If you use the Internet, you may not want others to know which websites you've been visiting. Unfortunately, anyone with access to your computer can find this type of information just by looking at the Internet cookies and browser cache stored on your computer, so if you want to cover your tracks, you have to erase every file that traces your activity.

Stopping cookies

When you visit some websites, they may store information on your computer in a cookie file, which contains the address of the website along with any additional information you may have typed, such as your name or email address.

When you return to that site, the cookie sends the information stored on your machine to the website computer. Cookies allow the website to customize or personalize its web pages, such as displaying the message, "Welcome back, John Doe!" at the top of the page.

While cookies themselves are harmless (they cannot spread a virus or delete any of your files), they can reveal your favorite websites to anyone who looks around in your web browser settings. Neither teenagers nor employees will want their parents or boss to know they've been visiting the Penthouse website during working hours, but no matter how discreet you are, the tell-tale cookie will give the game away.

If you don't like the idea of websites hiding cookies on your computer, you can change your browser's preferences to refuse them. To do this in Internet Explorer 6.0 for Windows, follow these steps (see Figure 15-4):

Click To expand Figure 15-4: Changing the way the Windows version of Internet Explorer handles cookies.
  1. Choose Tools Internet Options. An Internet Options dialog box appears.

  2. Click the Privacy tab.

  3. Click the Advanced button. An Advanced Privacy Settings dialog box appears.

  4. Click the "Override automatic cookie handling" check box so a check mark appears.

  5. Click the Accept, Block, or Prompt radio button to choose how you want Internet Explorer to handle cookies.

  6. Click OK in this settings dialog box, and then click OK in the main Options dialog box.

To delete existing cookies and filter incoming ones, use a cookie utility program like these:

Cookie Crusher

Cookie Pal

MagicCookie Monster

Cookie programs can filter cookies as you browse, allowing some to pass (like cookies from shopping sites that store your shopping preferences) while blocking others (like cookies from companies that want to track how long you've spent browsing their site). Best of all, these cookie crushers can find and delete existing cookies on your hard disk automatically (see Figure 15-5).

Click To expand
Figure 15-5: A program like Cookie Pal can show you all the cookies already stored on your hard disk.

Cleaning out your web browser cache

Besides storing information about your web browsing habits in cookie files, your browser may also store pictures, web pages, and the addresses of the last few web-sites you visited (your "history") in a temporary folder (buried inside the Windows folder), as shown in Figure 15-6.

Click To expand
Figure 15-6: You can find the addresses of the last few websites someone visited in the Address Bar list box.

To clean out this information in Internet Explorer, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Tools Internet Options. An Internet Options dialog box appears.

  2. Click the General tab. The History group shows how many website addresses the browser stores (such as 20).

  3. Click the Clear History button. A dialog box appears, asking if you want to delete all items in your history folder.

  4. Click Yes.

  5. Then click the Delete Files button in the Temporary Internet files group.

  6. Click OK.

To avoid having to always manually clean up these files, try running one of these programs:


MacWasher or Window Washer

SurfSecret Privacy Protector

These programs can automatically clean out your Temporary Internet Files and History folders along with deleting cookies, old email messages, and any downloaded program files at the same time. By running a clean-up program regularly, you can make sure no one can trace your web browsing usage and violate your privacy (see Figure 15-7).

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Figure 15-7: Window & Internet Washer Pro can delete all traces of your browsing history.