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Can my neighbors see my WiFi if I can see theirs?

I have two TiVo Digital Video Recorders linked wirelessly in a peer-to-peer
network. Everything works okay. During the setup process each TiVo scans for
wireless signals and I usually pick-up 8 to 10. I can only assume these are my
neighbors’ wi-fi networks. Of course, I can’t access them with the TiVo’s. But
if I can see them, can’t they see me? Am I missing something here?

You’re not missing a thing.

It’s a very safe bet that they can see your WiFi network.

Now, I know very little about Tivos and networking Tivos, but this problem
isn’t limited to Tivos at all. It applies to anyone with a wireless
network.

I’ll show you what to do on your PC, and perhaps that’ll give you enough to
determine what your Tivo needs.

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When it comes to WiFi, here’s the rule of thumb to remember:

If you can see them, they can see you.
Even if you can’t see them, they might still see you.

So the first one’s pretty self explanatory: if you’re in range of someone’s wireless access point and it shows up in the list of networks in range, it’s a safe bet that your wireless connect is close enough to them as well. They easily could see your network.

“… put a password on it.”

The second one’s not quite as obvious. Even if you don’t see additional wireless access points within range, there could still be computers with WiFi ability that are close enough to listen in to your wireless network.

The good news is that the solution is simple: don’t run an open wireless access point.

In other words, put a password on it. Use WPA2 encryption to create a secure access point. Once you do that others in the area may still see that your access point exists – they just won’t be able to connect to it, or see the data flowing across it.

Now, what that means for a Tivo, I have no idea. But for most home wireless routers, How do I secure my router? has a pretty good overview of this and other steps you should take to secure your wireless connection.

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6 comments on “Can my neighbors see my WiFi if I can see theirs?”

  1. You could also hide the SSID for your wireless network. It won’t stop someone that’s seriously looking for it from finding it but it will stop the casual computer WiFi user from seeing it.

    Reply
  2. ‘See’? What does that mean?

    Please do take note of the difference between ‘see’ and ‘access’.

    You will ‘see’ any available, in-range wireless network that is broadcasting an SSID (Service Set Identifier) and such broadcasting is generally the default setup of most wireless networks. It’s much easier to connect your PC to your wireless network by simply choosing ‘connect’ to an identified, broadcasting device.

    Unwanted acess/intrusion is limited by some form of encryption/password protection on your wireless device.

    You can be ‘seen’ but not be accessible. You can NOT be ‘seen’ (no SSID broadcast) and BE accessible (no encryption/password set).

    Both of these separate points have been made by Leo and Big Geek Daddy. Understanding the difference between the two ideas (‘see’-ing an SSID broadcast and encryption/password protection is critical.

    Reply
  3. I have 2 hd digital tivos hooked up and Yes I can see the neighbors….but mine has a password so no one can cannect to me….Road Runner fixed that all up for me…Nor can I access anyone else in the neighborhood that I see…As Long as its password protected its fine and tivo has a place to set that all up at in the settings for tivo…no data will escape

    Reply
  4. More important than securing your wireless network is securing your wireless access point (i.e router). Sure, all sorts of mischief can be created by someone on your network but the by far most common scenario is someone simply leeching your WIFI bandwidth for free internet access. Heck, I do it all the time, albeit almost always on bona-fide public networks.

    However, if someone who does access your network (even if it’s secured with encryption – WEP and WPA are hackable, but require a lot of work still from a computer dedicated to this purpose; WPA2 is far more secure but not strictly impossible to hack) and is able to type in “192.168.1.1” or “10.1.10.1” or the like into their browser and log in to your router with the defaults like “admin” and “password” they can wreak all kinds of havoc, not only reconfiguring your router and its firewall for their own best interests but knocking out your internet and network access completely, or heaven forbid downloading firmware that turns your router into a brick.

    I may be a fool but I enjoy packet sniffing my neighbors who are fool enough to leech my WIFI and selectively booting them if they get out of hand.

    Reply
  5. I can see many other wifi’s near me. Quite a few have been labeled with the actual address of the people!, which to me is a open invite to any local burglars!. Some of the wifi’s near me are not secure, so could someone else access their system?. My wifi is like fort knox, put passwords on everything!.

    Reply
  6. The only Wi-Fi enabled computer device I have is a Vista Notebook that I mainly use on AC power at home.

    I have it connected to my Router so I can use my DSL service with it as well as with my Desktop computer.

    When Ever I turned the notebook on Wi-Fi would start up automatically and I could see the other Wi-Fi users near my home.

    I didn’t want to piggy back on their internet service and I didn’t want anyone to piggy back on mine either.

    I didn’t like Wi-Fi starting up by Default and wanted to turn it OFF.

    Someone in a FIDO Bulletin Board System (BBS) echo told me to Disable the Device Driver for Wi-Fi.

    I did that and that fixed the problem for “me”.

    If ever I use the notebook on battery power and want to use the computer at a Free Wi-Fi location I can just Enable the Device Driver so Wi-Fi would work again.

    Reply

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