Ask The Geeks

The Geek Squad Explains How to Get Your Neighbors Off Your Net

The Geek Squad

 (The Geek Squad)

You've got tech questions, we've found the answers. We've asked the tech experts at the Geek Squad to help you make the most of your technology, answering your thorniest tech questions. So if you're wondering what to buy, how to plug it in, or how to fix it, the Geek Squad can help.

This week, Geek Squad district field marshal Nicole Gamar answers YOUR questions.

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"I recently found out that my neighbor’s son has been accessing my router via Wi-Fi. I'm sure this has had an effect on the speed -- sometimes it's so slow that I just quit messing with it. His mother has also told me he plays games, etc. while using MY router. I have the fastest DSL speed available, but at times, it’s as slow as dial-up or worse! Please help!!!" -- Cathy Jen

Wow, it can be so frustrating to find that your neighbor’s son has been surfing on YOUR net! Not only can some online gaming slow down your Internet speed, but less than reputable browsing habits and illegal downloading could potentially be traced back to the modem in your home. Let’s get that corrected!

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Most residential routers have a built in web page to adjust settings. This is usually or and the login can be found by visiting the router manufacturer’s web site. Once you are in, you want to ensure that you accept any prompts to update the firmware. This will ensure that your router has the most current version of the internal software that makes your hardware work.

In your router’s wireless page, you can change several settings that will add to the security of the wireless network in your house. First, change the generic login to a unique username and password that only you know -- and don't share it with that youngster.

Next, choose a new name for your network, called the SSID. Then create an encryption password that's hard to guess. Using your phone number or dog’s name? Not a good idea. Choose one that mixes random numbers and letters, and use the highest encryption type that your wireless devices will allow. Save this setting, and then reconnect your wireless devices to the newly named network, using the newly created encryption.

"I want to replace the hard drive in my laptop with a larger one. What's the best software for making a mirror copy of the current hard drive? Also, the motherboard in the laptop will only recognize up to a certain size limit of hard drive. What software should I use to partition the drive so that it looks like several smaller drives to my motherboard?-- Barry Friedrichs

You can find a few different types of products that can help protect your data for the move. Back-up programs like Acronis True Image let you customize the way you want to save your data, from individual files to complete hard disk drive imaging. But most external and networked hard drives come with a software package that can accomplish the same thing, as well as providing hardware encryption that secures your data.

You mentioned that the motherboard in your computer will only recognize part of the new hard drive, which invites a couple of questions. Barring any hardware defects, either your existing computer may be getting on in years, or the hard drive could have accidentally been formatted using an outdated file system called FAT 16. That limits the maximum recognizable size of the hard drive to 32GB. 

If your computer is a newer model, try reformatting the hard drive again (back up first!) and choose NTFS as the file system type. You should be good to go!

"Can my Mac laptop catch a virus?" -- Bob Leonard

Macs were never completely immune from a virus or spyware, yet it used to be very rare to find an Apple computer infected with a virus. That's changed. The increased popularity of Macs has made them a fresh target for malware writers. So there is an increased chance of virus infection, but the probability is significantly lower than with a Windows-based PC.

Virus and spyware infections can be extremely stubborn to remove. If your Mac or PC is showing signs of infection you can't fix with commercial software, professional attention may be in order.

"Why is it every high speed Internet provider claims super-extreme access speeds, and you rarely download at the speed you're paying for? For example, I have 12 Mbps download speed from my ISP and only shows my speed around 9 Mbps download -- and I only get about 1 to 1.5 Mbps on actual downloads.” -- Daryl Hislop

After we addressed Daryl's question in our last roundup, we received several e-mails suggesting a common yet often overlooked issue that we felt merited mention.

Many (but not necessarily all, so keep an eye out) programs such as Internet Explorer and Firefox will display download speeds in megabytes per second or MBps. On the other hand, Internet providers often advertise their speeds in megabits per second or Mbps. The conversion is simple: 1 MB = 8 Mb.

Megabytes are traditionally used to describe storage capacity (your next hard drive will be thousands of MB), while megabits are used in throughput speeds (Daryl pays for 12 Mbps).

ISPs typically use this megabit number instead because it's larger. In real-world situations though, it's important to remember this key mathematical difference.

In Daryl's case, his numbers actually work out quite nicely assuming he made this error. If he is downloading at about 1.5 MBps (instead of megabits), his actual rate in megabits is the advertised 12 Mbps (1.5 MBps * 8 = 12 Mbps). Since 12 Mbps represents his maximum speed, a range from 1 to 1.5 Mbps is quite reasonable.

Got a question? E-mail us at and we'll relay it to the Geek Squad. Next week, the Squad will answer the most interesting or most frequently asked questions.