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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What Web Sites Can See When We're Online

If you use your computer everyday (which I'm guessing you do if you're reading this newsletter), you probably visit several Web sites each time you get online, right? I know I do. I'm constantly going from site to site, just checking different things out, reading articles, etc. Now, when you're on those Web sites, have you ever wondered what kind of information you're revealing to them? If that question has you intrigued, keep reading!

To begin with, they can see your IP address (192.186.1.1, for example), which is what allows computers to connect with each other on the Internet. A Web site cannot see your identity through the IP address, but it can verify your ISP and the region or city you live in. Kinda creepy, huh?! Now, there are programs you can use to keep your IP information private. They do not make you completely anonymous, but they help. A couple you may want to check into are Ghostsurf and Privoxy.

Another thing Web sites can pick up on is your cookies. Cookies are files that help sites save certain information in between your visits. For example, if you have a username and password for a certain site, the cookies remember that information for you so you don't always have to log back in. They help make things faster, but they can be a little risky too. They basically allow a Web site to see the path you follow while you're logged in. You are able to see your cookies though and even delete them if you want to. To do so in Internet Explorer, go to Tools, Internet Options and click on the Settings button. From there, click the View Files button and you'll be able to see the cookies. If you want to delete them, just click the Delete Cookies button in the first window. In Firefox, go to Tools, Options and select the Privacy icon. Click the Show Cookies button. If you want to delete them, hit the Remove Cookies button and you'll be all set.

Continuing on, Web sites are also able to see your network ports. These ports are basically paths of communication for your computer and they're all numbered. For example, Web sites usually use port number 80. These ports can help Web sites to obtain what programs you're using while on the Internet. While that doesn't seem so bad, they do tend to create some security holes in the actual program. To keep this from happening, make sure you have a good firewall on your computer. A firewall is able to close down any of the ports you don't need.

There's one more! Web sites are able to determine which Web browser and what version of Windows you're using. That information helps Web site owners update and improve their pages, but on the other hand, malicious sites can use that same information to attack you. To avoid any problems like that, make sure your computer is always updated and be sure to run your antivirus, spyware, etc. scans regularly.

Now, I know this information probably isn't what you wanted to hear, but once you know what's going on each time you visit a Web site, you can help yourself to stay safe. I'm definitely not telling you to stop surfing the Web. It's too much fun to do that! But I am telling you all this so you can work to keep yourself and your computer as safe as possible. Yes, the Internet can be a dangerous place, but if you do the right things to combat all the problems, you'll be good to go!

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