Ask LH: How Can I Track Who Uses Our Home Wi-Fi?

Dear Lifehacker, My girlfriend is moving into a house with five people, and she’s asked me to setup her network and ISP. At her last house there was one person always hogging the bandwidth though everyone paid an equal share; is there any way I can monitor which computers are using the bandwidth each month? Thanks, EquallityInDownloads

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Dear EID,

This is a vexed issue. The least invasive way to measure who’s using the bandwidth is to look at what reports are available at the router. In business and enterprise kit, there are lots of reporting tools that can deliver exactly what you’re looking for. But it’s less prevalent on consumer gear.

The trouble in a domestic situation is that you’re probably using a consumer grade router. That means it’s a free-for-all when it comes to accessing the data. However, if you know the MAC address or IP address of the bandwidth hog, it’’ possible to see what they’re doing on the Internet.

Our starting assumption here is that it’s unlikely that anyone will want to have any sort of logging software installed to his or her computer. For example, the Netgear router we have at home includes content filtering that can be set up on a per-user user basis. However, each user will need to provide a username and password when they use the Internet.

Another challenge is that they might be using that bandwidth on multiple devices. For example, they might be streaming content using a tablet. That will mean tracking multiple devices.

You could look at a firewall solution like the open source version of Smoothwall as a tool for monitoring traffic and generating reports. It can generate reports for each IP address on the network. If you assign specific addresses to each user and keep a record of everyone’s address you’ll be able to tie traffic to specific individuals.


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