Are you worried that strangers or hackers are on your Wi-Fi network? Here’s how to identify devices on your network and spot intruders.
Since you first set up your Wi-Fi network, you’ve probably connected various devices and even allowed visitors to access your network. As a result, the list of connected computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and smart home equipment is probably quite long.
However, if you are not already, you should regularly check the devices connected to your network. Among all the legitimate connections, there might be some suspicious devices with weird names and some gadgets that you don’t recognize.
Let’s see how to identify the devices on your network.
SEE AS WELL: 10 things that could slow down your Wi-Fi network
How Do Wireless Connections Work?
When you connect a device to your network, it is assigned a local IP (Internet Protocol) address. This is a unique digital label that identifies each device on the network. These internal IP addresses typically take the form 192.168.0.xxx, where xxx is an identification number between 1 and 255.
Most routers use DCHP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) to automatically assign IP addresses to devices upon connection. However, these IP addresses are dynamic, so they can change over time as the device disconnects and reconnects to the network.
If you don’t want a device’s IP address to change like this, you’ll need to assign it a permanent static IP address specifically. However, in most cases, you might not need a static IP address at all.
As the dynamic IP address changes frequently, it is not a useful way to identify a device. Instead, you can use the device’s Media Access Control (MAC) address. This is a unique identifier assigned by the manufacturer.
These internal IP addresses identify devices connected to your Wi-Fi router. However, it is the router itself that connects to the Internet. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns your household an external IP address.
As a result, your network devices share the same external IP address, but they have unique internal IP addresses, which is how the router differentiates them.
Given these addressing mechanisms, there are few ways to approach identifying devices on your network.
Checking Your Network Devices With Your Router
The majority of home routers have a dedicated web interface where you can access information about the router, external internet connection, and connected devices. In most cases, you just need to type 192.168.0.1 in your browser’s address bar.
However, if this approach does not work for you, it is possible to find your router’s IP address using the command prompt in Windows. Use the ipconfig / all command and find the default gateway address. That said, this is just one of the many commands you can use to manage wireless networks in Windows.
To protect your network, you will need to log in to access this interface. These credentials are initially set by default, and the username is often listed as admin. However, the first time you log into the router, you need to change them to something more secure.
The next step will vary depending on your router brand, firmware, and ISP. However, in general, there should be a setting named Device Connection Status or similar. This should list all of the devices currently connected to your router, including wireless and wired connections.
For each device, you will be able to see the IP address, MAC address and device name. The manufacturer often defines the name of the device, so it should be easy to identify your smartphone and laptop. However, peripherals, smart home equipment, and older devices may not have a name configured or just display a jumble of characters.
If you notice something that you don’t recognize, you can turn off each of your network connected devices one at a time. If a device remains after everything is disconnected, it could be evidence of an unwanted or potentially sinister device connected to your network.
While this is the easiest method, it requires regular connection to your router to view connected devices. It also does not provide tracking or detailed information. Therefore, this is a great place to start, but you might want to deepen your network.
Checking Devices On Your Network Using WNW
In Windows, there are many ways to identify devices on your home network. However, one of the most effective tools is Wireless Network Watcher (WNW) from NirSoft. The software scans the network you are connected to and returns a list of devices and their MAC and IP addresses.
While you can view the list in WNW, you also have the option of exporting it as HTML, XML, CSV, or TXT. While this looks like a similar method to checking your router, WNW does have a few advantages. You don’t need to log into the router to perform this check, and it can automatically refresh the list.
It is also possible to create alerts when a specific device is added or removed from your network. The software records all machines seen on the network and the number of times they have connected.
The tool can be installed on your computer or run as a portable application without installation. Downloading the WNW ZIP edition means that you can copy it to a USB drive and take it with you for use on any computer.
Download: Wireless Network Watcher for Windows (free)
Checking Your Network Devices With Fing
If you want to ease the process across multiple cross-platform devices, consider using Fing. This desktop and mobile software helps you keep track of devices connected to your network, just like WNW, and allows you to manage this across multiple networks on macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices.
Once installed, run the network discovery feature and you will be presented with a detailed list of all the devices connected to your current network. This returns the IP and MAC addresses and a user configurable name.
You can use Fing locally on your device without an account, but signing up allows you to access networks stored on any device that has Fing installed. Therefore, you can synchronize multiple network configurations, set email alerts for changes, and perform internet speed tests, which are saved to show changes.
Fing is free, although you can supplement it with Fingbox. This hardware product connects to your router, allowing you to monitor the network, set Internet schedules, and improve security.
Keep Your Network Secure
There are many reasons to track devices that join your network. From a practical standpoint, knowing the status of each connected device helps you when you need to troubleshoot network issues. Importantly, it also allows you to secure your network. An unknown device could charge for free on your connection and turn out to be malicious.
In this case, the suspicious device could be used to compromise your network, keep an eye on the devices, and therefore people, in your home, and even collect sensitive data. Tools like WNW simplify the process, but Fing is arguably the easiest to use. Cross-platform sync lets you keep tabs on your network, wherever you are.