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Beginners Guides: Encryption and Online Privacy

Beginners Guides: Encryption and Online Privacy - PCSTATS
Abstract: This article aims to cover the basics of online security, including a description of the methods online stores use to protect themselves and their customers.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCstats Sep 23 2003   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCstats

Browser security concerns

Let's look at some of the possible security problems contained within your computer, the web browser specifically. This section assumes you are using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but many of the points are generally applicable to other browsers such as Netscape and Mozilla.

Cookies

Cookies are small text files created on your computer (commonly in the c:\documents and settings\(username)\cookies folder) by websites you have visited that enable these sites to identify you and your computer, and customize their content the next time you visit them.

For example, a site using cookies could be set up to greet you by name on each successive visit after you provide it with your information. To accomplish this, a cookie with your name and an identification number would be saved on your hard drive and passed to the website each time you visit it.

Cookies are also commonly used to identify users automatically for access to secure portions of the site, or to automatically pre-fill login information. Cookies are endemic to the Internet. Just about every major site uses them, and many websites (notably Microsoft) will refuse you access to portions of their website if you have cookies disabled on your browser. Their use does carry a few security concerns however.

For one thing, cookies often contain personal information that you have given previously to the website, such as bank card numbers in the case of many online banking systems, names and IP addresses, and potentially even credit card numbers.

Someone using your computer could have your login information for a web-email service, to use just one example, automatically filled in for them because a cookie exists on your computer containing this information. While cookies are unavailable to remote websites and to remote users unless the security of your system is already compromised, they are available to anyone with access to your PC who cared to browse the cookies folder.

Incidentally, they also give a pretty clear picture of your online activities to anyone checking up on you. Many websites that contain advertising, as well as certain ad-containing software applications like Kazaa, use cookies as a way of tracking customer (or potential customer) activities. This is accomplished by means of tracking, or 'third-party' cookies.

The idea of these is that an advertising company will rent space on a website for its ads, and the content from these ads comes from their own web servers, so when a surfer views the website, he also views information from the ad company's servers, and can thus receive a cookie from them without having deliberately visited their website. Assuming the ad company has placed banner ads on several sites, they will be able to track your surfing habits to a degree based on the exchange of cookies between you and their ad-servers that occurs when you visit a website they advertise on.

Many advertising companies partner with peer 2 peer sharing software providers such as Kazaa or makers of other popular "free" software in order to gain access to names and email addresses to match the internet addresses they derive from cookies, enabling them to put a 'face' to users they are tracking.

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Contents of Article: PCstats
 Pg 1.  Beginners Guides: Encryption and Online Privacy
 Pg 2.  Encryption
 Pg 3.  Public key and symmetrical encryption methods
 Pg 4.  Digital Signatures
 Pg 5.  How to know that you are using SSL
 Pg 6.  — Browser security concerns
 Pg 7.  Managing Cookies
 Pg 8.  Temporary Internet files folder
 Pg 9.  DIY privacy, encrypting your files
 Pg 10.  Creating a recovery agent
 Pg 11.  Exporting a data recovery certificate

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