Yes, it’s true.
But before you focus on that too much, there are two things to keep in mind:
First, it’s not really easy for the average consumer.
Second, there are easier alternatives to monitoring your router.
Let me explain what I mean and what you can do to protect yourself… if, indeed, you can protect yourself at all.
Your ISP can see everything you do
I’ve actually written about this before in a different way; more specifically, I talked about your ISP. Because they provide your internet connection, they have the equipment to monitor all the data that flows up and down your internet connection.
Your ISP is at one end of your internet connection, your router is at the other, and we’re talking about the data flowing between the two. It makes sense, then, that whoever controls or has access to the equipment at either end of that connection would have the ability to monitor it.
So, yes, just like your ISP at the far end of your connection, your dad (or anyone with access to the router) can also monitor your internet traffic.
It’s just not particularly easy.
Monitoring traffic at home
ISPs have equipment that make monitoring internet traffic fairly easy. They usually don’t do it, because in general, you and I just aren’t that interesting. Only when law enforcement comes calling with a warrant might they hook things up and start paying closer attention.
Most home routers don’t have the functionality to enable full-on monitoring. That’s not what they’re built for. Some might be able to expose what websites and other servers have been visited, but not the data exchanged as part of those visits.
However, with some cheap equipment, free software, and access to the connections going into your router, direct monitoring is possible.
It’s pretty simply physically. Someone inserts a hub into the connection between, say, the router and your computer. They connect another computer to that same hub and run (free, open source) packet-sniffing software to monitor all the traffic between your computer and the router.
The hard part is analyzing the data. Packet-sniffing software is designed for folks familiar with networking.
So, if your dad’s a computer geek or network engineer, this is probably no problem for him. On the other hand, if his expertise is elsewhere, this is probably the hardest part. (Caveat: it wouldn’t surprise me if there were other network sniffing tools that did a better job of interpreting the data, but so far, I’ve not encountered any.)
But dad has easier alternatives that I’ll speak to in a moment.
Protecting yourself from sniffing
Everything I’ve described so far should be very, very familiar. It’s exactly the same type of sniffing that can be done at an open WiFi hotspot.
As a result, all the steps you take to protect yourself in an open WiFi hotspot apply here:
- Turn on your computer’s firewall.
- If you use a desktop email program, make sure its connections are encrypted via SSL or TLS.
- If you use web-based email, make sure that it’s via https and only https.
- Make sure any sensitive website you visit uses https and only https.
- Consider using a VPN.
A VPN will protect you more or less completely. Someone monitoring will know you’re using a VPN, but that’s all; they won’t be able to see what sites you visit, connections you make, or data you exchange.
Without a VPN, it’ll still be possible to see what sites you visit and servers you connect to.
Without https or SSL, all data going back and forth is visible to anyone watching.
Physical access trumps everything
If someone has physical access to your PC, they can do pretty much whatever they like when you’re not looking. That’s typically much easier than playing around with your home network to set up some kind of network traffic monitoring.
All they need do is install spyware. It might even go by the name “parental monitoring software”.
To be clear, while it’s aimed at parents who are monitoring their kids’ internet usage, you don’t need to be a parent to use it, and you don’t need to be a child to be monitored. There are assorted packages readily available for this type of monitoring, and they’re easy to use.
About the police…
In your dinner conversation, you said, “Police can monitor everything that you do on the web and can track you.”
Taken at face value, that sounds a little paranoid, and I want to address that.
Yes, literally, it’s true. They can.
Perhaps in some countries and jurisdictions, they do.
But in most of the world, they don’t. In most countries, the police can’t just “monitor everything you do” on a whim. They must get a court order or warrant first. Only then can they compel the ISP or other services to provide the monitoring data.
The police have better, more important things to do with their very limited resources than monitor most of us. As I’ve said multiple times, most of us just aren’t that interesting.
Well, we’re not that interesting to the authorities.
Your dad, on the other hand, might be another matter.