Wi-Fi today is as prominent as Starbucks or Walmart. Any two-year old can configure a network to provide the basics of sharing an Internet connection via both wired and wireless connection. However, that same two-year old would suddenly have a hard time diagnosing why the Internet is so slow when nobody is downloading or even using it. That’s when you might start asking: “Who’s stealing my Wi-Fi?"
The first issue here is: “Is stealing Wi-Fi illegal?" The answer is more complicated than you might imagine. In terms of the law, its crystal clear – “stealing" or “piggybacking" a wireless network is an illegal activity that can get you a serious fine. However, in the public view, it’s nearly a victimless crime – seen more as taking advantage of the ignorance of new router purchasers and those that have no idea how to protect their network. I myself am in the middle of the debate – admittedly, I wouldn’t call it “stealing" when I sit in a place that offers free Wi-Fi and just use it to my heart’s content.
The simple answer to your original question though is “anyone and everyone who can." This includes neighbors (who might have their own connections, but would rather use your bandwidth) and passersby. With Wi-Fi detectors becoming more commonplace (in phones, laptops, etc.), finding a free wireless network to use for a period of time is just a click away. Furthermore, the connection is immediate and depending on where the router is, may even be better than the Wi-Fi connection you currently get to your main computers.
So, what can you do about it? Finding out who exactly is on your network is never an easy task, but there are ways that you can take their fun away, and it all starts with a router password for your Wireless network. Most routers these days come packaged with materials explaining how to set up your password and information, and as such, you should take advantage of that. The Internet is another great resource – several step-by-step tutorials are out there, and make the entire process very simple.
Once you have a password in mind, make sure that your network is using the WPA or WPA-2 standards for protection. The reason I maintain the original WPA is because certain devices (here’s looking at you, wireless Xbox 360 adapter) don’t yet support the WPA-2 standard. WPA-2 is the most secure authentication available currently for residential use, and as such, if you couple this protection with the security of a larger, alpha-numerical, and upper and lowercase password, and your network will become like Fort Knox.
However, cockiness and excessive feelings of security are a bad thing – you have to ensure that you’re protected no matter what – NEVER (and I mean EVER) tell anyone your password. You can keep the password in a file with another password protecting it, but don’t give it away to everyone who wanders into your house or you’ll find that your Internet will be back to the state it was before.
Follow these small pieces of advice and you’ll see a significant increase in your network speed and reliability – even better, your neighbors will no longer have access to your media server or any of the other computers on your network.