When your neighbor becomes your ISP.
Unless you take steps, your neighbor could be able to monitor most of what you do.
It depends heavily on your neighbor’s intent and technical expertise, but your neighbor is becoming your ISP, and your ISP can potentially see everything.
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Using your neighbor's Wi-Fi
When your neighbor shares their internet connection with you, they become your internet service provider. With that role comes the ability to monitor or even interfere with your online activities. If you can’t avoid the situation, solutions like a VPN or treating the connection like an open Wi-Fi hotspot are advised.
Shared networks are shared
The most common case is likely the most benign: your neighbor has no malicious intent and probably doesn’t even have the skills to do more than let you on their network.
Since they’re providing your internet connection, they have become your internet service provider, and ISPs can see everything that crosses their equipment if they’re so motivated. If they have malicious intent, they can play all sorts of havoc with your connection.
In this case, you (and your neighbor) are also at risk of sharing more than you bargained for in the form of malware. By sharing the same Wi-Fi, both you and they are on the “safe side” of the router connecting them to the internet, so you may not be protected from some forms of malware that could land on each other’s machines.
Treat it like an open hotspot
Much like the steps to use an open wireless hotspot safely, you want to make sure the connections you make to your mail services or to websites (i.e. your banking websites) are all encrypted. That means ensuring that URLs begin with https, or direct connections are configured to use SSL/TLS. Your ISP (aka neighbor) could still see what sites you’re going to, but they can’t see what information is being exchanged.
You might use a VPN. This would encrypt all of your traffic across this wireless connection and your neighbor’s router, through the internet connection, and all the way to the provider of the VPN service. Only there would it be decrypted and sent on to its final destination.
If it’s about cost
People often look into sharing internet connections because they can’t afford their own. Subscribing to a reliable VPN may negate those savings. But you must also consider the potential costs of the damage your neighbor could do if they choose to monitor your internet use. While this could include almost anything malicious software could do, the more pragmatic risk is simply exposing your browsing history, or other things you would rather keep private.
While it’s nice to share like this, if you don’t absolutely trust your neighbor (the person who’s sharing their internet service), I advise you to re-think the approach.
Realize that anyone sharing an internet connection — be it a neighbor, a hotel, a coffee shop, or somewhere else — has the potential to monitor what you’re doing online. Depending on your level of trust, take steps to properly secure what you’re doing.
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5 comments on “Can My Neighbor View My Internet If I Use Their Wireless?”
I’m on the other side of this question. My neighbor had gotten a second hand iPad, even though she doesn’t have internet service. During a conversation, she was talking about how she couldn’t play some of the games without being connected online.
What I did was connect her iPad to the guest network I had setup on my router for when the grandkids come to visit. The signal strength is enough for her to use it, even at the far end of her house.
I suppose I could log in on my router and see whether she is online or not, but I have no reason to. So far, if she has been using her iPad, the bandwidth used has been negligible. Because she is on a separate network, I know whatever she may do won’t affect our computers.
By the way, my guest network is set up as a hidden network, so I always know who may be using it, as I have to give them the SSID as well as the pass phrase to log in.
Sounds like an excellent, and well thought out set up. The only real risk is if she starts downloading illegal materials that you could be liable for. Sounds like the risk is really low.
She’s 78 and uses iPad for games. No risk involved. :)
Leo forgot to mention that sharing an Internet connection with a neighbor might violate the terms of service (TOS) from the actual ISP serving the household with the router. Some TOS violations could lead to termination of service if the ISP chose to do so.
This is for anyone who can’t easily afford Internet service (or phone service): The U.S. Government has a Lifeline program for low-income households to get a phone with service for free through an assortment of licensed providers and there is a sub-program (the Lifeline Affordable Connectivity Program) that allows low-income households to get up to $30.00 per month covered on the cost of Internet service.
I have ATT’s Fiber 500 service, at a cost of a bit over $60.00 monthly, but with this program, I pay about half that (a few cents over $30.00 per month). Most people won’t need as much bandwidth as I have with my plan, and most ISPs have broadband plans that will be fully covered with this program, so Internet connectivity could be free.
At my age, I don’t get out much, and having the Internet available to me lets me keep in touch with my friends and family, stream TV, and keep my mind active. I have been learning Kotlin (a computer programming language), and I am now learning about GNU/Linux (I’m taking a course from the Linux Foundation on EdX) because I want to fill in any gaps in what I already know about that OS.
My point is that if you can’t afford to pay for Internet service, check out this program at https://www.lifewireless.com/. Scroll down the page to the ‘AFFORDABLE CONNECTIVITY PROGRAM (ACP)’ item to check it out.
I hope this helps others,