Ask Rick Maybury 2013



Ask Rick 284 23/11/13


Dark Side Of The Force

One of my neighbours has been boasting about a program that sends millions of password permutations to wireless routers, with the intention of using their Internet connection and hacking into local computers, without the owner’s permission.  If such software exists, changing passwords does no good and nothing can be safe. Is there anything we can do to stop this menace?

H.G, by email


Hacking software that can crack the WPA2 encryption system, used by default on most wireless routers, relies heavily on the victim not changing default security settings and using a weak or easily guessable passkey. It is made even easier if the hacker knows their victim’s nickname, children or pets names, hobbies etc. Most of these programs rely on Brute Force or Dictionary attack techniques, however, this method becomes increasingly ineffective if the user creates a longer, randomly generated passkey and changes or hides the SSID (Service Side Identifier -- the name a router broadcasts and which appears on a list of available wireless networks) and disables a feature called WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup). WPA2 passkeys of 25 or more characters, whilst not completely uncrackable, require more time and computing power than most neighbourhood hackers would be prepared to devote to the task. Setting up a long passkey sounds like a daunting task but it only has to be entered once on most devices. An easy way to create one, up to 64 characters long, is to go to To set the new passkey, change or stop the router broadcasting the SSID, and to disable WPS you have to open its setup menu by logging on to it through your browser; instructions on how to do this will be in the instruction manual.


Incidentally, many recent password-protected systems are now resistant to brute force methods as they only allow a limited number of failed attempts before access is denied. This includes PC logons, secure websites, some wireless routers, and so on, which generally have low lockout thresholds.



Falling Into The Dust Trap

My faithful Dell PC is five years old and lives on the floor under my desk. It has two hard disc drives, one for Windows, the other for my data. My system mechanic software has started to report errors on both drives on a daily basis. Recently I tried to restart my computer when it stalled at the BIOS screen. I decided to open the casing to see if there were any obvious problems. Inside was a mass of dust, sucked in over the years by the cooling fans. A session with the vacuum cleaner removed most of the debris, whereupon it started normally.  Now I have a dilemma, do I carry on as normal, or should I replace either or both hard drives, or the whole machine?

W R Carver, by email


Recent PC hardware is reasonably well protected against overheating and shuts down quickly, before really serious damage occurs. However, electronic components and hard drives can have their lives shortened if exposed for excessive heat for prolonged periods, and the fact that your PC is getting on a bit, means the chances of a catastrophic failure have increased somewhat. It may not happen for another five years but there is no sense taking chances. Backup your irreplaceable data straight away on an external hard drive, or cloud service, start thinking about replacing your present PC, and remember to muck out your new machine at least once a year.



Lines Down on iPhone

My husband bought me a second hand iPhone 4. Last week he installed iOS 7 and the phone now has flickering horizontal lines across the screen, rather like interference on old televisions. He reset the phone back to factory settings and re-installed the iOS7, but still no luck. He contacted Apple who advised they were having problems with the new operating system. This was a new one to them, though, and they will not replace the phone as it is not under their guarantee. So I now have a dud phone, any ideas?

Wendy Mantle, by email


For most users the iOS 7 upgrade was relatively painless and the few display issues that arose were mostly due to app compatibility problems. The flickering screen sounds more like a hardware fault. It could be something as simple as a loose connecting cable, but it is more likely to be a faulty LCD screen. Persuading Apple to honour warranties on phones not supplied by them can be a struggle, and it is usually quicker, simpler and sometimes cheaper to have it looked at by your local high-street phone mender. Replacing the LCD is not an especially difficult job; you can even do it yourself using a kit from ebay costing under £20. These come with the necessary tools but it can be quite fiddly and best avoided if you are all fingers and thumbs. Having it done by an expert shouldn’t cost you more than £30 - £40, say, and many of them will do it for you while you wait.



Moving Picasa

I have hundreds of family photos on my XP desktop computer in folders in Picasa 3. I recently purchased a Windows 8 laptop and would like to transfer them in the same format. Windows 8 doesn't allow me to access them because there is no ‘pathway’. Can you help?

John Davies, Chester


Setting up a network connection is the best solution (see this tutorial but if, for some reason, this isn’t possible the simplest alternative is to plug an external drive into the old PC and in Picasa go to Tools > Backup Pictures > New Set, select ‘Disc to Disc backup’… then the external drive letter and click Create. When prompted check Select All and it displays the size of the transfer, so you can check that the drive has sufficient capacity. Alternatively you can use CDs or DVDs, but you may need rather a lot of them. When it has completed plug the drive or load the first CD into the new PC and Picasa should automatically run the backup program. When prompted select Restore Files in Original Location then Next and the copying process begins. 




© R. Maybury 2013 0411


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