5 Ways to Monitor Websites That Were Visited on Your WiFi
March 23, 2022
Did you know that the average American spends more time looking at a screen every day than they spend sleeping? Before you start making excuses, that number doesn't even include the time they use their devices for school work.
Our increasing dependence on the internet as a culture creates some unique challenges for modern households and workplaces. We all know that the internet is filled to the brim with obscene content, and by understanding how to monitor and track usage, we can help ourselves (and others) spot habits.
When people spend so much time online every day, it's only natural to worry that they are coming across inappropriate sites or adult content. This question might lead you to wonder: can I monitor the websites visited on my WiFi network?
In short, the answer is yes. Let's look at the different approaches for keeping track of where you (and your WiFi users) are spending time online.
How to View Incognito History Through DNS Cache
The method we're about to outline only works on Windows devices. More complicated workarounds might be necessary for other operating systems to view cached DNS entries.
The DNS cache is a temporary database where URLs and their associated IP addresses are stored, even if the person visits the sites in a private window.
To view the DNS cache to take a look at browsing history on a Windows device, you'll want to:
- Choose the Windows icon in the bottom left corner and type Cmd in the search bar to launch the Windows Command Prompt.
- From the Windows Command Prompt, select Run as administrator and click Yes if prompted with a question.
- Next, type the command ipconfig/displaydns into the black command-line tool window and then Enter.
- A list of cached DNS entries from recently visited websites will appear, even if they were accessed using a private window.
It's challenging to use this method on a Mac, as the latest versions of MacOS will mask the hostnames of websites visited with random numbers and letters.
While MacOS doesn't let you easily view past DNS records, you can grab new ones pretty easily:
- Click the Spotlight (magnifying glass) icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen
- Type in Terminal and launch the app
- Type in the command sudo tcpdump port 53
Some users keep this minimized in their dock or write scripts to log this information silently on their computers.
This works in incognito mode and on all of your apps. MacOS doesn't make this easy, but motivated users can use this to record all of their DNS queries from websites visited.
It's worth noting that the DNS cache is only a temporary database - this means that this is only useful if you want to see recently visited websites rather than a complete history that stretches back further in time.
While this strategy has some limitations, one benefit is that you can see sites viewed on each device even when they weren't connected to your WiFi network.
1. Check Your Router Log
If you're looking for a DIY method to monitor your WiFi traffic, you can check your router history. You'll need to use your web browser to log into your router to access a "History" or "Logs" setting.
Before you choose this option, it's worth noting that you will only be able to see the IP addresses of sites viewed on your WiFi. However, this can be an excellent jumping-off point if you want to investigate before deciding on a course of action.
Note: different routers will log various information, meaning that your router might only display the history of the device and its reliability rather than logging specific sites or IPs visited.
It's pretty simple to check your router history, but the exact steps can vary depending on your router brand.
The precise sequence of actions might be a bit different on your router, but the general concept is the same:
Use your web browser to log into your router
- Choose Advanced (or, depending on your router, Logs, Device History, or Administration)
- Choose System (your router might have slightly different options, but you'll want to select something relating to History or System Log)
- If you haven't done so already, choose System Log
- Now, you can browse through the history of your router (depending on the brand of router, you might be able to filter your system log results)
Some routers will also list a client name next to each IP address - this will show you which device was used to access each site.
While this is a cheap and straightforward way to check into the websites that people visit on your WiFi, it might not give you the information you're looking for. As mentioned above, you'll only be able to see IP addresses and not specific users - this means that determining which sites people are visiting on your WiFi network will take additional research.
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2. Look at the Browser History on Each Device
One of the easiest ways to see what websites are being visited in your home is by checking the browser history on individual devices. However, there are many ways that this strategy falls short.
First of all, it might not be practical to physically check the history of each device, particularly if you don't want your users to know that you're monitoring their web activity. It feels much more invasive to sneak around on your WiFi devices than remotely monitor their internet use and block harmful websites.
Secondly, if users are in incognito mode or screened windows while surfing the web, the sites they visit won't appear in a web browser's history. That being said, you may be able to recover this data through third-party software or via the DNS cache.
To access the browser history of individual devices, you'll want to:
- Going to the web browser that the person uses (Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, for example)
- Chrome: click the three vertical dots; Safari: click the History menu item; Firefox: Click the Application Menu (three horizontal lines on top of each other)
- Chrome: select History; Firefox: select History
Suppose multiple devices are connected to your WiFi, such as smartphones, TVs, iPads, and other tablets. It may be a little more challenging to find the browser history - mainly if they were using private browsing or they cleared their history.
Checking the browser history on a smartphone is similar to doing so on a laptop or desktop, where you access the history through the user's web browser.
To view the browser history on an iPhone, you can tap the book icon in the Safari app to see the search history. For Google Chrome, you can open the Google Chrome app, tap the three dots in the bottom right-hand corner, and tap History. For an Android device, you would similarly open the commonly used browser app and navigate to the history section of the app.
Purge Porn From Your Life.
Another method you can use to monitor the websites visited on your WiFi is to replace your default DNS server with OpenDNS. All your network traffic goes through your router and then through a DNS provider, which relates each domain name to its IP address. When you replace your default DNS with OpenDNS, it allows you to use OpenDNS's control panel to monitor network traffic.
You can use OpenDNS to view which sites are being visited on your network and block certain content.
To monitor activity on your WiFi in this way, you'll need to ask your router to use the IP of OpenDNS and then create an account with OpenDNS on their site (it's free.) Once you are all signed up and signed in, you can link your OpenDNS account and router.
From here, you can use the OpenDNS dashboard to monitor your network.
A DNS solution is an excellent resolution for people who want to monitor sites visited on their network and block specific sites or services on the entire network. However, one of the downsides of this method is that you won't be able to see traffic in real-time. The data is only available after 24 hours, and it doesn't specify which device visited which site.
You can check out our full tutorial for setting up OpenDNS Home here.
4. Install an App Directly on Devices
Suppose you would prefer not to look at your router's log or are unsatisfied with only being provided with IP addresses. In that case, there are several apps you can use that will give you more specific information about the sites that your users are visiting.
You have your pick of the litter regarding parental control apps, but some offer more features than others. Additionally, some apps only work for specific operating systems, while others are compatible with any OS.
The parental control software can provide various features, including blocking certain websites, monitoring social media activity, and imposing time restrictions. If you are specifically interested in being able to watch the websites that your family is visiting, apps like FamiSafe, FamilyTime, and uMobix, to name a few, allow you to check your families' online web browser history.
One of the benefits of going this route is seeing what sites your users are accessing even when they aren't connected to your home WiFi network.
Choosing to install parental control software isn't something you should do to replace having conversations with your users about internet safety, though. According to a pair of studies from the University of Central Florida, the use of these apps is actually "associated with teens experiencing more, not fewer, online risks." In addition, the study found that teens would "rather their parents talk to them" and give them "trust and respect" instead of using apps to track their activity instead of communication.
Whether or not it makes sense to use a parental control app in your home is something that only you can decide. However, depending on your situation, you might find that proper DNS filtering and otherwise being communicative with your kids is the approach that produces the best outcome for your family.
Another downfall of parental control apps is that kids these days tend to be more tech-literate than their parents are. For example, Google's Family Link is easily circumvented without a pin. Your kids might know how to change the settings or disable the app entirely. We've compiled an extensive list of Family Link alternatives to help you control the sites your kids can access more effectively.
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WireShark is a packet capturing tool primarily used by cybersecurity and IT professionals. If you're a tech-savvy person who wants to be able to monitor traffic on your network in real-time, this is a solid option. However, those less technologically-inclined will likely find the software too complex and challenging to use.
When you use WireShark software, you can see the IP address of each device that is connected to your network. You can then select the one you are interested in monitoring to see both incoming and outgoing data packets - though this isn't quite as simple as it sounds.
There can be a lot of redundant information that you will have to sort through and make sense of to get the information you are looking for.
To capture packets from devices other than the one you're using, you'll need to go to the options menu to turn on promiscuous mode and set the filter for HTTP requests. You will likely need to purchase a separate WiFi adapter to monitor the traffic on other devices, though - this is because most devices have packet capturing locked by the manufacturers.
WireShark can be an excellent tool for network administrators, but there can be a big learning curve for the rest of us.
Is Modern Internet Filtering a Better Solution Than Monitoring Traffic on My WiFi?
Monitoring the traffic on your WiFi can help you understand where your users are spending time online and the types of inappropriate content they might be exposed to while browsing. While countless apps allow you to block adult content, many fall short in a few crucial areas. Additionally, monitoring your home network's traffic means you don't know what sites your users are accessing when connected to a different WiFi network.
You need to know that adult sites are effectively blocked on all of your devices at the end of the day.
That's where we come in. Our subscription service isn't just another blocker app, but it gives you access to the most advanced DNS Filtering service available. This filtering service works anywhere, not just on your home network. It also helps secure your internet by protecting your family's devices from malware, phishing, and hackers.
On top of that, you'll have access to our interactive tutorials that allow you to configure better blocking and prevent circumvention. These informative guides take you through what you need to do step-by-step without any unnecessary fluff.
As the best adult content blocking system on the web, Tech Lockdown lets you implement an effective blocking system for all of your devices.