While it’s true that wireless routers are supplied with encryption software - working through the manual is often a frustrating experience for less technically inclined users. As a result, it’s not unusual for users to continue to use (widely known) default network names and passwords.
In a study commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance in August of last year, it was discovered that only 59 percent of users have implemented wireless passwords, or encryption methods, that meet the basic criteria for strength and privacy.
In addition, the survey revealed that while “eighty-five percent of survey respondents understood that their Wi-Fi devices should not be set for automatic sharing, …. only 62 percent actually had auto-sharing turned off.” It’s easy to conclude then, that piggybacking on an unprotected wireless access point is perhaps more common than many might imagine.
So, how would you know if your wireless signal is piggyback capable, and is perhaps being used as the neighborhood access point? You could of course, install any one of the comprehensive open source network monitoring packages widely available for download. Provided, that is, you’re prepared to dig into a host of complex instructions and procedures.
A much simpler, but very basic solution, is offered by NirSoft’s Wireless Network Watcher. This free utility “scans your wireless network and displays the list of all computers and devices that are currently connected to your network.”
As you can see in the following screen capture (click to expand) – the following connected device information is displayed: IP address, MAC address, the network card manufacturer, and optionally, the computer name.
Better yet, you can set the utility to continuously monitor so that it will notify you of any new devices connecting to your network (with an audible signal if you like) – as illustrated in the following screen shot.
System requirements: Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, Server 2008, Win 7.
Download at: NirSoft (you’ll need to skip down the page to locate the download link).
Bonus feature – you can also use Wireless Network Watcher to scan a small wired network.
Wireless Network Watcher may not be jam packed with features – but, it does what it’s designed to do, and it does it very well. Additionally, the advanced options menu will allow you to scan selected IP address ranges, choose which adapter to scan from, and save the results to html.
More information about Wi-Fi security, including innovations that make setting up security easier, is available at www.wi-fi.org/security. Users can test their own security knowledge with a quick online quiz, watch animations about home Wi-Fi security, and download white papers with detailed information.