If you notice that your Internet connection slows down just as your neighbors get home from work or school, you might suspect that the folks next door have been hopping on to your network. An unsecured or poorly locked down wireless network is an open invitation, and many tech savvy individuals will take advantage of it anyway they can.
Suspecting your neighbors are stealing your Internet and knowing it are two different things, however. Before you march over to their house and demand they disconnect their gadgets, you need to do some sleuthing and find out if your home network really has been breached.
Any number of things can cause a slowdown in your Internet connection. It might just be that the volume of network traffic shoots up as the people in your neighborhood get home from work and settle in for a night of streaming movies and other online entertainment. Your signal could simply be weak and the speeds slower than advertised. By itself, a slowdown in Internet traffic does not mean your signal has been corrupted or your network security has been breached.
Check Your Router
The obvious place to start if you feel your network signal is being stolen is your wireless router. When you log on to your router, you should be able to see a list of all the connected devices. If you do not know how to log on to your router, just navigate to the manufacturer website for detailed instructions.
You can also use a number of third-party programs to check for connected devices and assess the status of your home Wi-Fi network. These programs are designed to monitor your network traffic and protect your system from unauthorized access.
Check Your Devices
Once you are connected to your router, you can start looking at the connected devices and look for suspected Wi-Fi thieves. You should be able to identify your desktop or laptop computer by the name you assigned to the device when you first set it up. If you have tablets, smartphones and other devices in the house, the manufacturer name should show up on the list of connected devices.
If you cannot distinguish the devices or are not sure which ones belong to you, the best strategy is to turn each device off one by one. You should see each device disappear as it is powered down or its Wi-Fi signal is disabled. Once all your other devices have been powered down, the only remaining signal should be coming from your computer.
If you have disabled all of the devices in your home and the router still shows activity, you can be relatively sure that someone has found a way on to your Wi-Fi network. You may not be able to trace the exact source of the intrusion, but you can use it as a wake-up call to increase your network security.
Changing the password should be your first line of defense upon discovering rogue devices on your network. Once your password is changed, the intruder will no longer be able to access your Wi-Fi router using their saved settings. Regular monitoring can also enhance your security. Checking the router connections several times a week will allow you to spot problems before they can slow down your network traffic.
If your router is an older model, replacing it can also enhance your security and keep intruders at bay. The newest routers on the market have advanced encryption that can better lock down your network and make sure you — and only you — can access the bandwidth you have been paying for month after month.