Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Windows Vista : Protecting Your Internet Explorer Privacy

Internet Explorer is one of the most difficult parts of Windows to clean because it stores data all over your drive, which makes clearing the data more difficult than just deleting one folder. Every time you want to clean all your Internet Explorer history, you need to clear recent addresses, remove history files, erase temporary Web files, and remove cookies. The below are some suggestion:

Removing address bar suggestions
Windows Vista, like other versions of Windows, includes a feature called AutoComplete that is always activated for the address box. This can be a convenient feature because it can help you when typing in an address by presenting you with various suggestions you already used. The suggestions are based on your address box history. Although this feature offers a great convenience, it also will risk your privacy. When I start typing http://www.Twea in my address bar, it automatically suggests because I have visited that site. Anyone who uses my computer and starts typing addresses in manually can see sites that I have visited. If they just type in www.s or www.t, they will be presented with a small list of all the sites that I have visited that have URLs that start with s or t.

How do you stop the suggestions? You have to go after the source. Unfortunately, this effort can be a little tricky. The file that stores this information is called the URL cache and is named index.dat. This file resides in your Cookies directory within the root user folder. To remove the information that Windows records, you just have to delete the file. However, deleting this file is not as easy as deleting normal files. The URL cache file is always in use when the operating system is running. And because it is impossible to delete files that are in use, the only way to delete this file is to delete the file in Safe mode or when the system is loading. One solution to this dilemma is to boot into Safe mode with Command Prompt and delete the file. That works because when you boot into Safe mode with Command Prompt, the file is no longer in use.

Follow these steps to delete the index.dat file by booting into Safe mode:
1. Reboot your computer and press F8 repeatedly right after the BIOS power-on test finishes to get the Safe mode boot menu.

2. When the Advanced boot menu loads, select Safe Mode with Command Prompt and press Enter. Windows will now load into a repair environment called Safe mode that has only the core Windows components running.

3. When the logon screen appears, log on with your username and password.

4. When Command Prompt loads after you sign in, you are ready to get started deleting the file in DOS. You are going to want to navigate through C:\Users\ Your Username \AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies. In Command Prompt, you will start out in the C:\Users\ Your Username \ folder. Type cd AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies and press Enter to navigate the rest of the way.

5. When you are at the right folder, you are ready to delete the file. Type del index.dat, and press Enter.

You are now finished and can reboot your computer. The index.dat file has been deleted and cleared out.

After you reboot the computer, the file will have been erased. Do not be surprised if you see a new index.dat file generated after you reboot. A new empty file will be generated again to replace the existing file.

Clearing temporary Internet files, history, and cookies
Every time that you visit a Web site, the files for the Web page (such as the HTML and the images) are downloaded and stored in a temporary directory known as Temporary Internet Files. Over time, this directory can become full of images and HTML from various Web sites that you have visited. This directory can end up taking up a lot of space on your hard drive. Additionally, a user can browse your Temporary Internet Files directory and find out exactly what sites you have been visiting just as if they were looking at your browser history. If you are concerned about your privacy, or just concerned about disk space, then clearing the temporary Internet files is a must.

The web browsing history is another area that users often like to clear. Internet Explorer, by default, is configured to record all the Web sites that you visit for a 30-day period. If you are concerned about your privacy, your browsing history should be cleaned frequently and history settings configured best for your privacy. Doing so will ensure that any user of your computer will not be able to easily see exactly what you have been doing.

Cookies are also created on your computer when you visit Web sites. Contrary to popular belief, cookies are really not that bad. Most Web sites use them to save user data to a browser. An example of this is site preferences or automatic logon when you visit a Web site. A Web site you visit can detect if the Web site has given you a cookie already that has your user ID stored in it. If it finds one, then it knows exactly who you are and logs you on automatically. Advertisers also use cookies to store personal data. Instead of showing you the same advertisement 50 times, they use cookies to keep track of how many times an advertisement is displayed on your screen.

A common myth about cookies is that they allow Web sites to track what other sites you visit. That is just not true. The only cost of having cookies on your computer is a privacy concern for local users. Any user that has physical access to you computer can browse to the directory that the cookies are stored in and view what Web sites you visit because the cookies are named after the Web site that instructed your browser to put them on your computer.

Clearing the temporary Internet files, history, and cookies is a very simple task. Just follow these steps to clear these files:
1. Open Internet Explorer 7.

2. Click Tools and select Delete Browsing History.

3. When the Delete Browser History Window loads, click Delete All on the bottom of the window to clear all temporary files, history, and cookies from your computer.

3. On the confirmation screen, select Also delete files and settings stored by add-ons, and click Yes. All your browser data will now be cleaned.

Now users will no longer be able to see what Web sites you visit from the cookies and temporary Internet files that are stored on your computer. Additionally, you will have freed up some disk space by deleting these files.

Adjusting your cookie security policy
As mentioned, cookies are not as bad as some people in the computing world would like you to believe. Instead, the only real risk they present is a loss of some privacy, as I mentioned previously. If you allow your browser to be instructed to create cookies on your computer, over time your PC would have quite a collection of them. Anyone who used your computer would then know what sites you visited, if they knew where the cookie files were located.

The latest version of Internet Explorer includes many new enhancements. One of the enhancements includes a new way of accepting cookies. Now you have the capability to specify if you would like your browser to block all cookies or just certain types of cookies. To be able to use this new feature, you need to understand the two different types of cookies:

First-party cookies: Placed on your computer by the current site that you are visiting.
Third-party cookies: Placed on your computer by remote sites, such as advertisement servers.

If you do not want your computer to accept third-party cookies that are often used for online marketing or if you just want to adjust your cookie acceptance settings, follow these steps:
1. Open Internet Explorer.

2. Click Tools and select Internet Options.

3. When Internet Options loads, click the Privacy tab.

4. You will see the up-and-down slider that allows you to select different levels of cookie security. I recommend that you bypass this and just click the Advanced button instead.

5. After you have clicked the Advanced button and see the Advanced Privacy Settings window, select the box that says Override Automatic Cookie Handling.

6. Your settings for first-and third-party cookies will now be available for adjustment,. I recommend that you always accept first-party cookies. You can decide if you want to block all third-party cookies or be prompted to accept them. If you select the Prompt option, a dialog box notifies you that a cookies request has been received.

7. When you are finished with your settings, click OK to save your changes and return to Internet Options.

8. Click OK once more to close Internet Options.

Now that you have set the cookie privacy setting manually, you can eliminate cookies from being stored on your hard drive in the first place. Doing so will allow you to protect your privacy and still be able to use Web sites that need cookies.

Saying no to encrypted Web pages
If you manage your finances or shop online, then you probably have had experience with using secure Web connections, otherwise known as SSL. These secure connections encrypt the data that is transferred from a Web server to your computer. When the data gets to your computer, your browser has a special key that decrypts the information and displays it on your computer. During this process, when the file is decrypted, it is saved in the Temporary Internet Files directory so that the browser can display it.

This default appears to be harmless because the Web page is saved on your computer only. If no one has remote access to your computer, the data would be safe, right? Not necessarily, because your data is now vulnerable to anyone who has physical local access to your computer. If that person is clever and lucky enough, he or she can sort through your Temporary Internet Files directory and just might find some confidential information such as your online banking information. All this information is saved by default on your hard drive for anyone to look at who knows how to get to it. They do not even need to know your password or even log onto your account on the bank's Web site because a snapshot of the Web page is stored locally on your computer.

What can you do to protect your computer from this vulnerability besides setting up better computer security such as complex passwords? There is a cool feature of Internet Explorer that you just have to turn on that will eliminate the problem completely. Simply called Do Not Save Encrypted Pages to Disk, this feature, when enabled, solves your problems. To enable it, follow these steps:

1. Open Internet Explorer.

2. Click Tools and select Internet Options.

3. Click the Advanced tab.

4. Scroll down though the list toward the bottom of the window until you see the Security section.

5. Locate Do Not Save Encrypted Pages to Disk, and check the box to the left of it.

6. Click OK to save and activate your changes.

Now you will no longer have to worry about pages that were encrypted being saved to your drive for anyone who has access to your computer to see.

Disabling AutoComplete
AutoComplete also tries to give a helping hand when you are filling in text boxes on Web pages. In this situation, AutoComplete works exactly the same as it does with the address bar. As you begin to fill in the text box, several suggestions will appear based on information that you have already typed in.

To get an idea of how this works in action, visit a search site such as Google ( and start to type in words for which you want to search. When you do so, words similar to the ones you have typed in the box on other visits to the site will appear. This capability allows anyone that uses your computer to be able to see what other users of the computer have searched for on the site, even if the browser history was cleared.

Clearly, having this feature enabled would be a big concern if you were concerned about your privacy. Disabling the AutoComplete feature is not very difficult and will completely take care of this privacy concern. Follow these steps to put an end to AutoComplete:

1. Open Internet Explorer.

2. Click Tools and select Internet Options.

3. Click the Content tab and then Settings button under the AutoComplete section.

4. After the AutoComplete Settings window loads, clear all the boxes.

5. When you are finished, just click OK to save your changes.

6. Click OK once more to close Internet Options and activate your changes.

AutoComplete is now a thing of the past. You no longer have to worry that people who use your computer will be shown all the things that you type into your address and text boxes.

Clearing temporary Internet files automatically
Earlier I showed you how to clear your temporary Internet files so that they will not be a privacy concern. Over time, your Temporary Internet Files folder will fill up again and will once again become a privacy concern. One easy way to fix this is to use a cool hidden feature of Internet Explorer that automatically deletes these files every time you close Internet Explorer. This way, you will not have to worry about clearing all the files every time that you use Internet Explorer. Follow these steps to activate this cool feature:

1. Open Internet Explorer.

2. Click the Tools menu bar item and then select Internet Options.

3. Click the Advanced tab and scroll down to the bottom of the screen.

4. Locate and select Empty Temporary Internet Files Folder when browser is closed.

5. Click OK to close Internet Options and activate your changes.

Enabling the automatic empty feature is a great way to easily maintain a clean PC. Keep in mind that this will delete only your temporary Internet files, not your cookies.

No comments: