers. Nevertheless, it should show its default hostname. MAC addresses are unique identifiers assigned to devices connecting to a network interface.
MAC addresses can be used to identify who's who on the list. We've written how to find your MAC address on your PC.
On Android phones, MAC address is under Wireless and network in the Settings. Similarly, on iPhones, MAC address is known as Wi-Fi Address. Go to Settings, then General. Next, choose About. The MAC Address should be on Wi-Fi Address. Devices, such as printers and other network devices, often have their MAC addresses on the labels or manuals.
You can use these numbers to identify each device on the list. If all devices are accounted on the list, that means an application in one of the devices is hogging the bandwidth.
Tinkering with your router's web interface might not be your cup of tea. Settings in the interface can be accidentally clicked. Moreover, you might not have the login credentials to the router. You can use third-party tools to monitor and manage the devices connecting to your router.
GlassWire Pro is an excellent tool to monitor and manage your network. It is an additional layer of security, especially for your network. The free version is an effective tool to monitor your network activity, data usage, and which apps are using the most bandwidth. However, the power of GlassWire Pro shows in its paid versions (Basic, Pro, and Elite).
The paid versions allow you to see the connected devices under the Things tab. The application will alert you when a new device joins or leaves your network. It is an efficient way to monitor the devices currently connecting to your network.
Additionally, you can monitor which of your applications connects to the Internet and how much bandwidth each one is using. You can also see the servers to which your applications connect. This allows a comprehensive view of your bandwidth usage.
SoftPerfect WiFi Guard is an essential tool which can run a small wireless network. It is a perfect solution if you don't need any other functions and only want a tool that can detect the devices on your network. SoftPerfect WiFi Guard comes in both free and paid versions.
The free version is dubbed as "unlimited duration trial" with a maximum of five devices showing on the device list. That means, if you have a larger network, you will have to pay the perpetual license fee of $19.00. It is much more affordable than most of the tools available.
The small tool scans your network by pinging the devices. It will detect the computers that do not respond to pings as well. Moreover, you can identify the trusted devices and mark them accordingly. It scans the network at a specified interval and warns you of any unknown device in the network.
Wireless Network Watcher is a small utility which scans your network and displays all the devices in it. This free tool does one job and does it well. It shows the IP address, device name (if any), MAC Address, network card manufacturer, and some information about the devices. There is a section where you can add your own text (User Text) which is a handy tool to assign your own identification to each device.
Wireless Network Watcher requires no installation. Just download the zip file which is barely 400KB during the writing of this article. The unzipped app is barely 1MB. Double click the WNetWatcher application and you'll immediately see the device list on your network. You can easily export the device list into a text, HTML, XML, or CSV file. Or copy the list directly from the tool to another application. Wireless Network Watcher is surprisingly up-to-date and available in more than 20 languages.
You now have the list of devices on your network. Unsurprisingly, you were right. Someone is connecting without permission.
What do you do now?
There is a possibility that you are using an insecure encryption for your WiFi signal or your computer is unwittingly sharing a hotspot signal.
Having an unwelcome visitor in your WiFi network means you need to tighten your security. You will need to change your router's security mode and passphrase/password. As above, this differs in each router brand and model. That is why it is important to have your router manual and login credentials with you. If not, a call to your Internet Service Provider or router manufacturer will give you such information.
Follow the steps above to access your router's web interface. The WiFi settings are typically under Wireless or Security. There should be an option for you to change the Security Mode and Passphrase/Password. For example, users with Linksys routers can change their wireless network (WiFi) security mode and passphrase under Wireless tab, then Wireless Security.
You can follow the full instruction here.
It is important to note that you have several options under your wireless network security mode. Avoid using WEP and WPA security protocols at these are older and less secure. Choose WPA2 which is more modern. If you have further options, choose WPA2-AES instead of WPA2-TKIP which is less reliable. Older devices may not work with WPA2, so make sure that all your devices can connect.
Take note of your password or passphrase as well. It is highly recommended to create a password which combines uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and some special characters (if allowed). Do not save the password in the cloud as it defeats the purpose of having a secured network.
The Windows 10 Wi-Fi Sense makes it easier for you and your friends to connect to hotspots and wireless networks. Unfortunately, this opens your personal network to others. Your Outlook, Skype, and to some extent, Facebook contacts may automatically join your network through your computer without requiring a password. This feature raised a concern over the security of the Windows 10 function.
Thankfully, Microsoft removed the Wi-Fi Sense in one of its updates in 2016.
"The cost of updating the code to keep this feature working combined with low usage and low demand made this not worth further investment," said Gabe Aul, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of the Engineering Systems Team. Interestingly, there were now mention of the security risks of Wi-Fi Sense.
It is possible that your Windows 10 is not up-to-date and may still have Wi-Fi Sense. Follow how to disable WiFi sense in Windows 10.
An intruder in your wireless network can significantly affect your Internet connection. Moreover, you do not know what websites they are accessing which can compromise your own security. The steps above will help you identify unknown devices in your network and promptly improve your wireless network security.
However, there are cases when the culprit lives in your own or your family's computer. Malware and other suspicious programs may eat up your bandwidth while connecting to a third-party server. Install and run an excellent anti-malware program, such as MalwareFox, to add a strong layer of security.
Allan Jay is a web developer who loves to read and watch tech reviews, especially cutting-edge technologies. He likes exploring and taking photos of the places he visited.