Naming Your WiFi and Other Simple Ways to Stop Freeloading Neighbors

Is your neighbor stealing your WiFi? It’s possible, especially if you notice low speeds or high volumes of data transfer. So how do you find out if you’re the hot spot for freeloaders, and what can you do about it? Is password protecting or naming your WiFi something new enough to keep it secure?


Detecting Freeloaders

Before you can stop WiFi moochers, you need to find out who’s using your connection. Start by resetting the router, checking your computer for malware, and then boosting the WiFi signal. If none of these methods improve your connection, you may have an unwanted passenger. First step: Disconnect all wireless-enabled devices in your home. This includes desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and gaming consoles. Next, check to see if the “wireless” light on your router is still blinking. If so, you have a guest.

To find out more, you need to access your router’s admin functions, and that means you need its IP address:

  • On a Windows computer, go to the Start menu, and in the “search programs and files” box, type in cmd. This will bring up a small black screen with a command prompt. Here, type ipconfig and then look for “default gateway.” This is the IP address of your router.
  • On a Mac, open Network Preferences and look for the IP address next to the word “Router.” Type this IP address into your Web browser and you’ll get a login screen.

Most routers use “admin” as the login name or password and leave the other field blank. Check with your ISP if they provided the router or read the router’s instruction manual if you’re not sure.

Every router is different, but once you’ve gained admin access, what you’re looking for is a list of connected devices. This may be under “Attached Devices,” “My Network,” or “Device List.” Here, you’ll see a list of connected IP addresses, media access control (MAC) addresses, and a list of device names if they’ve been made public. If all wireless devices in your home are disconnected, any that show up on this list are stealing your WiFi.

Send Them Packing

There are two problems with WiFi stealers — whether they’re the next-door neighbor or a drive-by hacker:

  1. They can eat up your bandwidth and make your connection slower.
  2. They may be accessing illegal sites or conducting illegal transactions online. If law enforcement comes looking, your house will be the first stop.

So how do you get rid of these pests?

  • First, trying naming your WiFi something different or enabling “Hidden SSID,” which prevents your address from being seen by other wireless devices. These are just stopgaps, however, since there are free tools available to uncover hidden networks and a change of name won’t fool freeloaders for long. But changing your WiFi name and hiding the address should give you time to make a few other improvements.
  • You can turn on IP and MAC filtering, which let you block specific addresses from connecting, but getting a new IP address isn’t difficult and determined moochers can “spoof” their MAC address for access.
  • Your best bet is to change your security settings and enable WPA or WPA2 encryption if it’s available. Older routers use what’s known as WEP security, which can be hacked in less than half an hour. Choose a strong password for your WPA2 network that includes random letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • If you’re more tech-savvy and want to play a practical joke on your wireless-stealing neighbors, you can learn how to create a dummy network that redirects all traffic to a site of your choosing or turns all images upside down.

WiFi theft is rising, in large part due to an increased number of unsecured home wireless networks. If you’re worried the neighbors are stealing your WiFi, do some research on your connection and, if necessary, put a stop to the wireless gravy train.

Photo credit: Flickr/riddle_