How to tell if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi and how to stop them

Dave Johnson
·5 min read
woman checking wifi signal on internet router
There are several ways to detect if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi. Maskot/Getty Images
  • If you suspect someone is stealing your Wi-Fi, you can look for router network activity.

  • There are third-party mobile apps that can help ferret out unauthorized Wi-Fi users.

  • Your router's web-based admin control panel can help you see what devices are using your network.

  • Visit Business Insider's Tech Reference library for more stories.

You've no doubt heard the warning for years: It's critically important to secure your home network with strong Wi-Fi security and a password.

Without adequate security, neighbors and other strangers can not only steal your Wi-Fi - a service you no doubt pay for- but the freeloaders might also have access to shared folders and other resources on your network.

How to tell if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi

If you are concerned that someone might be stealing your Wi-Fi, there are a few tools at your disposal for finding out.

Check your Wi-Fi router's status lights

The easiest way to see if someone unauthorized is using your Wi-Fi is to look at your router - but this only works if you can take all your wireless devices offline completely. If you have a lot of devices (like smart home gadgets) using Wi-Fi, don't bother with this approach and go straight to the next.

But if you can count all the devices on your Wi-Fi network on one hand, take them offline - either turn them off or set them to airplane mode. Then watch the status lights on your Wi-Fi router. With no devices using Wi-Fi, the lights should not be flickering or flashing. If they are, someone else is probably connecting to your network.

Use a Wi-Fi detective app

There are a lot of apps available in the app store for your mobile device that promise to scan your network and provide a list of all the connected devices. You can search the app store for options, but one reliable app is called WiFi Guard, available for both iOS and Android. This app gives you a list of all connected devices, which you can scan to see if there are any devices you don't recognize.

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WiFi Guard is one of many apps that can show you a list of all devices using your network. Dave Johnson/Business Insider

Many devices will be identified with easily understood names, like your laptop, phone, and some smart home devices. But some may be reported as "unknown device," which is relatively unhelpful when trying to determine which are yours and which are interloping.

Use your router's app

If you have a relatively modern Wi-Fi router, it probably works with a mobile app - in fact, you might have initially configured the router using the app. If that's the case, you can start the app on your phone and look for a network map, log, or client list.

Every router is different and there's no standardization among router software, so you'll need to explore. But if you can find this list, it's essentially an "official" version of the device list from the third-party Wi-Fi detective app. If you have a multiband router, the app will probably even show which radio (such as 2.4GHz or 5GHz) each device is connected to.

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Use your router's mobile app to look for a list of connected devices. Dave Johnson/Business Insider

Log into your admin control panel

If none of those other options are fruitful, your last (and often the most complicated) option is to log into your router's admin control panel in a web browser. To do this, you'll need to know:

  • Your admin username: By default, this is almost always "admin," though if you practiced good security hygiene, you changed it to something else when you first set up your router.

  • Your admin password: If you have an older router and you never changed the password, this might be hacker bait like "default" or "password." Hopefully you've changed it.

  • Your IP address: Most of the time, your network's IP address is http://192.168.0.1/ - enter that address in a web browser and log in if you are offered the opportunity. If that's not right, you need to find the IP address for your network: In the Start search box, type "ipconfig" and press Enter. Your IP address should be the "Default Gateway."

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You can find your IP address using the Windows ipconfig tool. Dave Johnson/Business Insider

After you've logged into your admin control panel, look for a network map, user log, or client list. As we mentioned earlier, every router is different and there's no standardization among router software, so you'll need to explore to find it.

How to kick someone off your network

If you do find an unauthorized device on your home network, there are two simple ways to get rid of them:

  • If you see an unauthorized client in your router's mobile app or admin control panel, select the entry for that device. You should see the option to block, ban, or eject the device.

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You may be able to block devices from your router's app or admin control panel. Dave Johnson/Business Insider
  • Rather than blocking devices one at a time, you can throw every device off the network at once (including your own devices) by changing the Wi-Fi password. If you don't already use a password, you should absolutely turn on network security and add a password right now. Even if you already have a password, if someone is using your network and you don't know how they got access, you should change your password and make it stronger. If your network offers multiple kinds of security, step up to a more secure system, such as moving from WPA or WPA2-TKIP to WPA2-AES.

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