How to hide my Internet usage
January 11, 2013 1:19 AM   Subscribe

The Router At my new apartment tracks all my Internet usage. Is there a way to hide it? I don't know much about vpns, But are they the solution? If so I would be willing to pay for a good one. Suggestions?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What is the router model and manufacturer? Also, what is the software version running on the router? Specificity is good for answers to questions like this.

If you do not know how to find this info, it is easy to show you how. Just some basic commands and you get all the parameters you need to see.
posted by lampshade at 1:25 AM on January 11, 2013

I use Witopia VPN. It is easy to configure, has lots of ways and locations to connect (I use it for travel, so this is important to me), and is not very expensive. I recommend it.

When you sign up, they give you a custom download for your OS that you run and it automatically configures everything. You just click "Quick connect" and it connects to the nearest server, and then your internet traffic is encrypted.

You could also try Tor, for a free solution, but I've found Tor annoyingly slow.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:43 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll be home in about an hour and then I'll post the router model! (I think it was a linksys)
posted by freddymetz at 1:57 AM on January 11, 2013

I don't know much about vpns, But are they the solution?

A VPN sets up an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN gateway so yes, it is a solution for you. Anything stored by the local router will be gibberish so let them store away. It is also very useful to have when traveling and using airport and hotel and café WiFi hotspots which might also log information (in addition to providing traffic encryption when you're on an unencrypted hotspot.) I use a VPN basically all the time - when it works.

The VPN also gives you the benefit of being able to assume an IP address in a lot of different countries which if you wish, e.g., to stream BBC from America is mighty convenient.

I use Hide My Ass ( but sometimes have trouble with it so I hope other people will suggest alternatives in this thread.
posted by three blind mice at 2:55 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Its a linksys Wrt54gs
posted by freddymetz at 3:04 AM on January 11, 2013

Also, how much information does the router store? Just the websites I visit or the things I write on websites/messengers too? Can someone see the information remotely, or does one have to be connected to the router?
posted by freddymetz at 3:22 AM on January 11, 2013

If it's a regular WRT54GS just being used to do routing tasks I really don't think you have much to worry about here. You might even take a peek at the configuration by going to and trying username and password "admin". Sure, the router could be set up to keep some logs of the traffic that passes through it, but what's the point from the perspective of your run-of-the-mill landlord?

I think a VPN service is useful for a variety of privacy-related reasons but I'm not sure this is one of the threats you should spend much time worrying about.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:40 AM on January 11, 2013

I checked and incoming and outgoing logs are disabled. Does this mean the router isn't tracking anything? Thanks a bunch for the tip by the way!
posted by freddymetz at 3:47 AM on January 11, 2013

Does this mean the router isn't tracking anything?

That means the router isn't tracking anything right now. Anyone who has access to the WiFi could turn that on at any point. There are a number of things you can do to secure it further.

Turn on the setting that allows admin logins over wireless. If you're the only one with physical access to the router, this will make it impossible for anyone to connect to the admin page but you. Thus, no one else can turn on logging (unless they physically access the router). Also, I'd change the router admin password, if you can get permission to do that, and make sure wireless security is turned on.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:00 AM on January 11, 2013

The landlord will have physical access to the router and I very likely don't have permission to change the password. Ok, so basically I still have to check the settings every now and then to see if its being tracked.
(I'm still interested In a VPN service btw)
posted by freddymetz at 4:06 AM on January 11, 2013

If that admin pw does not work, it may be a variation on that. Probably not but you never know. Otherwise, it sounds like you got the info you needed.
Check this site: Router Default Passwords Dot Com

Turn on the setting that allows admin logins over wireless.

Be careful about that. Use it as needed but the best security is to leave it turned off when not necessary. With a good password, it is pretty safe, but it can be exploited by wifi leechers.
posted by lampshade at 4:14 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you'd still like a simple free VPN workaround, either Spotflux or proXPN could definitely obfuscate your activity and help ensure your privacy.
posted by samsara at 5:10 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

As an aside, I would be very surprised if the German data protection regime didn't have something to say about logging web traffic which is likely to contain significant amounts of personal information.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:41 AM on January 11, 2013

I'm a little unclear on the why here. If it's just a nosy landlord, then by all means just make sure logging is off and use a proxy.

If you're engaging in dissident activities and want anonymity from authorities, _someone_ is logging everything you do on the Internet. At minimum, ISPs have flow data (who you talked to, what port you used, and how long/how much data -- this is what your home router would be logging) from routers, and the endpoint is logging connection attempts.

Tor is really the only valid option for complete anonymity, and honestly, if you're coming for help on router setup, I have a dim view of your ability to consistently use Tor in a secure fashion. It's really easy to compromise your own security with Tor.

This would be much easier to answer if you posted, specifically, what you're trying to avoid having logged.
posted by bfranklin at 5:43 AM on January 11, 2013

There are two things at odds here: Someone has apparently told you they monitor your internet access, yet the default password is being used on the router.

While you certainly shouldn't trust any internet provider, it does sound like this person was bluffing, since they didn't bother to take even the most basic security step of changing the default password. Setting up internet logging of any useful kind would involve that step.
posted by odinsdream at 5:50 AM on January 11, 2013

Alternatively, there may be another router upstream of this Linksys one that has routing enabled and the default password changed - you can probably tell from the assigned IP of the Linksys router (i.e. whether it has some random number ranges or if it's in a private network range like 192.168.x.x). Using a VPN (and encryption) is a good idea in general.

Regarding what information this logging has access to, most routers' built-in logging only records the source IP, protocol, and destination site/IP, i.e. it would log that your client had accessed such-and-such a site using the HTTP protocol.

The more-capable and more-detailed logging that you mention is generally found in "packet sniffing" aka packet analyzing. This sniffing FAQ is probably also helpful as it describes this in layman's terms.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:12 AM on January 11, 2013

"Turn on the setting that allows admin logins over wireless."

Sorry, I meant OFF.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:31 AM on January 11, 2013

I'm a little unclear as to who owns the WRT54G? If not you, you really shouldn't access or change firmware settings regardless of how easy the landlord has made it.
posted by davidvanb at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2013

bfranklin: TOR sounds great, but I heard it can get very slow. I don't think it would be a good idea for VOIP and torrenting..I guess it's put to better use for circumventing chinese censorship for example.
I've gathered that no VPN service offers true anonymity, but i'm willing to settle for less if that means I know what exactly they're offering me and what risks I would potentially be taking.

odinsdream: Maybe they were bluffing, but they explicitely mentioned it in the contract, which surprised me as I had never seen it mentioned before.

davidvanb: I don't own it and i'm definitely not changing anything without permission. I was just following another user's suggestion to take a look at the configuration. Besides, changing something would make them probably change their password :P

Does anyone know which VPN allows torrenting and VOIP?
posted by freddymetz at 8:03 AM on January 11, 2013

Maybe they were bluffing, but they explicitely mentioned it in the contract, which surprised me as I had never seen it mentioned before.

This is a standard part of an ISP contract. That your landlord is your ISP is coincidental. You shouldn't trust any ISP to avoid looking at your traffic. There may be laws protecting you against action taken related to your housing based on information about your internet usage, I don't know.

Personally, I'd buy my own internet access from a commercial ISP and use my own hardware.

Like davidvanb said, do not log in to devices you don't own. This is usually illegal, even if the defaults are in place, and even if that's a silly law.
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 AM on January 11, 2013

If you can log in as admin/admin, I will bet you $10,000 that the person running that router hasn't the slightest clue how to log anything.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:29 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Look into something called a "seedbox" - you rent part of a box located somewhere else and then FTP/whatever into it to retrieve your files. Haven't tried this myself so I'm not familiar with the details, ymmv, but it's what I've heard/read as a solution.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:51 AM on January 11, 2013

I'd think that a seed box is an overkill. You are basically renting a computer somewhere out there in the Internets which then can run stuff for you - mostly torrent clients. A VPN will make your traffic encrypted from your computer to the end point of your VPN - which could be in a different country. (Useful for watching BBC - so I heard)
posted by nostrada at 9:07 AM on January 11, 2013

I think if your main intent is to hide torrenting from your landlord, you'll want to also throttle traffic and limit maximum TCP ports substantially. A single computer torrenting on a consumer router like yours will bring the whole network performance down very quickly. If they weren't logging traffic by then, they'd definitely have a reason to start. I think they mentioned that they monitor traffic in the contract specifically for curbing activities like torrenting.

Newsgroups/Usenet might be a friendlier option for most things that can be found on torrents. Giganews for example can bundle VPN and Usenet access.

Any VPN service will obfuscate your activity from anyone sniffing your traffic (even at the router level). The quantity of traffic however you won't be able to hide. So above are your options however I would try to be as considerate as possible to anyone else sharing the connection...or see if you can get separate internet access from an ISP on your own.
posted by samsara at 10:36 AM on January 11, 2013

samsara: Some good points there, but if I torrent it won't be in the gigabytes anyway :)
posted by freddymetz at 10:51 AM on January 11, 2013

TOR would be the wrong solution even if you only cared about web traffic. What you want is a VPN or a proxy.
posted by cdward at 12:50 PM on January 11, 2013

The VPN I use to watch BBC iplayer is Unblock Us. It costs $5/month (there are lots of free ones but I read somewhere that they may not be as reliable) and I am 100% happy with it.
posted by young sister beacon at 5:49 PM on January 11, 2013

Even with VPN, doesn't the computer unique MAC number still get retained or logged in somewhere?? And don't certain clients like qbittorrent have an 'Anonymous Mode' to protect one's ID?

This really sounds like overkill in the worry department to me. Really strange the sort of stuff that winds up in landlord and tenant contracts that even the landlords themselves have absolutely no idea what the heck they're talking about cos those contracts are one-size-fits-all...

As mentioned above, anyone still using the default PW for their router probably doesn't even realize you can actually set up user logs or what they even do.

Another thing: If the WRT54GS (great router by the way, I had one that served me well for years until I went up to a N-band version of it, the WRT120-N) is currently being used by a number of people, it's going to be really difficult to figure out who is doing what with the traffic I would think, even by the ISP. The very fact that it's used by a number of people a.) Is probably against the contract, even though your landlord allows it. and b.) Protects everyone else...

I'd just restrict any heavy bandwidth use like the torrenting to late night so as to be polite to my neighbors and just not sweat this. YMMV, and that's my take on this, others will be much better informed here.

LifeHacker has some good thoughts on the issue.
posted by Skygazer at 7:45 PM on January 11, 2013

Even with VPN, doesn't the computer unique MAC number still get retained or logged in somewhere??

No. MAC addresses only get sent to the nearest router and are not sent upstream.
posted by odinsdream at 7:54 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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