Slow internet at home could be down to your internet provider or limited wi-fi range in your house, but there’s also the possibility of something more sinister: a broadband leech.
Interference and poor router signal strength aren’t the only reasons you may be experiencing slow wi-fi speeds. In some cases, it can be the result of someone else using your wireless network to piggy-back onto the internet.
Not only are so-called broadband leeches an annoyance, they also represent a potential security risk. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to tell if you have an unwelcome guest secretly accessing your wi-fi.
How to spot a broadband leech
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Step 1) Clear your network
First, turn off all the wireless or wired devices on your network – including phones, tablets and so on – apart from your router and your main PC.
Step 2) Find your IP address
Next, in order to identify your own PC on the network, you need to find out what your PC’s unique internet protocol (or IP) address is.
To do this, press the Windows key to open a search box on Windows 7 or older (or use the Search Charm on Windows 8), then type cmd and press Enter on your keyboard.
Next, type ipconfig at the prompt and press Enter.
Make a note of the number listed next to IPv4 Address (it will look something like 192.168.1.2) – this is your PC’s IP address.
Note down the number listed under Default Gateway too – this is your router’s IP address.
Step 3) Log into your router
Log into your router’s configuration menu by typing the router’s IP address into the address bar in your web browser. You’ll also need your username and password unique to your router here. To find these, it’s usually worth checking the underside of your router, as the log-in details will be routinely printed here.
Look for a status option or similar, then look for a connected devices option. This may also be called attached devices, DHCP client list or ARP table depending on your router, and there may be a separate listing specifically for wireless devices.
If there are any devices listed here other than your PC or your router, then you may well have discovered a broadband leech.
What to do if you think you have a broadband leech
To prevent freeloaders from accessing your wi-fi, change your wi-fi network’s security pass key. Also, if you’re still using the older-style WEP encryption, you might want to switch to the newer, harder to crack WPA2 standard.
To do this, go into your routers configuration menu again. Look for the wireless or WLAN settings. Select WPA2 from the security mode options, then type in a new pass key. See our advice on creating the perfect online password.
Once you’ve done this, be sure to input this new password into all of your wi-fi enabled devices to ensure that they all remain connected to your home network.