Big browser is watching you


Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and other browsers keep accurate records of your online activities, and not just in their history records. Clearing out the virtual breadcrumbs in your internet cache and browser histories preserves your privacy and can improve your PC’s performance by freeing up disk space, too.

Sites embed small text files containing information about you on your PC when you visit them. As a rule, cookies aren’t a threat to privacy. The files usually exchange information only with the sites that placed them. And sensitive content is often encrypted.

Nevertheless, the mere presence of cookies with questionable names could cause problems. And anyone who has access to your system when you’re away can see not only which sites you visit, but also the contents of unencrypted cookies.

All browsers save HTML (hypertext markup language) files and images from pages you visit, so they can load them much faster next time. This cache lets you view pages — minus some dynamic features — while offline. But the cache also serves as a record of your web travels.

Firefox and Opera keep track of your file downloads as well as your web-browsing history (which IE also logs). Follow our step-by-step guide to wipe the slate clean.

Delete Web cookies, history and cache

1. To delete cookies in Internet Explorer select Tools, Internet Options. Under General, click Settings in the ‘Temporary Internet files’ area. Choose View Files to see your browser cookies and cached websites. Cookies are files starting with ‘Cookie:’. To delete one, simply right-click it and select Delete.

2. In Firefox, a button labelled Clear Private Data erases your personal info. To delete cookies, choose Tools, Options, select Privacy and click Cookies. To block third-party cookies used by ad networks, tick the ’for the originating Web site only’ option. To block or allow specific cookies, hit Exceptions and follow the prompts.

3. Like Firefox and IE, Opera allows you to control cookies one at a time. Choose Tools, Preferences, select Advanced, Cookies. Tick the ‘Delete new cookies when exiting Opera’ option to prevent the browser saving new cookies that sites create during that session. This prevents ad networks tracking your online movements.

4. To cover your tracks in Internet Explorer, press Ctrl, H to display the History pane. Right-click a day, week or domain and choose Delete to remove or Expand to display all pages. Right-click a page and choose Delete to clear it. To erase all History entries, choose Tools, Internet Options and click Clear History (under the General tab).

5. In Firefox, press Ctrl, H to view the History. To delete entries, choose a chronological or alphabetical hierarchy in the View menu. Browse to a domain, date or page, right-click it and choose Delete. To wipe out Firefox’s entire record of your browsing activity, choose Tools, Options, Privacy, History, Clear Browsing History Now.

6. To view Opera’s browsing history, press Ctrl, Alt, H. Right-click any unwanted items and choose Delete. To erase all entries choose Tools, Preferences, Advanced, History and click Clear next to the addresses field. To wipe your download history, press Ctrl, Alt, T. Right-click a downloaded file and hit Remove transfer or Remove all.

7. To clear IE’s cache, choose Tools, Internet Options and click Settings under the General tab. Select View Files to see what IE stored while you were browsing. Delete items there or, to wipe the cache, close the window, return to Internet Options, click Delete Files (under General), check Delete all offline content and click ok twice.

8. To clear Opera’s cached files, choose Tools, Preferences, Advanced, History, select ’Empty now’ next to ‘Disk cache’, and then click ok. Firefox doesn’t provide a way to view its cached files, but deleting them is easy: choose Tools, Options, Privacy, Cache, Clear Cache Now and finally ok.

Jargon buster

Adware – A program that displays advertising on your PC.

AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) An encryption protocol.

DEP (data execution prevention) – A tool that prevents viruses replicating.

Dialler – A program that connects a PC to a premium-rate phone number.

FAT/FAT32 (file allocation table) – An older Windows file system.

Rogue site A site set up to spread a virus or other illicit purpose.

Keyloggers – Programs that log which keys have been pressed and in what order, to steal bank details and the like.

Malware – Any destructive program that installs itself on your PC.

NTFS (new technology file system) – The current Windows file system.

Ransomware Unwanted programs that install themselves on PCs and then lock down important files, demanding a ransom for their return.

Spyware – Programs that install themselves and report on your habits.

Rootkit – Malware that attempts to hide its presence on your PC.

Helpful downloads

Thwart hijackers

Your browser is just that: yours. The last thing you want is for someone else take it over. This program watches several components of Internet Explorer to make sure no one hijacks your browser or tries to slip spyware into it. If an invader attempts to sneak in, SpywareGuard will let you know.

Blast spyware

Shut the door on spyware. SpywareBlaster sets a ‘kill bit’ for spyware’s ActiveX controls, but leaves harmless ActiveX controls alone. With the program installed, Internet Explorer won’t download spyware, so you’ll even be spared its ‘Are you sure you don’t want to install this detrimental program?’ nags.

Office safety

We’re used to associating danger with websites and emails that might have viruses, but the truth is that the Word document you receive over your own computer network might contain risks all of its own. The Trace utility gives you a security risk rating exposing the presence of any hidden information in your Office documents.

Spot suspicious behavior

Everyone knows you need antivirus software to combat known threats, but what about those viruses that sneak under the radar before code is written to counteract them?

AVG Anti-Virus spots programs that act like viruses, locks them up and puts them in isolation — even if no one’s issued an all-points bulletin and corrective code.

Tips and tricks

Cover your tracks

Firefox and Opera can automate the removal of data. To delete personal data in Firefox, choose Tools, ’Clear private data’, select the types you want to remove and click ’Clear private data now’. By default, Firefox deletes your browsing and download history, form data and cache, plus any authenticated sessions. To configure Firefox to automatically clear information, choose Tools, Options, Privacy, Settings, and choose ’Clear private data when closing Firefox’. When it comes to privacy, Opera doesn’t mess around. To wipe your browsing traces, choose Tools, Delete private data and click Delete. To choose which items to clear, click Advanced; select of deselect options as appropriate, then

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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