Awareness Tips

Sanitise your internet trail


Sanitise your internet trail

Some handy tips to anonymise the online services you use

Aself-confessed Google fan, Vikram Vaidya, lived his entire life online. He was on Google Buzz, used Gmail for communicating with people, maintained appointments in Google calendar, used Google books to read, and shared pictures and video using Picasa and YouTube. In short, a complete blueprint of his life was on Google servers.


“I know there is no free lunch, and since I was getting the services I needed, I was okay to let Google use my data to serve me contextual advertisements and such.”


Operation Aurora — the hacker attack on Google’s servers that took place in December 2009 — though, was a wakeup call for Vaidya. “It was only then that I realised how dangerous having all my data in one location can get. I might trust Google with my life, but do I trust the hackers who might sneak into their databases and have the blueprint of my life at their disposal?”


Unfortunately, this is a question most of us need to ask, because companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft may have effective security systems in place, but just the amount of data they have, also makes them a big fish for hackers. If a hacker cracks into them, instead of having to slog to get bits of information about people, they can get complete profiles on a platter.


Scary, isn’t it? But, thankfully, there are workarounds that could give you an extra layer of safety from miscreants. By taking some basic — and notso-basic — precautions, you can minimise your exposure to the bad guys, wherever and whoever they are. Here are a few things you can do to anonymise Google, whether for search or for one of its other online services. Log out: It’s not necessary to be logged into the service provider (such as Google) to use the search engine, but people end up leaving their log-in’s while they search. This is a bad idea because this links your searches to your email id in the search engine servers, which can give hackers the whole picture. Whereas, if you log out, they will get hold of only your IP addresses which is slightly safer. To figure out if you are logged in while searching on Google or MSN, just check if your email shows up on the upper right-hand corner of the search engines home page or search results pages. If it does, then simply click the logout button. This will anonymise your searches to a certain extent.


“Online tools really aren’t free. We pay for them with micropayments of personal information,” writes Greg Conti, author of the book Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You? This means that the search engines will still keep data linking your searches to your IP address.


Another good idea, if you are using Google to search, is turning off ‘Web History’. To do this, click on the ‘Settings’ tab on the home page and then go to ‘Edit’ next to ‘My Products’ in the middle-left of the page. Here, you will find the ‘Remove Web History Permanently’ option, this will unsubscribe you from Google’s Web History service and erase all the specific data linking your account to your searches from Google’s servers. Use security browser plug-ins: You could also use specialised browser plug-ins such as NoScript (www.noscript. net) to keep your PC and browser safer. NoScript lets you manage a whitelist, so you don’t miss any online content from your favourite websites, but block unknown content that could use malicious javascripts. For more sensitive data such as banking and shopping, you could also make use of your browser’s ‘InPrivate Browsing’ feature. This will force the browser to start a special session, which instantly cleanses cookies and passwords when you close the browser, and also erases your browser history.


Additionally, you can use free cleaning tools such as CCleaner (

This tool analyses your PC for browsing activities such as internet history, cookies, temporary internet files, and so on, for all the popular browsers such as IE, Firefox, Chrome, and gives you an user-friendly option of viewing and deleting data. CCleaner also has a number of other tools that help scrub your PC clean.


Fortify your password: Passwords are also an important aspect for your online security. “The main concern with passwords stems from the fact that most people use the same user name and password pair for different sites. Once the hacker has secured one route in to your sensitive information, they then have a good chance of signing in to other sites like email accounts or online bank accounts,” says Ross Dyer, technical manager, Websense.


So, it’s a good idea to change passwords frequently and use different passwords for different sites. For additional security, try using password management programs such as KeePass or RoboForm.


These help you generate and remember strong passwords (such as KY3!@#YTzqrl6), which are almost impossible to break.


Source: TOI dated 11/7/201



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