You're at home ready to stream the latest episode of your favorite show. The popcorn is popped, you're in your favorite spot and everything is perfect.
When you fire up Netflix, though, the video is fuzzy and keeps pausing. Is your internet provider slowing things down? Maybe.
However, in the days that follow you start noticing that the internet itself randomly slows down on any gadget, whether it's streaming video or you're surfing like normal on your tablet or computer.
It could just be your internet connection acting up ... or someone could be stealing your internet, sucking up valuable bandwidth and leaving you and your gadgets with just left over crumbs of capacity.
How do you know which it is? If someone is stealing your internet, what can you do about it? Keep reading and I'll give you the gory details.
Is someone stealing your internet?
Here's how to find out if someone is stealing your internet. Start by taking stock of your network.
Log in to your router and check the section that shows what gadgets are connected to it. If you need help, check your router's manual for instructions on logging in. If you can't find your manual, download a digital copy here.
If you want an easier solution, you can grab the aptly named Wireless Network Watcher. This free program gives you a list of gadgets connected to your Wi-Fi network. You can quickly fire it up whenever you want to check or just leave it open.
Once you have the list of connected gadgets, identify the ones that belong to you. Your computer should show up in the list using its name, for example. Your tablet or smartphone should have the manufacturer name in there somewhere.
If you can't make heads or tails of the list, simply turn off each gadget one by one - or just disable the gadget's Wi-Fi - to figure out what is what. I'd write it down for future reference.
When you find a gadget connected to the network that doesn't belong to you, you know you have a culprit.
You might need to check back a few times if the internet slowdown is random. The culprit might only be using your internet infrequently.
How to secure your Wi-Fi
Even if you spot a rogue connection, however, you won't be able to tell who is connected. Well, not unless you want to barge into your neighbors' houses to check their gadgets' names and MAC addresses. For the record, I don't recommend doing that.
Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Encrypting your Wi-Fi network will usually be enough to keep intruders out. Click here to learn how to secure your Wi-Fi against intruders.
In fact, you should secure your Wi-Fi network no matter what. There are too many horror stories of criminals or perverts using someone else's Wi-Fi in hacking attacks or trading illegal images. As the owner of the Wi-Fi, you're going to have to straighten things out with the police, and it won't be fun.
If your network is already encrypted, and someone still got on, you should change your password immediately. Then keep an eye on things to see if they manage to get on again.
If they do, it's possible they got into your router and set up a backdoor. Reset your router to factory settings - check your manual for instructions - then set it up again from scratch. That means changing the default password, enabling encryption, picking a new SSID and turning off any remote management features.
Note: If you change your encryption password, you will need to update the password on all your gadgets.
How to speed up slow Wi-Fi
If you go through these steps and don't see an unauthorized connection on your Wi-Fi and your internet is still slow, then you'll need to do more troubleshooting.
Test your internet speed to see if it matches what you're paying for. Try running it a few times both plugged directly into the router and over Wi-Fi.
If your Wi-Fi speed is way slower than your internet speed, you might need to upgrade your router. It could just be bogging down with all your gadgets.
Otherwise, call your internet provider and see what the story is. You might be due for a modem upgrade or there could be another problem on the line.
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