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     Ensuring Privacy On The Internet

"Why should you care if you have nothing to hide?"

- J. Edgar Hoover

With its numerous benefits, the Internet has quickly become a part of our daily lives. Beneficial as it is, however, it does bring with it some problems -- one of which is a loss of PRIVACY.

We don't realize how much risk modern technology poses. Most people would be shocked to learn of the amount of INFORMATION that can be retrieved from their personal computers -- information that they did not know existed or that they thought had been deleted. For example, if you were to allow me into your home or office and granted me access to your personal computer, you would probably be dismayed at how much I could learn about what web sites you had visited, what chat rooms you had been to, what newsgroups you had been reading, and the e-mail that you had sent and received.

To make matters worse, much of this information is available even without providing physical access to your personal computer. For example, your Internet service provider probably maintains a log of which newsgroups you have been reading. HACKERS (malicious computer users) may be able to tap into your computer and rummage through your personal files, and COOKIES (small files created on your computer when you visit a web site) can allow advertising companies to keep track of what web sites you visit. The vast majority of us are law-abiding, honest citizens with nothing to hide. Nonetheless, this does not mean that we want our privacy to be INVADED. In the remainder of this article, I'll talk about three programs that you can use to secure your privacy.

The first of these is called Evidence Eliminator. Although I dislike the name because of its suggestion that you are acting improperly, this useful little program will remove the information that has been left BEHIND on your computer without your knowledge. Without getting into the technical nitty-gritty, Evidence Eliminator purges information from all sorts of places that most of us know nothing about. These include the registry, the swap file, cache files, cookies, ini files, and a host of other HIDING places. Evidence Eliminator also has two other useful side-effects. First, it may remove tens of megabytes of junk files from your computer thus freeing up valuable disk space. Second, this can speed up your computer. Unlike the programs below, Evidence Eliminator is not free. It needs to be registered at a cost of US $74.95. You can learn more at its web site: www.evidence-eliminator.com.

The second program that I want to mention is called ScramDisk. This is a program that creates a HIDDEN hard disk on your personal computer. ScramDisk would take some of the free space on your internal hard drive and cause it to act as if it was a second hard disk. This virtual (i.e. imaginary) hard disk has two unique properties. First, it is hidden from prying eyes and will only appear after you've entered a password. Second, all of the files on this virtual hard disk are securely ENCRYPTED; that is, they are stored in an encoded form that cannot be decoded without the necessary password. This provides you with a secure place on your personal computer to store your confidential personal and business-related files. ScramDisk is free. It can be downloaded from www.scramdisk.clara.net.

ZoneAlarm is a personal FIREWALL -- a program that examines all the information coming into your computer from the Internet. It also examines all the information leaving your computer. ZoneAlarm does this with the intention of eliminating two main dangers. First, that a hacker is trying to break into your computer, and second, that one of your programs is sending information without your knowledge. Both of these events are far more common than you might imagine. Installing a personal firewall like ZoneAlarm acts to protect you against EXTERNAL attacks from hackers and keep UNAUTHORIZED information leaving your computer. ZoneAlarm is free. It can be downloaded from www.zonelabs.com.


Tim North is a technical writer and proofreader who is available to write or proofread articles, web-site text, user manuals, and other documents. Visit his website at www.scribe.com.au.

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