Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Dave Farquhar
Is powerline networking safe? It may sound strange to send computer networking signals down the same wire you use to get electricity. Here’s what you need to know.
How it works
I first heard of the concept of powerline networking in the mid 1990s. All it does is send a signal through the copper wire in your house, and if something else is listening, it can pick up the signal and respond. The brick you plug into each outlet just translates that signal into traditional Ethernet for your computer to use.
It’s a convenient alternative to wiring your house with traditional Ethernet.
The downside to it is that depending on your wiring, you may get a lot less than the advertised speed. But since a slow connection is better than none, people will buy them. Even if a connection is only 20 megabits, that’s still useful. If you experience slow speeds, there are some ways to speed up powerline networks.
I remember a time when there was speculation that power companies would start offering Internet connections over electrical wiring. That didn’t happen, but maybe someday it still can. I hope so. The phone and cable companies need competition.
Is powerline networking safe?
It’s good to have a healthy fear of electricity. But powerline networking doesn’t put you in any danger of bodily harm. Injury from electricity comes from making contact with bare copper wires carrying enough current to harm you. Powerline networking doesn’t put you any closer to making contact with dangerous wires.
Now, if by safety you mean security, that’s a different question. It’s possible for a neighbor to buy a similar powerline adapter to yours and use it to snoop on your traffic. So I recommend you take two steps to secure your powerline network if you use one.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.