How to spot whether you’ve got a broadband leech

Broadband leech

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.

Steps 123

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 devicesDHCP 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.

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22 replies

  1. You could also switch off the broadband hotspot feature. If you’re using BT it’s probably BT-wifi or FON. Other providers have similar features.

    1. People who use the broadband hotspot feature are not leeches; they are members of BT Broadband who pay for the privilege of using Hotspots. Leeches are those people who have managed to gain access to your encryption key.

    1. Hit the wifi fan icon on your toolbar and pick open network preferences from the drop down menu.
      When the network profile opens, hit the ‘advanced’ button.
      Select TCP/IP – the router IP will be listed there – it will likely be in the format 192.168.0.XX

      Open your browser and enter this IP address into the address line. It ought to bring up a password screen – details for this are usually on the bottom of your router.

      You should then be able to view your router’s settings and the list of attached devices will be there.

  2. Easy on a Mac. Click “System Preferences” (the gears icon), then click on “Network” (usually in the third row down). Thereafter (Step 3 and following) is the same.

    In most cases you can simply skip Step 2 since the default address for most routers is 192.168.1.1 Just put that in your browser and see what happens. If you don’t find yourself at the router’s interface than try Step 2.

  3. We have identified all our devices by their MAC address and the MAC address has to be registered with the administrator to connect to the broadband. Can be fun trying to find a MAC address on a new device though!

  4. “If there are any devices listed here other than your PC or your router, then you may well have discovered a broadband leech.”

    er..no.

    mobile phones, laptops, wii, music servers, wifi printer, even nowadays, TV’s…most people will have multiple devices attached.

    try this if you have many devices: login to router. go to connected devices options: then turn off each device in turn. if any dont disappear , THEN you may have someone connected.

    good advice to periodically change the password anyway though.

    1. With WiFi Guard you can allocate a name to each MAC address, such as “Joe’s smartphone” or “Roku streamer” once you have identified devices, and any new device then becomes much more obvious on the displayed chart.

    1. Hi Susan

      If you use mobile broadband services via the sim in your ipad you might be able to prevent leaching (if it is occurring) by turning off the wifi on your ipad went you don’t need it.

      My own experience of using PAYG mobile broadband services for PCs was that the data limits were fairly restrictive, so internet access for email and normal web-browsing was OK but things like streaming videos or music or downloading lots of software were best avoided.

      If your ipad is set up to act as mobile wifi hotspot then you may need to keep a careful eye on your usage – and make sure you have a password set for the access to your hotspot. I have a similar facility on my Android phone and an O2 contract that actually allows “tethering”. This is useful facility for downloading stuff to PCs when out and about, but I do keep a close eye on my data usage. In my case, the webpages for my O2 account easily allow me to keep track of my usage and O2 also automatically text me to warn me if am approaching the limit of my data allowance.

    2. Thank you for your reply. I don’t have a hotspot as I don’t have a landline. So I tend to use public wifi at John Lewis shopping malls an the apple sore when I need to back up or download things with my carrier turned off. Does that compromise my PAYG sim? I also turn off all the apps individually before I turn off my IPad . Is there anything else I can do security wise? Thanks

      Susan.

    3. Public WiFi can be cloned with simple software and if you are logging in to secure websites (banking, Amazon, etc) then a potential thief could see your log-in details.

  5. I belong to SKY broadband, but I notice on my internet wireless icon that this flashes up.
    Saying BTWiFi-with-fon. Does that mean that I have an internet leech. Another similar thing flashes up as well.
    I don’t understand as I am a SKY customer, so how does these BT WiFi’s flash up? Can anyone please elucidate for me please?.

  6. Best solution of all is to get your self a broadband router with a visual display that shows how many devices are connected to your network. My Belkin N1 Vision does this job brilliantly.

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