You’re in the middle of watching a late-night movie on Netflix with your spouse, when suddenly your Internet comes to a screeching halt, and the movie pauses and starts buffering for the next 20 minutes. It’s enough to make you stick a needle in your eye.
What causes this craziness? Why is the Internet connection suddenly crawling along? Well, if you have kids with mobile devices, laptops or computers in their bedroom, then you’re probably facing a bit of a bandwidth crisis. The odds are pretty good that your kids are probably streaming YouTube videos or music, leaving very little bandwidth left for your streaming movie. So, what’s a solution to this bandwidth shortage? How do you make sure that your kids are actually up in their room sleeping on a school night, and not staying up all night streaming Internet videos?
Well, there are lots of things you can probably do to those devices to monitor your kids’ cell phones, tablets or their computers. Doing this, you walk that fine line between monitoring your kids, and spying on them – an issue that our own readership here at MakeUseOf is nearly split on as to whether it’s okay to do. So what’s a parent to do?
Well, one solution is to keep your hands off their devices and just manage your home Internet usage right at the source – right on the router itself.
Managing Home Internet Use
Thankfully, there are all kinds of ways that you can use your router to monitor network traffic to and from the Internet, block traffic during certain times or dates, and even give higher priority to the devices on the network that are more important for the family, regardless how many people are trying to consume the bandwidth. Knowing how to monitor traffic and usage on the router level is important, especially with a family that uses a lot of bandwidth.
The first thing that you’ll want to do in the scenario that I’ve described above is to give your living room entertainment system the highest priority for the bandwidth to and from the Internet. This is known as Quality of Service (QoS). Every router you use will have a setting for this. In the case of Linksys, you can usually find it under Applications & Gaming, where you’ll see a menu item for QoS.
Under QoS, you’ll need to enable the Internet Access Priority setting. This is where you can assign connection priority to devices. Typically, medium priority is assigned to devices so that even when a particular device requires a lot of bandwidth, it won’t send other connected devices in that network to a standstill. However, I can tell you from experience that if you have a device like a network Internet streamer that keeps locking up because other people are covertly using your bandwidth – setting the device priority at “High” will resolve that little annoyance. It works quite well, and it’s very satisfying.
Logging Internet Traffic
If you’re curious about what’s using up the bandwidth in your home network, there’s no need to run around and installing surveillance equipment on every device. Most routers offer the ability to log Internet usage – both incoming and outgoing traffic. In a Linksys router, this option is located in the Administration section, where you’ll find a Log menu item.
All you have to do is enable logging. Give it a few hours or so, then go back into your router and click on the “View Log” button. Linksys splits log files into incoming, outgoing, security and DHCP client info. Usually, checking out the Outgoing log will give you some idea what websites your kids are visiting.
Just find the IP address corresponding to their computer in the list, and you can see the Destination URL or IP address on the right. If you see only IP addresses and not web URLs, no worries — just use a Reverse IP tool or website to look up the domain name. This is probably the fastest, easiest way to quickly get a handle on what your kids are doing on the network that’s consuming so much bandwidth. Odds are pretty good you’ll probably see IP addresses that resolve back to YouTube or maybe even torrent destinations. At least it’ll give you some explanation as to what’s going on – much better than being in the dark with your disappearing bandwidth.
Block Internet Use by Schedule
If you’ve talked with your kids about staying off the Internet late on a school night and they keep ignoring you – sneaking those devices to their bedroom and surfing the web into early morning hours, you have additional options. Routers also give you the ability to block Internet use from your network on set schedules. For example, in our house, we block all Internet access from iPads and laptops after 10 p.m. on school nights.
This isn’t at all complicated to set up. For a Linksys router, you’ll first want to identify the MAC address of the devices you want to limit. You can find this under the Status menu, then “Local Network” and then click on the “DHCP Client Table” button.
This will pop up a listing of the DHCP Client Table, showing all of the devices currently connected (or recently connected) to your home network. Locate the name of your kids’ devices, and then note the value listed in the MAC Address field. Keep in mind that not all routers are the same, and not even all Linksys models have the same menu system – so you may need to search for these menus on your particular router. There are also online guides and manuals that can help you find these features.
Once you’ve found the MAC address for the devices you want to limit, next you’ll want the “Access Restrictions” menu area, where you’ll find the Internet Access Policy page. Here, you can define a number of different policies for those devices and customize specific rules for Internet access for them.
Name the policy, enable it, and then edit the list of devices. On the list, you can type in the MAC addresses you’ve recorded from the previous screen. Then save your changes and close that pop-up window.
Finally, all you have to do is define the access restrictions you want to apply to those devices. Click on “Deny” and then set up the schedule you want to use. In my case, I actually have to set up two policies, because of how Linksys requires the start time to be larger than the end time – meaning I can’t set a P.M. start time and an A.M. stop time. So I’ve configured an evening block covering the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. hours.
Next I created the morning policy for the same devices, blocking access throughout all of the morning hours up until 6 a.m. Once you’re done, you’ll be able to see all of the Internet access policies you’ve created under the dropdown list next to “Access Policy”.
This is probably one of the most effective ways to manage Internet use (or overuse) on your home network. If you have kids (or anyone living at your house) who just won’t honor your requests to stop using the Internet after a certain time of day, you can take matters into your own hands on the router. Using their MAC address, there’s no way they’ll be able to find a way around it.
Block Certain Internet Behaviors
If you are lucky enough to have kids who listen to you and honor your wishes to make responsible use of the Internet, you may not need to use any of the tips in this article. On the other hand, if you have kids at the opposite end of the spectrum, who tend to do things like use VPN to bypass filters or make use of proxies to torrent free (and illegal) movie downloads, you may need to pull out the big guns.
In your router, under the Security menu item, you have access to a number of tools where you can disable VPN Passthrough, or under the “Firewall” section, enable the blocking of things like JAVA, ActiveX scripts, the use of a proxy and even cookies.
It doesn’t matter how people on your network configure their browsers, the router is the source for all Internet access, so it trumps everything. These are the firewall filters that will take precedence, so if you really don’t want people to use proxies, run Java apps, and more – just select the things on this page that you want to block, save your settings, and your network is officially protected from that behavior.
Keep in mind that nothing is 100 percent bullet-proof. If a hacker is clever enough, they may manage to find a way to hack into your router and change those settings, or find some other way to completely bypass the router itself (do your kids have access to a cellular data plan?). However, these tips will give you at least a few important ways to try and manage what goes on in your home network, and how people access the Internet from it. You may not want to go crazy with these settings right out of the gate, but if you run into any problems with inappropriate use on your network, you have these tools at your fingertips.