What’s chewing through my internet access?
Where did all my gigs go?
We all know that sinking feeling when you discover that your monthly home data allowance is gone and you have no idea where it went. Finding the culprit can be difficult but there are a few tricks which can help.
The more gadgets you own the more difficult it will be to find the guilty party, so it’s time to play detective and embark on a process of elimination. While it’s possible that someone is leeching off your wi-fi network, it’s unlikely if you’ve enabled WPA/WP2 encryption and are using a strong password. If your wi-fi network isn’t password-protected, turning on encryption will keep out uninvited guests and perhaps even solve your problem. If you’re using WEP encryption, upgrade it to the more secure WPA/WPA2.
If your network was already using WPA/WPA2 protection, start by considering the most likely explanations before chasing digital intruders — keeping in mind that it could be uploads chewing through your data allowance rather than downloads. Have you left BitTorrent running? Have your cloud backup and sync services been working overtime? Have your operating systems or applications downloaded major software updates, perhaps silently in the background? Has someone in the house taken a liking to streaming audio or video, such as online movie rentals, YouTube or internet radio? Has a streaming service been left running on an internet-enabled Blu-ray player? Once you’ve eliminated the usual suspects it’s time to dig a little deeper.
The next place to look for clues is your broadband modem/router which sits at the heart of your home network. The instruction manual will tell you how to access the menus via your browser, using an address such as //192.168.0.1. If you’re still using the default password it’s important to change it.
If your modem/router lets you monitor your real time upload and download speeds (not your DSL connection speeds) then this can make for a useful tool. Trying disconnecting your devices from the network one by one to see which is chewing through the data. If you narrow it down to a single computer, open the properties of the network adaptor and watch the network activity as you close various applications and background services. If you narrow it down to a smartphone or tablet, try disabling or uninstalling potential data hogs.
Unfortunately finding an intermittent data hog is more difficult, but there are a few things to try. Your modem/router allocates IP addresses to all the devices attached to your home network. Look for a menu such as “Attached Devices” and see if you recognise every listed device. Some might be easily identified by name, such as Bob’s iPhone or Bob-PC, but others may not be as obvious. Remember to allow for desktops, notebooks, smartphones, tablets, games consoles, media players, Personal Video Recorders, Blu-ray players, Network Attached Storage, internet radios, digital photo frames and anything else you may have forgotten is connected to the internet. Keep in mind that along with currently connected devices you might find the details of devices which recently used the network, such as a friend’s computer or smartphone (assuming you’ve granted it wi-fi access).
If you’re struggling to match up your modem/router’s list of IP address with your various devices, try restarting your devices one at a time to see if they’re allocated a new IP address or if they jump to the top of the list. If you’re still stuck, look for the MAC address associated with the IP address. Every network enabled device is issued with a unique MAC address by the manufacturer, such as 00:17:F2:FA:33:75. Cross-checking the listed MAC address against your gadgets should help you match them up. It’s quite possible you’ll encounter a device you forgot was connected to the network, which could be your culprit.
If at the end of all this you’re still left with unidentified devices, take note of their MAC address and then change your wi-fi password to something longer and more complicated. Also try turning down your wi-fi network’s transmission power so it doesn’t reach as far, which reduces the likelihood of your neighbours seeing your wi-fi network. You’ll need to reenter the password on all your wireless devices, but the password change should help keep out uninvited guests and noting the rogue MAC address may help you identify that device if you encounter it again.