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How to tell if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi access is growing all the time and that’s hardly surprising considering the amount of time we spend online and the need for employees to be increasingly mobile. The number of public hotpots are on the up, but that’s not the only way to get online.

Unauthorised access to your personal Wi-Fi can occur if the right precautions are not taken. One of the first things to do is to check the list of connected devices using your network. There are dedicated software packages that will help you do this, or alternatively, you can usually access your router’s setting by entering your IP address into your web browser search bar.

Read more: FBI warning over plane Wi-Fi hacking risk

Once you’ve accessed your router’s settings, a list of connected devices should be readily available. Of course, in today’s digital world there are likely to be several devices using your home network including laptops, tablets, smartphones, video game consoles and many more. It’s also worth bearing in mind that devices with a static IP address will not appear in this list.

Of course, this isn’t a fool-proof way of seeing if anyone is using your Wi-Fi without permission. Aside from the use of static IP addresses, someone could change the name of their device to mimic one of yours. This could actually result in the genuine device being blocked from accessing the router as two devices with the same name cannot usually connect at the same time.

If you do notice a device that you don’t recognise or have suspicion of gaining unauthorised access, the first thing to do is to change your Wi-Fi password. As always the usual rules apply, so try to make the password one that is not easily guessed.

If you want a more robust means of checking your connection, there are a number of tools available that are free to download. Generally, these will display a list of devices currently online, but will have no way of knowing about previously connected devices – a feature often included within the router interface.

However, software-based solutions do sometimes provide additional information that might help to identify a device, including its name, MAC address, and the manufacturer. The software may need you to configure your Wi-Fi settings slightly in order for it to work effectively, but once up and running it will enable you to check on your network whenever you need to.

Of course, most people won’t have cause to check their router, but there are some tell-tale signs that someone has been gaining unauthorised access. If your connection is a lot slower than it has been, it may be because extra devices are clogging up your bandwidth. As well as the issue this causes with Internet speeds, it may end up creating a significant financial burden if you do not have unlimited downloads. It also puts your devices at extra risk from viruses, as you do not know what websites are being accessed on your network without your permission.

Although in most instances, piggybacking on to someone else’s Wi-Fi network will be harmless, it is still illegal. In the UK, individuals have been charged with attempting to gain unauthorised online access, even when they have no malicious intent.

Read more: How to stay safe when using free Wi-Fi

While you’re unlikely to be affected, it’s a good idea to check your Wi-Fi connection from time to time to make sure it is as secure as possible.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.