Wi-Fi is a valuable commodity.

In today’s constantly connected world, we’ve all grown accustomed to generally having Internet access in our homes, businesses, and sometimes even in public spaces.

But the convenience Wi-Fi comes at a price. If you’ve got an in-home network, you’re paying for that service. You’ve chosen the right plan that supports your family’s Internet habits, and likely, you’ve spent time optimising your home itself to allow for the strongest signal and the fastest Wi-Fi speeds.

If you’re paying for your wireless Internet, you---and those in your household---ought to be the only ones able to use it.

But are there ways that others can “hack” into your Wi-Fi networks? Is it possible that a neighbour is stealing your Wi-Fi? Is someone piggybacking on your paid service for free? And if so, what are the implications of this?

Protecting Your Wi-Fi Network

For the most part, protecting your Wi-Fi network with a secure password should be sufficient to keep out the average person. If a neighbour or passerby sees your Wi-Fi network on their device, they’ll also see a lock symbol, showing that this network is secure. With password-protection, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have anyone unauthorised using your Wi-Fi, but be sure that you’re using a strong, difficult-to-guess password that doesn’t have obvious elements in it (such as your home address).

Your Wi-Fi network will come with a preset pair of login details that you change when setting up your router. Your Internet service’s user guide or manual should provide instructions, but typically, there is an address you can type into your connected device’s web browser to get access to the router login. From there you can change your password and other security settings. Don’t forget to check your login username as well. Often, it’s set to “admin” by default, so changing it adds an extra layer of protection to your network.

Also, be sure you’re using a modern, up-to-date router. This can help ensure you’re utilising the strongest wireless encryption available. Older routers may not have this capability.

Checking for Wi-Fi Thieves

If you’ve got a password-protected Wi-Fi network, chances are that only authorised users in your household are currently using your Internet. But if you want to take a closer look, here’s how to do that.

Stealing Wi-Fi
Do you know who’s on your network?

The simplest way to do this is by looking at the router itself.

Unplug all the devices which use Wi-Fi in your home, then take a look at the wireless signal light on your router. Is it still flickering? This means that a device is still using your Wi-Fi network. If you’ve eliminated all the devices in your home, it could be a neighbour or other Wi-Fi pilferer. Note: this method only works in houses with just a few connected devices. Larger homes with more connected (such as smart home appliances) are more complicated and will need to use an alternate method.

For bigger homes or perhaps for a more accurate reading, you can check your Wi-Fi router’s administrator logs. You access these in the same way you changed the password (mentioned above) via the admin panel. Navigate to the page which will display the Media Access Control (MAC) addresses connected to your computer. Refer to your router manual for guidance on where these are listed. Every Wi-Fi connected device in your home uses a unique MAC address. You can use certain websites such as macvendors.com to help you understand which devices are matched with which MAC address. If you see more connected devices than you have in your home, or you see lots of unfamiliar or unusual MAC addresses, this could signal a problem.

You can actually block specific MAC addresses via your admin panel, so if you catch an unrecognised device using your Wi-Fi, you can kick them off forever. This can be done in your security options under MAC Filtering.

The easiest way to monitor your Wi-Fi network is by using a dedicated app. These apps peruse your network to watch for unusual connections---especially those that occur during hours when you’re not usually home.

One popular option is Fing, an app available for both iOS and Android. This free network scanner lists all the devices connected to your network and provides as many details as possible about each one. This means that, at a glance, you can see what the connected devices are: smartphones, tablets, printers, etc. Fing can also let you know when a new device joins your network, so you can be made aware of possible suspicious users immediately.

Other apps and tools that can be used for Wi-Fi network monitoring include Wifi Inspector, Network Discovery, Network Scanner, and Wireless Network Watcher.

Stealing Wi-Fi
There are lots of ways to monitor who’s using your Wi-Fi

Keep an Eye Out

Ultimately, it’s a bit of extra work to keep tabs on your wireless networks, but if you don’t feel like monitoring regularly with an app, you can keep your eyes out for symptoms of Wi-Fi thieves.

A significantly slowed-down network can signal a problem, although there are lots of other potential causes for this issue. Here’s a guide to troubleshooting speed issues on nbn™. Eliminate these types of concerns before jumping to the conclusion of Wi-Fi thieves. Most speed issues are caused by poor network configuration, heavy user traffic at specific times of day, or simply too many devices (your own) accessing the Internet at once.

But if you suddenly find that your Netflix is loading at a snail’s pace or your entire family is having continual speed issues with no other obvious causes, it might be worth launching an investigation using the steps above.

Is your Wi-Fi network protected

Back to blog