Whatever you are doing online, whether sending and receiving email, browsing, shopping or just chatting, chances are you are being tracked by someone. Also, you're probably unaware of the kind of information being transmitted between your computer and the site you are browsing.
|Part II: Advanced tools to turn your PC into a fortress
Fortunately, there are tools online to safeguard your data and turn your PC into a fortress. Many of these are free or at least offer a free trial period.
Rediff Guide to the Net presents a two-part series on how you can maintain your identity, privacy and safety online.
1. Anti-virus tools
Viruses and worms are known to create havoc in computer systems and can result in the loss of valuable information. Anti-virus software searches your hard disk for viruses and remove any that are found.
AVG AntiVirus offers free downloads which include resident protection, email scanners, scheduled tests and an automatic update feature.
Housecall offers a free online virus scanner and detects viruses already on your system at the time of your visit. It's quite basic though and it is advised that you download a proper anti-virus package for complete protection.
Symantec maintains a tools list for the removal of known viruses. Many companies like F-Secure offer a limited version of their tools as free downloads.
The list of virus removal tools includes AntiFun, AntiSirc and Audit. F-Secure's Virus Info Center contains complete information on how to use them.
While freeware might not be as effective as registered versions of anti-virus software, they will provide you with a certain degree of protection.
Free Anti-virus Tools
2. Email tools
Ziplip will scramble, lock, and then shred email. A service like SafeMessage is designed to ensure total email privacy since messages cannot be traced and all traces are deleted on the computer drive.
Email, the Web's most popular application, is also susceptible to misuse. This page will tell you why standard email is so vulnerable.
Take the following precautions to protect your email:
Hushmail is another secure free service providing total end-to-end security. All messages are encrypted before leaving the sender's computer, and remain so until they arrive on the recipient's machine.
b. Use anonymous remailers
Simply put, a remailer is a service that privatises your email by stripping the message off all information that could let hackers find out where it originated. This page tells you about Type I and Type II remailers. Some give you a pseudo ID and any email received is then sent to your real address.
FAQ on remailers
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W3 Anonymous remailer
3. Surf anonymously
Anytime you use the Internet to browse, chat (using messengers) and FTP, information like your IP address and your domain name are easy to track down. Encryption is the most effective way to ensure security of data by converting it into a secret code. But many Internet services do not use encryption for data transfer.
Software like Anonymize will ensure that no one will be able to access information about you. Anonymizer offers a free privacy toolbar to be installed on your browser to keep your identity private when you go online. The programme has a switch that can be turned on whenever you require privacy and security.
This FAQ from Cloak.com will give you more information on how anonymous surfing works.
HTML filters like the Internet Junkbuster help you keep spam out of your mailbox and Web browser by getting rid of banner ads and cookies. The Internet Junkbuster Proxy is a free privacy enhancing software that can be downloaded as a zip file and run on your PC.
Take back your privacy
4. Cookie busters
The main purpose of a cookie is to identify users and customise Web pages for them. Data that you enter in an online form is packaged into cookies and sent to your Web browser that stores it for later use.
This FAQ explains more about cookie management while this article warns you about the dark side of cookies.
The main concern is that they collect personal information against your knowledge. Some people find this an invasion of privacy. There are several free applications you can use to delete cookies from your computer. These include Cookie Crusher, Cookie Jar and Cookie Pal that comes with a 30-day trial version.
How they Work
Unofficial Cookies FAQ
Origin of Cookies
How Cookies track you
5. Anti-spyware tools
Scary as it may sound, you could actually be watched every moment you are online. According to SpyCop there are thousands of computer surveillance software programmes being used worldwide.
Spyware is not necessarily dangerous. It's usually installed to bombard you with ads. However, you have no idea where your personal information goes.
Advertising companies are known to install additional tracking systems. This means that while you might be 'anonymous', there is a live server sitting on your PC and sending information about your surfing habits to a remote location. This feature should explain the working of spyware in detail.
So what can you do about it? Use a free version of software like Spy Cop Scanner designed to detect the presence of monitoring programmes on your system. New spyware is released almost every week, and you can use this page to report any programmes that aren't included.
Annoying popups are one way in which these programmes manifest themselves. You can use free software to kill popups. Choose from the following list.
AdWare, a free multi-spyware removal utility, will scan your memory and hard drive for known spyware components and let you remove them. ZoneAlarm is a personal firewall that also renders your computer invisible to potential intruders. It can be used to block spyware communication.
Spyware info and removal
6. Password generators
Are you aware that it takes an average hacker just a few minutes to crack passwords? That's because most users make predictable choices, like their nicknames and spouses' names. This tool shows how quickly someone can crack your password.
Why not use random password generators like Buckshot Basic to get a password that will be difficult to crack?
7. Disk and file erasing programmes
Deleting a file normally leaves the data on the disk and only removes the file's directory entry. Disk and file erasing programmes protect you against identity theft and data security threats by completely erasing files so they cannot be recovered.
Disk Cleanup completely eliminates the content of deleted files and is free for trial. Disk Sanitiser comes with a 30-day trial period and Eraser, a free tool, allows you to remove sensitive data from your disk by overwriting it with selected patterns.
Part II: Learn more about free advanced privacy enhancing tools with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), secure instant messaging, Web, telnet and disk encryption. Tomorrow.