So, your roommate shares a Wi-Fi connection with you and you’ve been noticing that lately your connection’s download limit is getting maxed out. However, you haven’t been doing a whole lot of downloading.
And when you ask your roommate they don’t admit to doing anything other than some web browsing and YouTube. Well, unless there’s a third party involved you need to know what your roommate has been using the download capacity on.
You might be thinking “How can I see what someone searched using my hotspot connection?”. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to know exactly what someone has been searching or downloading unless you’ve got access to their device.
If network sharing is turned on, you can view the contents of their laptop using your PC (provided both of your computers are connected to the same hotspot). However, this option stays off by default whenever you connect to a network and it won’t work with phones.
There are ways to setup monitoring programs that let you create logs of which websites someone visited while using your hotspot. However, this can be bypassed if the person in question is using a VPN.
Phone manufacturers have security measures in place to prevent people from snooping around in your network, and the same firewall protects your search data from being stolen by outsiders.
Explaining How A Hotspot Works
A hotspot can be created on any device with Wi-Fi capabilities. Basically, you’re creating your own local wireless network (WLAN).
You can give it a name and choose to set a password for additional security. A hotspot requires the host device to have an internet connection. This internet connection could be a LAN cable from the router, or the 4G/ 5G internet on your phone.
Hotspots are created by people to share their internet connection with friends, family, etc.
Sometimes, you might need to share your own internet connection with a secondary device. Maybe your phone network isn’t working, and you want to stream some Netflix on the couch or bed.
In that case, you can simply use your laptop to create a Wi-Fi hotspot that your phone can connect to. The same works in reverse as well.
Let’s say your office or school Wi-Fi isn’t working but you need to download a PDF. Just open up a hotspot with your phone internet and connect your laptop to it.
The internet speed of any device connected to your hotspot will depend on the connection quality of the host device.
So if you’ve got fast internet on your phone, your mobile hotspot will also deliver high speed connectivity to anyone who hooks up with it.
Mobile hotspots are an excellent choice for backing up your home office when the Wi-Fi goes down (like when the line is undergoing maintenance). Mobile hotspots also allow a group of businesspeople to work together, independently from the office LAN.
Is There Any Way To See What Others Are Doing On Your Hotspot?
For most of you reading this article, the answer is NO. You can’t see what someone connected to your hotspot is downloading or browsing. There are ways to do it, but it requires extensive knowledge of computer networks.
If you want a simple solution, you can try and configure your Wi-Fi router so that it stores logs of visited IP addresses.
This way, you know which websites people on your Wi-Fi network are visiting. This only works on Wi-Fi networks and not mobile hotspots.
You can also set up a proxy which redirects all web traffic to one of the computers in your home, or even a third party site. This is the technique used by parents and custodial services to monitor and block web traffic.
You can also configure the Wi-Fi router to use Open DNS instead of the DNS provided by your ISP. You can do this by going into the router settings.
Once you’ve configured it to use Open DNS, set up a free account on OpenDNS.com and enable logging. This lets you see the domains/ subdomains people on your network have visited, easily sorting or analyzing traffic.
If you’re trying to log IP addresses on the router, understand that this feature is not available on all router models.
Most web connections use HTTPS which means the data going back and forth between your phone and the server is encrypted. Even if you managed to snatch some packets midway, all you end up with is jumbled up garbage.
Phones don’t offer any apps that let you see what someone on your network is searching. WireShark on PC lets you analyze network traffic, but even that doesn’t have access to everything.
Modern data encryption is very advanced so you’ll have a hard time seeing what someone is searching on your hotspot unless you’re a networking guru.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. So you’re telling me if I want to see what my roommate has been downloading, I have to actually use their phone/ laptop?
A. Yep. If you don’t have access to their physical device you can’t say for sure what they’re searching or downloading from the internet. You could set up a network monitoring app on your PC and enable IP logging in your router but that’s about it. On a mobile hotspot, your options are even more limited.
Q. How much does it cost to set up a monitoring system for my home Wi-Fi?
A. You’ll need a special gateway or monitoring switch from a company like Cisco or Meraki, and you have to set up the monitoring software. This lets you see the browsing activity of someone on the network, and you can even restrict access to certain websites.
Systems like these are used in schools, colleges, and various public Wi-Fi spots. Then again, people can bypass this with VPNs.
Q. I want to use a hotspot to connect my phone to the internet, but my desktop doesn’t have a wireless adapter. How do I share my PC internet with my phone?
A. You might know of tethering, in which you connect your phone to the PC and share your mobile internet with your desktop or laptop. There is such a thing as reverse tethering. You just need a program called gnirehtet.
Download it from github to your desktop PC. Connect your phone to your desktop, go into developer options (Android) and enable USB debugging.
Run gnirehtet and your phone will be able to use your desktop’s internet. Check out this video guide for more detailed info on reverse tethering. Note- this is only for Android devices.
In summary, for most of you reading this article who just want to spy on your friends or family- NO. You cannot see what someone is searching on your hotspot, at least not remotely.
You can monitor which sites they are visiting if you’re on a Wi-Fi network, and using computers. But yeah, even that can be bypassed with a simple VPN.
If you’re not already a networking expert with specialized routers and gateways, you can’t see what people are searching or downloading.
Saurav has been writing about technology for the past 4 years, but has been a fan of all things computer related since he was 7 years old. He is a ghostwriter for multiple sites, and covers everything from PC hardware to chainsaws and mobile game development (yep, the guy has a lot of range).