Computer Privacy

Computer Privacy

Hacker X (Computer Security Expert) gives expert video advice on: Can someone track the websites I visit and why would they do it?; When I hit "delete" can someone still access that information or file?; How can I ensure that my files are stored securely? and more...

What is an "IP address"?

IP stands for Internet Protocol. An IP address is actually the location of a website out in the vast internet on a server. An IP address consists of a series of numbers separated by periods called dots and those numbers represent different places on each server. So when I go to a website, like www.yourwebsite.com, I'm really going to a website that consists of a series of numbers. That's how computers and servers keep track of all these webites. The name is called DNS or domain name service to make it easier for us to remember locations as opposed to having to remember a bunch of numbers.

What is "IP masking" and can it help ensure my privacy?

IP masking has two meanings. One is on the consumer, or commercial side, and one is on the user side. On the commercial side, it's quite simple. Maybe one part of a website is fulfilled by another company, and the main company doesn't want users to know that, so this is hidden in such a way that you always see the main web address, and you never see the other IP address. On a personal basis, your IP address is often tracked by sites that you visit. In most cases, if you have a cable modem, or DSL, you do not have what is called a "permanent IP," meaning an IP address that belongs to you. You have what's called DHCP, which is a dynamically-generated IP address, meaning that each time you get online, or oftentimes that you are online, you have a different IP address. Either way, they can be traced. So, "IP masking" is a way to cover your IP address so that the site doesn't read it as a true IP address but reads it as essentially an anonymous IP address or meaningless set of numbers. This would benefit you; and you would use this by using software, you can do this if you really know what you're doing by changing the settings in your configurations, and this would really just assist you in maintaining your anonymity as you go through these sites, and also making sure that you're not being tracked on these sites.

Can someone track the websites I visit and why would they do it?

With computer privacy, someone might be interested in tracking the websites that you visit for purposes of advertising and marketing. Essentially, they track to as they want to know what you're doing online, how long you're there, what kinds of things that you do. This is your information that they may use to sell or advertise to you, or it might be information that they sell to another party. Information about you, what you do, what you like to do, all has a lot of value because information is key. So, tracking information is either used to help a manufacturer or producer gear something specifically towards you, or its just information that's collected and then sold to another party. On the really dark side of tracking your private activity, people can actually count the keystrokes that you do. Some businesses use this to make sure that their employees aren't sending personal email, aren't surfing in places that they shouldn't be, or really gauging that activity. Or, from your home somebody could in theory monitor and track the private information you put in and pick up on sequences that are logins, passwords, financial information, and credit card numbers. There are patterns to all these different types of information, and that's what they could capture and use or sell.

What can I do to maintain privacy when working on a public computer?

When working on a public computer, your security concerns are slightly different. It's not so much about the activities that you are doing while you are there, although the same rules certainly apply, but it's also about what you leave behind. When you leave that computer, you don't want to leave traces of what you've been doing and where you've been for fear of disclosing personal information. So for instance, a web browser uses something called a cache to help speed up the display of pages. Anything that's the same, it basically makes a copy of it and keeps it so the next time you go to that page, it doesn't have to load it again, it can just display it. Well that information is, essentially, a virtual paper trail of everywhere that you've been and can potentially include personal information that you wouldn't want someone to have. So, therefore, before logging off of or leaving a personal computer in a public situation, you want to manually clear that cache. It's not something that happens automatically. Same with e-mail or any system. You want to make sure you've completely logged out. Closing down an application does not necessarily mean you've logged out of an application or logged out of a website. You want to manually verify that and check to make sure you have done so.

When I hit "delete" can someone still access that information or file?

In terms of deleting information off of your computer, there are a couple of steps and there are also a couple of fallacies. One is, by deleting something, you're not getting rid of it, you're simply moving it to the trash can. Trash can is simply a folder, but the trash can is a metaphor for getting rid of that item. You still have to empty the trash. That said, even upon emptying the trash, you have absolutely not removed the remnants of that information from the hard drive. Someone with a modicum of experience with hacking, or playing with computers, or restructuring drives can absolutely restructure or rebuild a hard drive where you've deleted and emptied the trash. For everything on that drive, someone could restructure that drive without too much trouble. There's only one guaranteed way to absolutely delete any traces of anything off a hard drive, and that is writing those drives back to zero. Writing those drives back to zero means, basically, you're taking them back to the state that they were when they came out of the factory, before they had any software put on them. It's a very, very long process, it takes a long time to do that because you have to go, the software has to go through and remove every single thing that was ever on there and create a clean slate. That is the only guaranteed way to remove any trail of anything.