How to Find Out If Someone Is Stealing Your Wi-Fi

Man using laptop

Suspect that someone other than you and your household is using your Wi-Fi? Here’s how to figure out who’s connected to your network | Source: iStock

If you’re doing your best to improve your Wi-Fi at home, you might be curious about who’s using your network, and if they’re slowing it down. It’s possible that your internet provider is just lying about the speeds that you should really expect on your network, but it’s also possible that there’s someone other than you (and your roommates or family members) using your Wi-Fi network. So how do you find out whether your network feels sluggish thanks to your household’s Netflix habit or because an unauthorized user is stealing your bandwidth?

Perhaps the worst part of someone stealing your Wi-Fi is that they’re slowing down your network. If there are already multiple phones, tablets, and computers in your household, chances are good that your bandwidth is divided up enough already. If whoever else is using your Wi-Fi starts streaming Netflix, for instance, then that’s definitely going to slow down the speeds that you and your roommates or family get. Additionally, many internet service providers are implementing data caps on their customers’ home networks, and you probably don’t need any help getting uncomfortably close to the limit each month. An unauthorized neighbor using your Wi-Fi may end up costing you extra in data charges. And in a worst-case scenario, whoever is stealing your Wi-Fi may also be snooping on what you’re doing online, or stealing files from your computer.

The best way to resolve the question is to use one of a few simple tools to take a look at what’s going on with your network. You can check whether the devices that are connected to it are ones you recognize, or ones that look suspicious and can’t be accounted for when you take stock of the Wi-Fi-connected gadgets in your home. Depending on your level of interest and your technical ability, there are some simple ways to find out. The New York Times’ J.D. Biersdorfer notes that there are a couple of easy ways to determine who’s using your Wi-Fi.

Check your router’s administrative page

man sits at a computer while he works

The first step to figuring out whether somebody else is using your Wi-Fi is to log in to your router’s administrative page | Source: iStock

One way to see what devices are connected to your Wi-Fi network (and to check whether you recognize all of them) is to log on to your router’s administrative page and check its DHCP Client Table, DHCP Client List, or the list of Attached Devices. From there, you’ll be able to see all of the computers, smartphones, tablets, and any other devices connected to your wireless router.

The website of your router’s manufacturer (or the print manual that’s been collecting dust since you purchased the router) should include instructions on how to log in to your router. Biersdorfer notes that that usually requires typing the router’s Internet Protocol (IP) address into your web browser, and logging into the page with the administrator name and password.

You can also find your router’s IP address using text-based commands on either a Windows machine or a Mac. For instance, PC users can type “cmd” in the Start menu’s Search box, open the Command Prompt (cmd.exe) program, and enter “ipconfig” to find the router’s address, which Windows calls the Default Gateway. Or, Mac users can find the router’s IP address by opening the System Preferences icon, clicking the Network icon, and looking at the number that’s listed next to “Router.”

Use an app to scan the network

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Alternatively, you can use an app to check who’s connected to your network | iStock

If you don’t want to bother with logging in to your router’s administrative page, you can download an app that will do the dirty work for you. There are a number of apps that will scan your network for connected devices. In fact, your router’s manufacturer may have its own app, like Netgear’s GenieLinkys Connect, or Apple’s AirPort Utility for iOS.

Or, if you don’t like the manufacturer’s software or prefer to find another option, there are plenty of programs from third-party developers, apps that are equally capable of lending a bit of clarity to the assortment of devices that are connected to your network. A few choices include NirSoft Wireless Network, WatcherWho’s on my WiFi for Windows, or the Fing network scanner for Android and iOS.

Use the list to determine who’s using your Wi-Fi

Hacker with credit card and laptop

Make sure you recognize all the devices connected to your Wi-Fi, since you don’t want unknown users accessing your network | Source: iStock

Once you’ve gotten the app of your choice to show you a list of the gadgets that are connected to your network, you can determine which ones are yours, and see if there’s anything suspicious going on with your network. Your computer should show up, as well as your smartphone and your tablet (which you’ll probably be able to identify in the list by the manufacturer’s name).

If the list is confusing and the device names difficult to parse, you can turn off each of your gadgets or disable their Wi-Fi in turn to figure out their names. It’s possible that all of the devices on the list will be accounted for. But if you find a device connected to the network that doesn’t belong to you, you know that someone else is using your Wi-Fi. It’s possible that the unauthorized user is connecting to your network only sporadically, so you may need to perform checks a few times to determine if the device is responsible for slowing down your Wi-Fi.

What to do if you can’t account for all connected devices

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Don’t recognize all the devices connected to your network? Change your Wi-Fi password immediately | Source: iStock

Biersdorfer notes that some “sophisticated network moochers” are resourceful about disguising themselves while using your bandwidth. But if you have suspicions about who’s using your network, or if you’ve noticed that there are more devices connected than you and your household can account for, then you should consider changing your network’s password. That way, somebody who’s logged in using your old, easy-to-guess password will immediately be logged off your network.

It should go without saying that you should ensure that your network is appropriately secured. But if your network is already encrypted and someone is still connecting, then the least you should do is change your Wi-Fi password immediately. After that, you should check on the network periodically to ensure that the only devices on the network are yours. If an unauthorized user manages to connect to your network again, you should return your router to factory settings and configure it again from scratch. That sounds like a major pain, and in some cases it is. But if you’re worried about your security, your privacy, and your Wi-Fi speed, it’s the best way to make sure that your neighbor isn’t connecting to your network.

What to do if nobody is stealing your Wi-Fi, but you’re still unhappy with the speed

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If you determine that nobody is stealing your Wi-Fi, but you’re still unhappy with its speed, here’s what to do | iStock

If, on the other hand, you determine that no unauthorized users are connecting to your Wi-Fi network, and you’re still experiencing problems with the speed of your network, you probably have other problems to troubleshoot. You should test the speed of your internet via both ethernet and Wi-Fi, and if your Wi-Fi speed is much slower than your wired connection speed, that may indicate that you need to replace your router.

There are some other straightforward ways to improve your Wi-Fi’s performance. For instance, you can evaluate whether the placement of your router is ideal (and move the router if it’s not). You can make sure that you’re actually using your router’s dual-band functionality. You can determine whether there are any devices you can connect via an ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi. Or, you can replace your router’s stock antenna, or upgrade to a new router altogether. But if those tips don’t solve the problem, you may want to get in touch with your internet provider and see if there’s a problem that the company can help you resolve.