Is Your Wi-Fi Router Revealing Where You Live?

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Suspicious man looking at a computer screen
Danil Nevsky /

Your Wi-Fi router could be sending out a strong signal to everyone about where you live.

Tom’s Guide reports that during the recent Black Hat information-security conference in Las Vegas, researchers unveiled findings that show that routers — devices that send out Wi-Fi signals — often leak their hardware ID numbers through their internet protocol (IP) addresses.

This information then can be connected to maps that show the street locations of Wi-Fi networks. Such maps are readily available to the public.

The consequences could be unsettling. As Tom’s Guide reports:

“So now, that angry guy who you argued with in that heated online discussion the other day could find out exactly where you live, even if he doesn’t know your name. That’s not supposed to be possible.”

Researchers Rob Beverly and Erik Rye of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Measurement and Analysis of Network Data use a tool they developed — IPvSeeYou — to scan the internet for IP addresses that possibly reveal gateway routers’ unique ID numbers. The tool then matches the leaked numbers to 450 million geolocated Wi-Fi networks available in public databases.

Beverly and Rye found more than 60 million routers that reveal these ID numbers and were able to “precisely geolocate” around 12 million residential routers.

To make matters worse, Beverly and Rye were able to locate other home routers that used the same internet service providers (ISPs) as the routers with hardware IDs exposed online. As the researchers concluded: “Simply living near [these exposed] routers is a privacy threat.”

If all of this makes you nervous, there are steps you can take to reduce the odds that your whereabouts will be revealed to others.

For starters, Tom’s Guide says this is not an issue for anyone who has a router that is separate from their modem (the device the cable or phone line connects to).

But if your router and modem are combined — known as a home gateway — you should disable IPv6. If you purchased your own home gateway, check the instruction manual for how to do this.

If your ISP leased a home gateway to you, call the provider and ask how to disable IPv6. If the representative doesn’t understand your request, Tom’s Guide suggests asking to speak to a technician.

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