Internet privacy is one of the most talked about topics these days. However, without realizing how your computer actually interacts with the web, it is impossible to achieve that desired peace of mind.
To easily understand what's going on between your computer and the web when you visit various websites, let's use a simple analogy.
Think of your computer's hard drive as a blank diary and your computer's mouse as a ballpoint pen. Anytime you authorize an action on the web with the click of your mouse - whether it is sending a message on Facebook, buying a new tablet on Amazon.com, looking for the best restaurant in town, watching U2's latest music video, or checking your balance on your Internet banking site - it's just like writing an entry in the diary.
Trouble is, those diary entries can be read not only by the good guys, but the bad ones too.
Let's say you want to buy a new tablet so you type "Best tablets on Amazon" into your browser's search box. As soon as you typed in the search term, you created a digital trail.
On the good side, the search engine analyzes your query and uses it to offer you the most relevant content on Amazon.com by bringing you right to the "Best selling Tablets" page. Your browser is also nice to you and it saves your search query so the next time you are looking for tablets you won't need to type it in again.
However, on the bad side, search engines may use your search query to profile you and bomb you with targeted ads on tablets, or the bad guys can use your query to see what sites you spend your money on and saved login details for in your browser. And that was just a simple example. When you enter credit card details, view confidential photos, read sensitive emails, create company documents, you leave dozens of more digital trails behind.
"How about my antivirus and firewall", I hear you ask. "Can't they protect my privacy from these threats?"
Obviously, they provide crucial layers of protection, but perhaps not quite the way you might imagine.
Installing an antivirus and turning the firewall on on your computer is like putting a fence around the house in which you keep your secret diary and having a dog patrol in the garden. However, just because you have a fence and a dog it doesn't mean that the diary ceased existing, or that it can't be stolen anymore.
What if a burglar digs a tunnel into your house, or, descends with a helicopter and enters your house through the loft? Or, what if he dresses like the good guys you trained your dog not to bite? There are many privacy threatening real-life scenarios your firewall and antivirus are simply not designed to deal with, for instance, laptop theft, or loss, the attack of a snoopy NSA, or cloud service employee, or if your boss, or spouse finds your browsing history on your office, or shared home PC.
"And how about the built-in features browsers offer to clear my history and other activity tracks?"
Using the built-in history cleaners in browsers is just like tearing a page out of your diary and throwing it in the bin. The information written on the page still exist and can easily be read by unauthorized parties who use special tools to find that page in the bin.
In bit more technical terms, when you delete your history from your favorite browser, to save time and resources, Windows does not shred the sensitive deleted information, but simply pushes it to a special area, called the free space, on your hard drive. Therefore to get that comforting feeling of privacy, you need to shred the diary pages that contain sensitive entries.
In order to do so, you need to install a privacy protection software on your computer. Just like your antivirus does, the privacy tool will also let you know when there are risks posed by certain files (in this case, your activity trails), however, instead of quarantining them like your antivirus would do, the privacy software wipes those files, that is, shreds your diary entries and pages.
This shredding happens by overwriting the sensitive information contained in the files with random characters. This way the original information is truly gone so much so that it can't be recovered even with special forensic tools.
To get a step-by-step guide on how to wipe your Internet tracks, please follow the instructions in this tutorial.
Getting into the habit of wiping (or scheduling the wiping of) your Internet tracks daily is crucial to stop unauthorized people spying on you. Once your diary pages are shredded, no one can find any revealing traces about your activities on your computer and in your browsers anymore.