Java is a security risk and is now of very little use

What is Java?

Java logo #1Java is a programming language that is often installed (free of charge) onto computers. It works via an “add-in” to the web browser. A browser is the program you use to view and interact with websites (eg Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari). Java is used to run special bits of code on websites (such as animations) that could not be programmed in the main browser programming language (known as “html” – hypertext markup language). Note that “Java” has nothing at all to do with another programming language called “Javascript”. You have no need to worry about Javascript. Also, note that the security problems with Java are not actually inherent in Java but are caused by the “browser plug-in” that allows Java to talk to the web page.

The Java browser plug-in has often been exploited to install malware onto computers. That goes a long way to explain the regular notifications in the bottom of your screen that a new version of Java is available. The new version will be amendments to stop recently-discovered exploits from working.

Why Remove it Now?

As it has become more apparent that Java has big security issues, more and more web designers have moved away from using it to deliver their “fancy” content to your browser. Adobe Flash is now a much preferred languaging program. I have recently seen figures that suggest that Java is now installed on less than 0.2% of all websites.

What will happen if I remove it?

Java logo #2Probably nothing at all. The worst thing that is likely to happen is that a part of a web page that is trying to deliver you some fancy content won’t be able to. You may well see a white box where the content would be displayed if you had Java installed (see the illustration below). There may also be a reference to a “missing plug-in” or something similar.

How do I remove it?

In Windows, go to the Control Panel and choose the “Programs and Features” option. This option was called “Add or Remove Programs” on versions of Windows before Vista. Highlight the Java entry (or, indeed, “entries”. Java has been infamous for installing loads of new versions without cleaning up after itself by removing the redundant versions). After highlighting the entry, click on the “uninstall” option and follow the on-screen instructions.

On a Mac, open Finder, open the “Applications” folder, right-click on JavaAppletPlugin.plugin and left-click on the “Move to Trash” option.

Also, disable any Java plug-ins in your browser.


How do I check to see if Java is (still) installed?

Go to www.java.com and click on the link that says “Do I have Java?” Then click on the “Agree and Continue” button. If Java has gone then you will see a more-or-less blank box (as in the illustration below).

Java Not Present Screen

The grey box with “this plug-in is not supported” indicates that Java is not installed. You would probably see a similar box on any other site that tried to display Java content when Java was not installed.

What if I need it back?

There’s just a very tiny chance that something on a website that is important to you will cease to function if you remove Java. In that case, I would suggest installing a browser that you don’t normally use (“Opera” is a good one) and install Java on that browser. Then, only use that browser for the site that includes the Java programming. Be very careful that you only install Java from www.java.com. There are fake “Java updaters” out there that will install malware onto your computer if you give them half a chance.

Why Now?

Nothing spectacular has just happened, or is about to happen. Things have just moved on and now is as good a time as any to take action. It’s probably worth removing rather than just ignoring it as the popup boxes advising upgrading it are a nuisance and every time you upgrade it there is a chance of falling for the disgraceful trick built into the upgrade process that causes you to install the awful “Ask Toolbar”. See this link for more on this practice.

If you’d rather not remove it yourself and are a computer support client of mine then I could remove it on my next visit. Alternatively, I’d be happy to remove it for you via a Teamviewer remote control session.

Have you ever wanted to compare the contents of two browser tabs side by side?

A quite common situation occurred to me a few days ago when a client asked me to compare two computers that she had shortlisted for possible purchase.

Firefox-logoShe sent me the links to the web pages that she had been looking at and I duly loaded them into my browser (I still use Firefox as the privacy add-ons are better than on other browsers). This meant that I had two different tabs open and, as you might expect, I found myself clicking between them, comparing feature with feature on the two products. This soon started to fry my brain and I decided that it would be better if I could see them both at the same time, side-by-side. I couldn’t immediately think how to do that and thought instead about opening another instance of Firefox (which you can do by right-clicking the taskbar icon – on Windows 7 and 8, anyway – and taking the appropriate option).

IE9 - Internet Explorer 9 - logoThen it dawned on me that this was one of those occasions where our habits tend to lead us to do something that is sub-optimal because we can’t be bothered to spend a bit of time learning a better way. I’m pretty sure that we all do that quite often. Sometimes I’m looking over a client’s shoulder and catch them doing something a long way round. I’m very happy to show them a quicker way if I know one. In these situations, I am always reminded of the way I used to drive around London (before giving up driving altogether over 20 years ago). I would drive from known point to known point until I got near where I was going and only then would I think about how to home in on the destination. It meant, of course, that I was zig-zagging around town like a demented yachtsman, instead of learning the proper way (“No wonder you gave up driving”, I hear you say).

Anyway, I decided on this occasion that it’s time I sorted this one out and shared it with you.

Dragging a browser tab to a new window

Left-clicking on the tab in the red ellipse and then dragging in the direction of the black arrow caused the tiny window in the green ellipse to appear. Letting go of the mouse then turned this into a full-blown window. The image is of Firefox, but all the major browsers behave in a similar manner.

After a bit of playing around with different browsers, I discovered that, although their shortcut keys and menus are still different, ALL of the major browsers except Opera allow you to move any tab into its own window just by left-clicking on the tab itself and dragging the tab away from its normal position. Then let go of the mouse button and a new window immediately opens up on the correct web page.

It’s possible that this doesn’t work on older versions of browsers. I’m not going to molly-coddle users of such browsers by investigating and providing alternatives because I’m not going to encourage the use of old versions of browsers. It’s a good idea to keep your browser updated. Holes in browsers are a major entry point for the baddies out there to get at your computer, so it’s a good idea to keep up with the latest browser.

Putting my head on the block, I think the versions I tried this method on are the latest:

  • Firefox – 23.0.1
  • Chrome – 29.0.1547.57
  • Internet Explorer – 10
  • Safari – 5.1.7 on PC and 6.0.5 on Mac

I couldn’t find a way of moving a tab to a new window in Opera. Instead, you can arrange tabbed windows side-by-side by right-clicking on a tab and then choosing “Arrange” and “Tile vertically” or “Tile horizontally”

Chrome-LogoIf you are still using Windows XP, then the latest version of Internet Explorer you can install is version 8. This version does not allow you to drag tabs away from their bar. In that case, you may think you’ve just wasted five minutes of your life, but I’m going to take the opportunity to remind you that Microsoft will cease support for Windows XP (and Office 2003) in April 2014 and it may become very unsafe to use your computer online thereafter. Start thinking about replacing it. See this previous blog about Microsoft ceasing support for Windows XP and Office 2003.

Having split your tabs into two separate browser windows, you can then easily show two windows side by side by allocating half the screen to each window – if, that is, you are using a PC with Windows 7 or 8. I detailed the process for this here.

So, there you go, a shortcut that’s easy, almost universal, and intuitive (once you’ve used it once or twice).

The latest version of Chrome allows you to request that websites do not track which other sites you have visited

Homburg and binocularsIn my blog post of 12/08/12 – “What is “Do Not Track“”, I wrote that Chrome does not support “Do Not Track”. Well. they have now included it in the latest version of the browser. This is version 23.

To find out whether you have the latest version of Chrome:

  • Click on the “settings” button. It looks like this:
    Chrome Settings Button

    Chrome Settings Button

  • Click on the “About Google Chrome” option on the menu that pops up:
    Chrome Settings Menu

    Chrome Settings Menu

    Continue reading »

What are the main internet browsers and are two – or more – better than one?

Internet Explorer

IE9 - Internet Explorer 9 - logoSupplied by Microsoft as part of Windows, this used to be the leading browser. The European Commission judged that Microsoft was taking unfair advantage by supplying their own browser with their (almost ubiquitous) operating system. A deal was struck in 2009 whereby new Windows machines pop up a screen pointing out that Internet Explorer is not the only browser. It then offers links to download other browsers. For more information, see this link to the Microsoft Competition Case.

Firefox

Firefox-logoFirefox is produced by Mozilla, a non-profit organisation. The main advantage of Firefox is that there is a huge range of “add-ons” that you can install to the browser. Other browsers also allow add-ons, but Firefox’s range is probably the biggest. Firefox gained a lot of fans a few years ago at a time when it was thought that Internet Explorer was insecure.

Chrome

Chrome-LogoChrome is produced by Google. It’s a fairly new browser (released in 2008), but is now probably the most popular (see the end of this article). In Google’s own words – “Chrome is a fast, simple and secure web browser, built for the modern web.”

 

Safari

Safari-logoSafari is Apple’s browser, installed as part of both its desktop/laptop systems (Mac) and its mobile systems (iPhone and iPad). Don’t ask me why Apple are allowed to bundle their own browser in their operating system but Microsoft have to offer alternatives. The only reason I can think of is that Apple is such a tiny minnow in comparison with Microsoft (as far as browser use is concerned) that no-one thinks it worth pursuing Apple for unfair practices. There is a version of Safari for Windows PCs but it doesn’t seem to be very popular.

Opera

Opera-logoThe other “main player” in browsers is Opera. This is a Norwegian product that is possibly not as well known as the others mentioned here, but seems to me to be stable and highly useable.

 


 

Can you have more than one browser installed?

Yes. Browsers are just like other programs in that they shouldn’t interfere with each other. In the same way that you could have two or more media players (such as iTunes and Windows Media Player) installed at the same time, you can also have several browsers. In fact, the only major area of software in which you must not have competing products is security software such as antivirus programs and firewalls. You can even have different browsers open at the same time.

Why have more than one browser installed?

There are several reasons why you might wish to have more than one browser installed on one system:

  • As a troubleshooting tool. Sometimes you might find that a website does not display properly or does not behave properly. This could happen if an “add-on” that you have installed on the browser isn’t “playing nicely” with some aspect of the website you are visiting or with other aspects of the browser it’s working with. It could also happen as a result of the browser itself interpreting the website’s programming in a manner not envisaged by the programmer. So, if a website is driving you mad because its behaviour isn’t what you expect, I would advise launching the same web page in a different browser to see if there is any difference. In my own system, for instance, there is some problem stopping me from accessing my online banking details when I use Firefox. There’s no such problem when using Opera.
  • To stay logged into Google without them knowing everything you do on the internet. If you use Google services that require you to be logged into your Google account (such as Gmail or AdWords), it’s very easy – and convenient – to stay logged in while you use the browser for other purposes. That’s exactly what Google want you to do as they can then track your movements as you browse the internet. If, like me, you don’t want Google to do this, but often forget to log out of your Google acount, then a simple solution is to use one browser exclusively for websites where you have to be logged in to Google. Just minimise the browser when it’s not in use and use a different browser for other online purposes. I’m sure the same principle applies for other online services that require you to be logged in but then use this to track your online activities.
  • To use services that require a specific browser. There are some things you can not do on Microsoft sites, for instance, unless you are using Internet Explorer. Downloading Microsoft program updates is an example. If you are using a Windows computer and prefer a browser other than Internet Explorer, I would not recommend un-installing Internet Explorer: just leave it there but don’t use it unless you need to for specific purposes.
  • Personal preference – different people using the same computer may prefer different browsers.

It might be logical for me to offer an opinion as to the merits and drawbacks of different browsers but, to be honest, I really don’t think there’s a lot to choose between them if you are an average user (and I think that covers all my own computer support clients). I use Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera on my PCs, Safari and Firefox on my Mac, Safari on my iPhone, and Firefox on my Android tablet.

Just out of interest, though, here’s a graph showing how the popularity of the different browsers has changed over time. This shows that Internet Explorer’s supremacy may at last be over as Chrome is now slightly ahead in terms of market share (the exact figures on this graph are Chrome – 28.4% of the market, Internet Explorer – 27.6%, Firefox – 22.8%, Safari – 14.1%, and Opera – 2.3%, miscellaneous – 4.8%). Source – w3counter

Browser Market Share 2012

You may also be interested in this previous blog post on the subject of web browsers

Do you find it frustrating that browser layouts keep changing? Do you struggle to find your favorites, for instance?

Over the last year or two there has been a tendency for browsers to become less “cluttered”. The designers have deliberately removed a lot of the buttons and options from the screen. This is meant to make the browsers easier to use. There’s no doubt that this leaves more room for the actual web page that you are looking at. On the downside, though, is that it is sometimes annoyingly difficult to do things that should be easy – finding your favorites/bookmarks, browsing history, and so on.

Not only is this problem made worse by regular updates to the browser, but if you use more than one browser life gets even more complicated.

Hands on piano keyboard

Some keyboard shortcuts need the skill of a concert pianist

So, I thought I’d have a look at the keyboard shortcuts that are built into the browsers and see if it might be easier in the long run to learn a few of them. My general advice with keyboard shortcuts is to learn some of the most common (that can be applied to lots of situations), such as Ctrl c, Ctrl v, Ctrl x, etc, but not to bother with the more arcane ones unless you really are likely to get into the habit of using them regularly. For some of them, you don’t just need the memory of an elephant, but also the dexterity of a concert pianist. I can’t imagine ever wanting to memorise that “Ctrl Alt Shift 4″, for instance, could perform any useful function.

Having looked at all the popular browsers (except Safari), I was pleased to find that a lot of shortcuts are common right across the board. Working on the theory that the more of these I present the less notice you will take of them, here is a short(ish) list of the most useful keyboard shortcuts that are common across all the major browsers – Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox, Opera, and Chrome:-

[table file=”http://www.davidleonard.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Common-Browser-Shortcut-Keys.csv”][/table]

There are some important functions that don’t have common shortcuts. I’ve just looked into those that I find the most useful:-

[table file=”http://www.davidleonard.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Specific-Browser-Shortcuts.csv”][/table]

Notes:

a) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the spanner at the top righthand corner.
b) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the “Opera” logo at the top lefthand corner.
c) To use the shortcuts that include one or more “modifiers” (the Ctrl, Alt and Shift keys, for instance), first depress the modifier(s) and then, while that is still pressed, click on the other key. Then let go of them all.

As I’ve said, these are just a few of the most common functions. If you’re even sadder than I am, and want to spend a weekend studying browser keyboard shortcuts, then links to more comprehensive lists for the browsers are as follows:

Internet Explorer 8 shortcut keys
Internet Explorer 9 shortcut keys
Firefox shortcut keys
Chrome shortcut keys
Opera shortcut keys
Safari shortcut keys (for Mac users)

Are you happy for organisations to be logging which websites you visit?

You might assume that if you visit one website and then a completely different (and seemingly unrelated) one, there is no connection between the two and that neither of them would know about your visit to the other.

Homburg and binocularsAfter all, if you walked into one shop and then another, it would never cross your mind that your movements were being tracked. If you thought about it at length then it wouldn’t be difficult to work out that marketing people at John Lewis could tell if you’d bought something at Peter Jones in Sloane Square and then gone to Oxford Street and bought something at John Lewis. If you use the same credit card in both stores then they could work it out as they are the same company. If you didn’t want them to make the connection then you could have paid in cash.

Suppose, though, that you’ve merely walked in and out of HMV in Oxford Street (without even buying anything), and then yomped off to Muji in Whiteleys. You wouldn’t expect them to know in Muji that you’d just been in HMV (as far as I know they wouldn’t, so let’s not go overboard with the paranoia).

But that can happen in cyberspace. If a piece of software on one website has recorded your visit (on your own computer!), then a different website can access that information if the same software is installed on the second website as well as the first. The information is stored on your own computer in a small file called a “cookie”. I congratulate the inventor of that word for a magnificent piece of doublespeak. The word “cookie” conjures up ideas of pleasure, treats, sugar hits. The reality, though, is that a cookie is simply a text file containing information about a visit to a website.

Anyway, there is a growing unease about the way that far more information is being recorded about our web habits than we are aware of. This is why the EU introduced the badly-thought out “Cookie Law“.

Apart from the Cookie Law, a method is now being built into web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc) whereby we can state our wishes as to whether websites track our activity in this way. The theory is that this preference is then sent by the browser back to the website that we are visiting and that the website then behaves accordingly. This expression of preference is being called “Do Not Track”.

There are, however, a few rather nasty big flies in the ointment:

  • There is no agreement as to what “tracking” means.
  • Most websites don’t take any notice of the stated preference.
  • There is no rule or law that forces the website to take any notice.

Hmm…

The possible definitions of “tracking” could, for instance, embrace these ideas:

  • Do not track what I do on a website that can provide information for targeting me with advertising (eg I’m male, interested in books, and live in London).
  • Do not track the different sites that I visit (as this could allow inferences to be made about my behaviour, preferences etc).
  • Do not even track my movements within one site (eg which pages did I visit, in what order, and how long did I spend on each page).

BloodhoundThe World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is currently thrashing out the details of a standard agreement as to what tracking actually means. When that has been finalised there is likely to be legislation requiring websites to conform to the tracking preferences of website visitors.

At the moment, though, even if you are using a browser that enables you to set a preference for DNT (“do not track”) then it’s probably not switched on. In the next version of Internet Explorer (version 10) it will be switched on by default. In the meantime, Microsoft have published a web page that tells you whether the browser that you are using (and its version) includes the feature to request “DNT”.

If you visit this Microsoft page on Do Not Track, it will tell you if the browser you are using supports DNT and whether it is on. If your browser is IE9, for example, it will show that DNT is “supported”. Assuming that you are using Internet Explorer 9 to access this web page, you can then follow the instructions further down the same page to “express your preference not to be tracked in IE9″. Nothing will seem to happen when you do this. However, if you then hit the F5 button (which causes the screen to be refreshed) then you will see that it is now saying that DNT is “detected” rather than supported. This means that “DNT” is now switched on.

In other browsers:

  • If you are running IE8 with Vista or Windows 7 then it’s a good idea to upgrade to IE9. That option is not available if you are running Windows XP. IE8 does not support DNT.
  • To turn on DNT in the latest version of Firefox, go to Options, Privacy pane, and tick the box as illustrated.
  • Chrome doesn’t currently offer DNT.
  • In Safari, open Preferences, then Privacy, then tick the box next to “Ask websites not to track me”.
Firefox "Do Not Track" Control

The “Do Not Track” setting in Firefox

Despite all the shortcomings listed above, it wouldn’t do any harm to set your preference if you don’t want to be tracked.

Internet Explorer 9 logoIn the past, Internet Explorer updates were offered to the user as part of the Windows update process, but the user had to “co-operate” with the process and confirm that (s)he wished to install the new version. We all know that software updates seem like a nuisance and an interruption to whatever we are doing. It is always very tempting to click the “cancel” button and carry on as before.

The main reason why this is not such a good idea with new versions of Internet Explorer is that a large proportion of the unpleasant malware and suchlike that gets onto our computers does so by slipping past the browser and into our systems. Older versions of Internet Explorer (or, indeed, any other browser) are inherently less secure than new ones. It makes sense to update to new versions if you don’t have a compelling reason not to.

But apart from the inconvenience of stopping what we are doing so that the new version can be installed, we may also be irritated by the fact that the new version doesn’t look or behave the same as the old one. For instance, the trend in recent versions of most web browsers (including Internet Explorer) has been to go for a more “minimalist” look. This means that there is more room on the screen to display the web page we are looking at, but it’s irritating to realise that the “home” button or the “bookmarks” button has disappeared or moved somewhere new.

And when it comes to upgrading to Internet Windows Explorer 9, other irritations include:

The “download” dialog box that used to appear in the middle of the screen to confirm that we definitely do want to download the file we’ve just asked for, has moved to the bottom of the screen and became much less obvious. It now looks like this:

Run Or Save Dialog Box

I wonder how many minutes I’ve wasted staring semi-vacantly at the screen waiting for that dialog box to appear, only to realise eventually that it’s at the bottom and not directly in front of my eyes (Note to my computer support clients: I’ve never ever done this on your time. I only ever waste time when I’m in front of my own computer).

Another thing that is really annoying lots of Internet Explorer 9 users is the box that often pops up at the bottom of the screen that looks like this:

IE9 SpeedUp Dialog Box

What’s happening here is that Internet Explorer has noticed that one or more “add-ons” (ie bells and whistles) that you have bolted on to your Internet Explorer is slowing down the opening up of your browser. Not wanting to get the blame itself for slow opening, Internet Explorer times the opening of these add-ons and pops up the box when one of them exceeds a threshold for the time it takes to load. If you click on the button on this popup bar marked “Choose add-ons” you can see which ones are slow to load. In the example below, it is the Samsung AnyWeb Print that is causing the popup because it is taking longer to load than the threshold of 0.20 seconds

Disable Add-On Dialog Box

What’s annoying everyone is that there’s no way of turning off this “feature”. The only way of stopping the popup from happening is to either disable the guilty add-on (in this case the Samsung AnyWeb Print) or increase the threshold so high that it never gets triggered. You can change the threshold by clicking on the button that currently says “0.20 seconds”. There isn’t any way to tell Internet Explorer to just mind its own business and stop telling tales on the slow add-ons. No doubt this feature was introduced as an answer to critics who said that Internet Explorer was loading slowly, but you’d think it perfectly reasonable to be able to turn this “feature” off entirely.

Anyway, the point I was going to make – before “Mr Grumpy” took over – is that Microsoft are now changing to a system whereby Internet Explorer is going to be invisbly and automatically updated as part of the regular Windows Updates process. This means that we are going to just find that Internet Explorer looks and feels different without warning.

If you don’t want this to happen, there are “toolkits” to stop updating from becoming automatic and Microsoft say that they will be building the automatic upgrading option into the settings of the browser itself at some time in the future. See The Windows Blog for further information.

So, at any time soon (unless you install a toolkit) you may find that your Internet Explorer has been updated to version 9 without your explicit approval. My own recommendation, though, is to accept this change without thinking of blocking it. The irritations of the popups are nowhere near as serious as the possible damage that could be wreaked by something nasty getting past your older version of Internet Explorer. And looking at it from a wider perspective, if this move means that more people are better protected then that’s bad news for the malware peddlars and good news for the rest of us.

Firefox logoChrome logoAnd if you don’t like it, you can always switch to Chrome or Firefox, or another browser….. See my earlier blog on browsers for more information.

F11 keyI often say, when delivering computer training, that it’s not worth trying to learn all the keyboard shortcuts that you come across as there are just too many of them. However, I recommend noting new ones from time to time and seeing if they’re worth committing to memory. Here’s one such – the F11 key “toggles” the full-screen mode when using a browser in Windows (except when using Safari – which is a Mac program).

I’ll explain that bit by bit:

    • The function keys are those at the top of the keyboard numbered F1 – F12. They perform different functions in different places and in different programs. See my blog on Function Keys for further information.
    • A browser is the program that you use to view web pages. The most popular browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. See my blog on browsers for further information.
    • Normally, when you are looking at a web page, a fair proportion of the screen is taken up with toolbars, status bar, taskbars and the like. You may be doing far more scrolling up and down to see the content of the web page itself than you would like. Hitting the F11 key maximises the size of the window and hides all the un-necessary stuff – leaving you to concentrate on the web page itself. Hitting the F11 key again puts the window back to the way it had previously looked.
    • A “toggle” switch is a bit of computer jargon that you may come across from time to time. It means a switch that is operated in the same way irrespective of its current setting. Imagine a light switch in the form of a cord. If the light is off and the cord is pulled then the light goes on. If the light is on and the cord is pulled then the light goes off. This, therefore, is a toggle switch. You pull the cord and the light changes its current state. So, in the case of the F11 button, repeatedly hitting it while viewing a web page turns the full-screen view on and off.

    Clipart star
    Internet Explorer 9 Favorites

    Two clients asked me for computer support this week after their favorites disappeared following an upgrade to Internet Explorer 9. If you can’t find yours, don’t panic – they’re there. It’s just that Microsoft is following the trend of making their browser look less cluttered. Look for the cluster of three icons at the top righthand corner of the screen. It looks like this:

    IE9 Favorites Icon

    The middle icon of these three is for Favorites. If you click on the star it will open a window with your Favorites displayed. This is a toggle switch so clicking on the star again will hide them again.

    If you are also missing your Favorites Bar (that used to display your favorite links across the top of the screen), then you can set this to display – as well as other items – by clicking on the relevant option that pops up if you right-click on the star icon. Just to emphasise that – you RIGHT-click on the star to display the toolbar options menu. The menu that pops up is like this:

    Menu of options for displaying IE9 Favorites

    Select or de-select the various bars by clicking on them (yet more toggles). Items that are currently being displayed have a tick next to them.

    In fact, the way that the Favorites works in IE9 is very similar indeed to the way that it works in Firefox 6, except that Firefox calls them Bookmarks (which does have the merit of not upsetting pedantic Brits like me who were taught how to spell properly).

Large eye through a magnifying glassWe may be fighting a losing battle with online privacy. As mentioned in last week’s blog on Internet Privacy, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon hoover up every crumb of information they can glean about us and use it to target us with ads and content that they think will appeal to us. As far as I know there’s isn’t any perfect strategy for maintaining online privacy, but there are lots of small things we can do that will certainly help.

I’m not concerned here with security on the internet as it relates to the safety of children, or trying to hide our identity so that we may be completely untraceable. I’m just trying to keep down the amount of un-necessary information we give to the likes of Google. These tips are equally valid in a home computer or business computer environment.

So, here are some tips. They’re not listed in any particular order. Some are easier to put into practice than others:

  • Create another email account that you never intend to use for “real” email. Don’t include your own real name in the account name and don’t give real data when completing the compulsory items of information in the account profile. Quote this email address on any websites that demand you supply one and where you don’t expect a normal, ongoing, email exchange (since you don’t want to have to keep checking this account for incoming emails). Having an “anonymous” account like this also helps in keeping spam out of your main email account.
  • If a website demands that you give personal information that is not connected with a financial transaction nor has other legal implications, then LIE. I will NOT give my real address or date of birth online when there is no legitimate NEED for it (and there are few legitimate needs except the protection of the other party in financial transactions). If I am entering a compulsory date of birth on a website where this is “relevant” (but not essential for financial reasons) then I enter a date that is close to my own (so that it makes no difference for the legitimate purposes of the website) but from which I can not be traced.
  • When filling in online forms, exercise judgement in completing any item that is not marked as compulsory (usually indicated by an asterisk or written in red). If they don’t require you to give a date of birth then why would you? If an item is compulsory but impertinent then LIE.
  • Don’t click on any “like” buttons in Facebook or anything similar (eg in Google).
  • Don’t take part in online quizzes or polls.
  • Preferably, don’t use Facebook at all. If you are a Facebook user and have any concerns at all about the privacy of your data, read this article about Facebook’s attitude to privacy.
  • Magnifying glass over computer keyboard

  • If you’re still keen to use Facebook, go through all the settings and mark everything private except what you explicitly wish to share.
  • If you use LinkedIn, do not click on ads without first changing your privacy settings to exclude monitoring your activity re ads.
  • Do not use Gmail or any of its branded versions (I think Virgin’s webmail is one of those). Google reads your emails and bombards you with “appropriate” Google ads (sponsored links). See last week’s blog on Internet Privacy.
  • If you must use Gmail, at least ensure that you sign out when you are not actually using the email as Google records everything you do in your browser if you are logged in as a Gmail user. They then use this info to target you with Google ads. I also sign out of other sites, such as Microsoft Live, as soon as I’ve finished with them.
  • Disable or remove browser add-ons that place “toolbars” and/or “search boxes” at the top of your browser. These often have tracking software in them. Incidentally, your browser performance will also be improved by doing this and your browser screen will be less cluttered.
  • Be very careful about “linking” any social networking site to any other (by giving any of them permission to access others). You might add data to one program, believing it to be private, forgetting that you have linked it to another program that sucks in what you thought was private data and spits it out somewhere more public.
  • Set your browser so that all cookies are deleted as soon as you close the browser (but this has implications – read on).
  • Set your browser to delete your browsing history as soon as you close your browser.
  • Set your browser to disallow third party cookies.
  • Turn off Amazon browsing history.
  • If you use Firefox or Chrome as your browser then you can install AdBlock Plus. This will stop most ads from appearing while you are browsing.
  • If you use Firefox, another excellent add-on is Better Privacy. This deletes the “flash cookies” that are placed on your hard drive by Flash Player. Flash cookies (also known as LSOs – Locally Stored Objects) are not removed or blocked along with other cookies.
  • Do not be misled into thinking that “private browsing” will give you any protection. It does suppress evidence on your own computer but it does not prevent sites you visit from recording your activity. Nevertheless, it may help to turn it on.
  • More technical ways of throwing websites off your scent include using proxy servers and using a dynamic IP address.
  • If you want to make an online purchase from a website that you don’t completely trust, you can use a prepaid Mastercard. This will limit your financial exposure to the value on the card and will also keep all your personal information from the website.

As if all this wasn’t already a nightmare worthy of a Kafka novel, some of these measures nullify others. You can turn off Amazon’s “browsing history” and, similarly, stop ask.com from retaining your history but the instructions to turn these off are held in cookies so if you delete cookies (as recommended above) you’re back to square one with these two sites. Doh!

Some of the tips above are easy to carry out and others less so. I haven’t attempted to give specific instructions (eg for different versions of different browsers) as it would just take too long.

If you’d like some help in tightening up your online privacy, contact me to arrange either a computer support visit or some online remote support.

Remote Support may be suitable for this topic

You are browsing the web when a popup message box suddenly appears suggesting that you have been infected with something, or are at risk of something, or you are being offerred something unexpectedly (and suspiciously).

You don’t know whether it’s genuine or not and you may or may not be familiar with the website that you are visiting.

The options it seems to offer may be clear or ambiguous, attractive or unappealing, well-written or illiterate. Actually, none of that matters very much. What matters is whether you think that the message is genuine or is something you would prefer hadn’t popped up and which you’d like to get away from as quickly as possible. If you think that the message is benign and you are prepared to go along with what it suggests then the rest of this article does not apply.

If you are still reading, then you are concerned about the situation and you do not trust the message.

What do you do?

My advice is straightforward:

DO NOT

  • Click on the option that seems to offer a solution to a problem you didn’t have 30 seconds ago (and which you probably don’t have now)
  • Spend five minutes agonising over the potential consequences of the different options.
  • Try to work out the motivation of the perpetrators
  • Click on the “X” at the top righthand corner of the box to close it. Note: I just said DO NOT click on the “X” ……….

DO

  • Get out of the situation ASAP

    Clicking on any button in the box – even the “close” button – can have any consequence that the perpetrator has designed. All (s)he is interested in is getting you to click on something so that the master plan is triggered into action. I repeat, do not click on ANYTHING in the box – even the close button.

    Instead, close the browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox etc) immediately using the Task Manager. This is achieved as follows:

    Task Manager window with browsers loaded

    1) Right-click on the clock at the bottom right-handcorner of the screen.
    2) Left-click on the “Task Manager” option.
    3) Left-click on the “Applications” tab.
    4) Look for the line(s) in the list that relate to your internet browser. In the example here I have four different browsers running – Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Note that the description against each browser icon is the title of the web page that is being displayed in that browser window at the moment (eg I am looking at the BBC website in my Chrome browser). In this example, I have no programs loaded other than the four browsers. You would normally see the entry for your browser amongst entries for other open programs (eg Word, Excel).
    5) Click on the line for the browser in which the popup has just occurred.
    6) Click the “End Task” button.
    7) If you happen to have that browser open in several windows, such that there are several lines for it in the Task Manager, then I would recommend closing all of them.
    8) Close the Windows Task Manager by clicking on the “X” (top right-hand corner).

  • Run the “on demand” scanner of your antivirus program to check whether you machine has been infected

    As far as I know, all antivirus programs have the ability to run a complete scan of your computer “on demand”. If you can find that option and run it then it will provide some peace of mind. If you can’t find this option then your antivirus program is probably set to run a complete scan automatically once a day anyway so you will probably know in 24 hours if you did, in fact, “catch” something.
  • Consider downloading and running an antimalware program

    Be very very careful if downloading any other antimalware program as some of the offerings are exactly the opposite – malware disguised as antimalware.

If you need more help, remember that my remote control support service is available – see http://www.davidleonard.net/remote-support/

© 2011-2014 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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