Fravia's Anonymity Academy
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From the August 1997 Issue of PC World

Protect Yourself From Snoops

Who knows what sites you've been visiting? Anyone sitting down at your PC can find out, and so can people whose sites you visit--unless you take a few simple precautions.

Leave No History If you don't want people in your office or home to know which sites you've been visiting, the first thing you should do is clear out your browser's History list. In N3, simply close the program--the History folder will clear itself out (a rare case where a shortcoming can also be useful). In N4, select Edit•Preferences, choose Navigator, and click Clear History. In IE3 or IE4, select View•Options, click the Navigation tab, and click Clear History.

An Empty Address and No Location People may snoop in the current URL displayed at the top of your browser window (labeled Address in Internet Explorer, and either Location or Netsite in Netscape, depending on site specifics). If you're using IE3 or IE4, clearing your History folder (see "Leave No History" above) will wipe out the Address list. No such luck with the Netscape products.

You can clear the list by futzing with the Windows 95 Registry, but that's difficult and dangerous. A better solution is simply to not use the list. If you type in a URL at the Open Location dialog box (<Ctrl>-l in N3 and <Ctrl>-o in N4), the address won't be recorded in the Location or Netsite list.

Where's the Cache? A third place people will look for your Web trail is the cache folder--a temporary storage area for recently visited pages and images. You can delete its contents after a browsing session, but there's a cost: You'll have slower surfing next time as your browser downloads files it might have found locally.

The exact location of the cache folder depends on decisions you made when you installed your browser. However, N3's cache folder is probably C:\Program Files\Netscape\Navigator\Cache, N4's is C:\Program Files\Netscape\Communicator\Users\username\Cache, and IE's is C:\Windows\Temporary Internet Files. Use Windows 95's Explorer to delete the folder's contents.

Beware the Cookie Monster Certain Web sites place special "cookie" files on your system that let them recognize you the next time you visit--and possibly track where you go in between. Cookies add some convenience to your life; for instance, if a site can recognize you by a cookie on your computer, you probably won't have to type in a password at every visit. But cookies can invade your privacy by tracking which sites you visit and giving marketers a profile of your interests, so you may want to turn them off.

In N3, select Options•Network Preferences, click the Protocols tab, and in the Show an Alert Before box check Accepting a Cookie. In N4, select Edit•Preferences, choose Advanced, and select Warn me before accepting a cookie. Or, if you'd like the browser to reject cookies without asking you, select Disable cookies.

In IE3 or IE4, select View•Options and click the Advanced tab. In IE3, select Warn before accepting cookies. In IE4, just to make things confusing, you must de-select Do not warn before accepting cookies.

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