As basic as it may seem, not everyone who uses a computer realizes how hackers and snoops can invade their machine. Anyone can be surprised at what kind of a usage pattern they can leave behind when surfing online. Every time a person types in a command or moves their mouse, they are creating an electronic trail.
The web browser is one’s biggest holes in a person’s privacy. Everything one does or sees online is tracked and stored including:
- Websites visited
- Web images and other web content seen
- Movies and audio files that have been played
- User IDs and passwords for restricted websites visited
- Files that have been downloaded
- Search terms inputted
All this information is captured and saved unless it is cleared by the command of the computer user. Many programs such as word processors and spreadsheets keep a list of files recently accessed referred to as the Most Recently Used (MRU) documents. Windows separately keeps track of these files in its registry. Also, search programs can find content of files as well as file names and types.
Giving Each User Their Own Account
If you suspect someone’s been snooping around on your system, there is nothing you can do after that person has read information about you, but there are ways to stop further snooping. First, you need to set up an account on your computer and protected it by requiring a password. Windows allows three types of accounts:
- Administrator – This user can access and change anything on the computer including information in limited accounts.
- Limited – This person can only access information in his account but is unable to install certain programs or make system changes.
- Guest – This account is used by computers on the same network accessing files on another computer. Such an account is ideal for visitors who need to use a computer.
Setting up multiple accounts isn’t necessary unless you have family members or roommates who use your computer. Only you will be able to access the administrator account as long as you don’t share its password with others. Your spouse and children will each have their own limited accounts enabling each to have their own privacy and likewise, you will have yours too. If you have relatives that plan to stay at your house for a few days, you’ll want to give each their own guest account. See the Windows help files for instructions on how to set them up.
Erase Your Trail
Anyone wanting to investigate your computer habits will check your web browser first. The web cache is a place that saves web pages and their various components such as pictures, sounds, and multimedia files. It does so to speed up the loading of web pages so the next time you visit a site, you don’t have to download the same pages again.
To avoid snoopers from monitoring your computer activity, you will want to perform three tasks: clear your cache, clear your cookies, and clear search forms. Although you will sacrifice the convenience of fast surfing, less typing, and instant insertion of passwords, you will erase the trail of “bread crumbs” you would normally leave behind. Hence, hackers will not know where you’ve been or what you’ve done online. Refer to the instructions of your web browser on how to perform these tasks.
Protect Your Email
Knowing that email programs are the primary method of communication among users, snoops find them as a goldmine of information. Once a hacker accesses your email account they can see emails you received as well as those you sent. Likewise, they are able to seek out details as the recipient, date, comments, and the frequency of contacts between you and another person are made. If used daily, an email account can act as a diary of a user’s life.
Hence, there are certain things you must keep in mind when using your email account. Emails accumulate in your SENT ITEMS folder over time. Your email program has an option to turn off saved sent items or you can manually delete them on a daily basis. Also, delete all unwanted emails by sending them to the TRASH, but they will remain there until you empty it. Remember, sending an email is as private as sending a postcard via US mail. If the message is extremely private, call your recipient or privatize your message.
Once you receive an email with sensitive information, don’t leave it on the server. This is especially crucial for company emails. The server acts like a post office where mail is sent and it just sits there until the recipient deletes it. If this data is extremely important, print a hard copy of it or save it as a word processing document, then delete the email. Either assign the saved document a name that isn’t related to its contents or password protect it.
Keep Windows and Microsoft Office Clean
Windows has some obvious places where your computer behavior is tracked. You can clear out saved information in the following ways:
- Keep the Recycle Bin empty.
- Clear My Recent Documents from the Start Menu.
- Turn off Auto-Complete in Windows search box.
- Erase the contents of your Temp Folder.
- Clear the clipboard by rebooting the machine or copying and pasting a blank space into it.
- Clear previous restore points in your system.
Microsoft Office also saves a list of the most recently files accessed files in Word, Excel, Access, Power Point, and other programs it offers. Turning off this option can prevent a snooper from seeing a list of files on your system. For instructions to do the above tasks, consult Windows’ or Office’s help files.
Still, there are other ways to clean unwanted or illicit data off of your computer:
- Turn off chat logs – Leaving logs open allows a snoop to review chats communications you’ve had with another online user.
- Use a file shredder program – Even though you empty the Recycle Bin, Windows does not delete these files permanently. It only removes references to them and marks the space they occupy as free. They won’t disappear unless they’re shredded or overwritten by other files.
- Clear restore points – Keeping old restore points enables a hacker to restore your system to a point in its past, one which may hold a configuration before it was cleaned. After you’ve cleaned your system completely, make a restored point that dates back to this event and give it a descriptive name you can remember.
Keeping your system clean is not easy. It causes you to lose convenient and time-saving features you’ve taken advantage of in the past. To what extent you choose to go to prevent hackers is your own choice. Look at it this way, by erasing your electronic trails you can save yourself embarrassment and grief, especially when using a company computer for personal activities. Also, if a snooper sees there is no data available on your machine, he will lose interest in it and look elsewhere.
==== About the Author ====
Publishnprosper is an online publisher who writes on various computer usage topics offering useful tips on maintaining your computer and keeping it running like it should. If you’re interested in purchasing antivirus software, you may find coupons on http://www.dailydeals4you.com, Kaspersky coupon codes, Bitdefender promo, etc.