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Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Freshman

Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

So. Second month of HughesNet and my data has been disappearing at an alarming rate (we don't live there yet, for pity's sake, and this has been driving me nuts.

We have a young adult who failed to launch (not ours) who has been helping with projects on the new farm. When my data disappeared so quickly, I suspected him. He is a video streaming, game-playing junkie, and cell signal is sketchy at the new place. He also knew the old router password. I asked if he has his phone on WiFi enabled when he was at the farm. He insisted he didn't.

When I went over to secure the router and change the passwords, he wasn't with us. I banned the one Android MAC address I saw on my router (my husband's phone; he is a Luddite, and changing phone settings confuses him), and hoped/assumed that changing passwords would prevent other people's phones from using my internet for their personal hot spots. I noted my husband's phone showed up as a client after the password resets, but wasn't sure if it was an artifact or real connection, which was why I banned it.

The young man has Boost Mobile. The other day he was over there doing some building with my husband and another 7% of my month's data disappeared. This is AFTER the passwords were changed. He wouldn't log on maliciously. He is really happy that he has service there (our T-Mobile service required a booster, but boosted signal isn't compatible with his non-SIM card phone; only AT&T and companies who use same phone style). On most coverage maps you are at the far edges of their coverage at the beginning of the driveway - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint - all have dropped calls and dead spots on our farm. So... I know a lot of services have looked at WiFi piggybacking to give their customers more range and consistent service.

Right now I am running my router as a DHCP server. With the number of devices we will ultimately allow router access, there will be four, maybe five total. If I switch from DHCP to manual assignment and static IP addressing, will WiFi enabled cell phones still be able to piggyback off my system? Are there phones that do that without WiFi permissions? It is the only answer that makes sense. All of our systems (laptops, tablets, desktops, Xboxes) are password protected (the kid is obsessed, that and other things make believe he has an autism spectrum disorder) and if it is just he and my husband over there, the only devices there that would use internet at all would be their two phones. My husband's desktop, my laptop and my tablet would be back at the house we are moving out of.

So - can cell phones "steal" data without network permissions? If they can, what configuration prevents it from happening? Will my idea work? I can always ban his MAC address next time we are all together, but that doesn't prevent other phones from doing it when the situation comes up again.

Any ideas? Could I be on the right track? My son and I disable WiFi on our phones before we even get on the property. Burns through battery a little faster, but worth it to not waste data.
7 REPLIES 7
Assistant Professor

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Should not be able to use the cell phone at all on the wireless if you have it password protected unless he is a good hacker.

Not to disparage the kid, I don't know him, but it would be easy to bring a small router along and plug it into the modem if he has access to it. Even the best of young people can be pretty creative when they want to do something they shouldn't be doing.

What plan do you have? The phone shouldn't use that much data even when on WiFi unless downloading a bunch of updates.
Freshman

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

This kid isn't a hacker. He doesn't even know how to ping. The only electronic devices he owns are the cell phone, headphones, and an old MP3 player. Long story - highlights - surrendered by family when safe haven laws went into affect in a state that didn't have age limits. He was nine. Left him at a hospital entrance. Foster care the rest of his life. Not a bad kid, but issues with forming friendships, staying on task, obsessive behavior. We are working with him alongside helping him job hunt, find roommate wanted/room rental situations, etc. He is working for us - light work covers room and board, heavy work (hand digging, etc.), we pay him so he has spending money. Medically discharged from military after only a few months...

Not a bad kid, just struggling.

I am scratching my head. Like I said, my husband was showing as a client on my system after password change, but it could be because his previous permission hadn't aged off. The other day when 7% of my data disappeared, it was only the two of them, and it disappeared over lunch hour and then later in the afternoon (suspect husband dozed off, he is recovering from a rather serious stroke - kid probably got on phone to entertain himself).

To best of my knowledge, this is the only internet-using THING that was at the farm then. Those two cell phones. The kid is too poor to have his own router to plug in... I didn't think it would happen without a user having a password, either...
Honorary Alumnus

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Routers have two passwords:

A username and password that needs to be changed from the routers default values that is designed to limit access to the routers internal settings.

An encryption method then needs that generates a passkey or pass phrase that limits access to the routers wireless functions.

The key then needs to be added to wireless devices before the device can access the network. If an encryption method is not set up you are then running an open network on the wireless side of the router.

If the main router username is not set up from the defaults, anyone can access the wireless passkeys and use the wireless.

 

Advanced Tutor

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Is there a WPS Button on the router?
El Dorado Networks |Diamond Springs, CA | eldoradonetworks.com
Assistant Professor

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Again 7% of what disappeared? That is about 350 MB on a 5 GB  Anytime plan and videos can eat that up pretty quickly. Personally, not enough info to really know what is going on.
Freshman

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

I have WPA2 encryption set up with passwords on the router. It has 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. 7% of my data for the month - I am on the 10GB plan. He and my husband were the only ones there. The router was secured - I even changed the admin password, as well as the WPA security logins for both. There is no WPS button on the router - all settings are changed when logged into the IP address as the admin. I couldn't find a way to delete the default admin and give another user root and admin privileges, or I would have done it. For as far out in the middle of nowhere as I am, the amount of security on it is actually higher than most people would do.

Next time I am over there, I am banning his MAC address, because that will keep him from accessing the wireless. The thing that has me worrying is I have a teen son, lots of friends with cell phones. If there's some way cell phones can use WiFi signals on secured routers and access their bandwidth, it becomes kind of problematic.

See, here is what I'm wondering... if they are accessing bandwidth but not actually "on" the network - if there's something that they've figured out to do that. It would then not really require permissions, and in most situations (except lovely satellite internet), it wouldn't be a big deal. Sadly, in cases like that, some kid sitting there watching anime videos for two hours is a major loss of data.

Sorry to not be constantly monitoring this. For one, I can't do more troubleshooting with what is going on with him until he and I are both there at the same time. I am also chasing down incredibly slow speeds over there (finally got a speed test going and it was less than 600 kbps). I can't wait to have all of my media issues ironed out and functional. As it is, only my husband and I will mostly likely ever use the satellite internet if I can keep the 4GLTE stable enough to keep my son happy.

I am sorry to be so insistent about this - it is the only thing I can think of. I KNOW my router is secured... I redid it just the other day and had to change passwords appropriately for what few items access the wireless router.

I guess, now that I'm over HERE again (we're moving; another reason this is more delayed) I could have taken my OWN phone, which I haven't banned yet, and seen if it showed up as a client on the router. I deleted my 2.4GHz and 5GHz network names entirely from it, so it would have been a good test subject.

I heard a couple years ago they were working on piggybacking off of people's wireless router signal without having to get permissions on a news program somewhere. I can't seem to find anything when I search it, though, except stuff like T-Mobile's wireless enabled phones, etc.
Moderator
Moderator

Re: Can a cell phone use your secured router for range/signal boosting without a password?

Good morning Lisa,

Welcome to the community and thanks for posting. Glad to see our community members have already stepped in to offer their insights and advice. I do hope the MAC filtering helps in your case. I know MAC spoofing is possible, but let's hope he doesn't know how to do that. Please keep us in the loop with your progress.

Thanks,
Liz

Thanks,
Liz

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