How to Track your Internet Footprints

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When you go online, you have a series of data exchanges with other computers. To protect your privacy, you need to know what happens under your PC's hood.

  • Adjust the security settings on your browser to block all cookies or at least to notify when they are being stored on your machine. To find them in Windows XP go to C://documents/settings/(username)/localsettings/temp or cookies. Another way to delete all of them in Internet Explorer is to do so through IE's tools menu. While surfing the web, cookies are frequently placed on your computer. Cookies are short data files that identify you and your behavior to a website. That's why if you frequent newspaper web sites, you don't have to log on each time with your user name and password. Some cookies last only until you quit your browser. Others have an expiration date or none at all.

  • If you install the Google toolbar on your own computer you track your web history. The information is stored on Google servers so it's accessible to you whenever you log on. Some websites routinely collect information. Google, as one example, will record the terms, time, and your unique Internet Protocol, IP address. It will also note the cookie that Google installed when your computer first visited the search engine. Google does share its personal information with its other services, although it does not with anybody outside the company without a user's consent.

  • If you are using instant messaging, you are leaving an unencrypted trail open for others to access. Click through ads tell the destination website where you've been. Webmasters can track which site brought you to theirs, the number of views a page gets, and the time spent on a site.

  • One simple way to prevent your IP address from being transmitted is to log on through a physical firewall, like one offered by Linksys. Some firewall software packages also allow you to browse without transmitting your IP address.

  • To prevent malware, install anti virus and anti spyware protection. Spyware, also known as malware is software that is installed on your computer secretly and can take partial control over your machine without your consent. The worst do more than simply monitor your web surfing and send the information to a third party. Spyware can access personal information such as passwords and user names for on line banking. One common vehicle for installing spyware is a phishing email that tells you that online access to your account has been restricted unless you log on to correct the issue. Simply clicking through a link out of curiosity can cause a problem. One of the most insidious forms of malware hijacks your browser, producing a list of bogus favorites and redirecting your web addresses so that when you enter a legitimate site like Yahoo.com, you're redirected instead to different site for like one for barnyard porn.

  • Be sure that the sites you use to purchase anything online are encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. If you buy anything online, your personal financial footprints go with any purchase. Never respond to an email request for your social security number. Pick up the phone and call.

  • Whenever you upload or download emails, you create a trail through several internet service providers through email headers. One way to ensure your privacy is to use an anonymous email account, like one through Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo!, the option used by many Internet scam artists.

  • Now let's take a look at the Internet footprints you leave on your own computer. All browsers have a history setting that can be readily cleared. However they also cache pages and videos for quicker viewing. If you are on a machine with access from the public like one at the library, be sure to clear all history and browser information when you are done. Remember, that computers don't actually delete information on a hard drive. Computers allow you to over write it. You can either buy and install web privacy software like Net Duster, or delete everything and physically reshuffle the information on your hard drive by defragmenting them.

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