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

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    • stevo is correct, Whirlpoolers will tell you to purchase a specific router like the Asus RT-N56U that allows you install custom firmware on it like Gargoyle/Tomato you can then track/throttle/schedule anyone on the network, its the cheapest way to go, also there are all-in-one solutions, like the Draytek 2860n, throttle anyone you like.

  • Having lived in a six bedroom share house for the better part of three years, I have more direct advice: don’t move in. This sort of petty bean counting about what fair just doesn’t work with that many people (an personalities) – soon you’ll be copping it (fairly or unfairly) for yard work, shower length, toilet paper.

    • This, and that’s why socialism never works!
      Rations suck and there’s always freeloaders that ruin it for everyone

      The only problem is the rent is too damn high so people are forced to live in cramp conditions
      The friction is a breeding ground for conflict.

      Something has to change

  • If your girlfriend is moving into a house that already has 5 people living in it,, becoming the bandwidth nazi (or having a BF who is one) isn’t going to help intergration.

    If GF or BF is most concerned about bandwidth allocation etc, then perhaps it’d be better for the GF to get a 4G dongle & have their own connection.

    I’ve lived in many large houses, some up to 12 ppl.. & yes things can get tricky @ this size, only thing that really works in this situation is learning to accept & get along with everyone without trying to control the environment (which is impossible!).

  • Get a spare old PC, and install a software firewall with bandwidth management. Then either set a maximum bandwidth on protocols you know are going to hog the connection (like bittorrent) or set guaranteed bandwidth values for all the other protocols, like HTTP/S.

  • Keep in mind most solutions to the problem are going to be more effort than they’re worth. If you put another link in the chain every time anything goes wrong it’s going to be your problem. Internet goes out? Your problem. Things are running slow? Well it didn’t happen on our old network, except for the times when it did, but it’s different now. New tablet needs to be setup? Your job.
    Personally I’d rather leave it or talk them all into a bigger data cap (possibly even a separate connection for the person hogging). Maybe ninja configure Quality of Service for everyone else (or just your girlfriend) if there’s one person hogging all the bandwidth.

    I’d also be wary of anyone savvy enough to be hogging bandwidth. Unless they’re a complete brick who just knows the one trick (searching for torrents) odds are they know their way around a network well enough to monkey with whatever you setup or at the very least have the free time to break it trying.

  • QoS is a great idea if the issue is someone hogging the whole pipe (steam is often the culprit here, as it tends to use every bit of your available bandwidth), but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want to find how much people are using per month. Very few routers do that yet for home users, but there’s plenty of options out there in software, or setting up a machine to log it all etc.

  • The easiest solution is get a new girlfriend.
    The other option is if you have an old pc lying around you could always set it up as a proxy or something and share the net through that and log everything everyone uses sees and does.

  • Set-up a WhiteList, Only allow devices you want into the network.
    This was you will know what is taking what and have accountability by MacAddress, most basic router should log by basis on Mac address…….. or not, just from my experince

    • From a security perspective, using MAC address restrictions is fine. But if one of those devices, say a Laptop is torrenting a lot, you’ll still have bandwidth issues to cater for everyone else who just wants to surf the net, watch some youTube videos, or send an email from their smartphone or tablet.

  • My netgear router allows me to set up “users” and associate mac addresses with them, then allocate data to them before throttling. QOS is also good for dealing with torrentwhores, most routers have that these days.

    Really though the best is if you and your housemates get along enough to be able to agree on a time to schedule downloads so they don’t interfere with people generally trying to use the net.

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