Bits & P.C.’s: Security, cookies and more

Bits & P.C.’s: Security, cookies and more

By Richard Heller

One of the concerns of many online users is security. When you are connected to the Internet, the web sites that you visit may be tracked and a record is also stored on your computer’s hard drive.

As you surf the web, small text files named “cookies” are saved to your computer. These cookies contain information that identifies you to a particular web site. This means that your online banker will know that you have returned to the site and can address you by name or allow you to do a quick log-on.

Many sites use these cookies to “target market” you, that is, if you visit a travel site, it will display ads for rental cars and hotels. Companies such as “Double Click” track the web sites that you visit and then sell the information to other companies who, in turn, use the information in their marketing. In theory, only the company that placed the cookie on your computer can read the information, but there have been reports that there are ways for others to also read the information.

The web sites that you visit have all the pictures and text saved on your hard drive in a special file called “temporary Internet files.” This means that if you search your hard drive you will see anything from logos of the sites where you have been to dirty pictures from the op-up porn ads. These files will remain on your computer until Windows purges them as the file gets full.

There are programs such as Norton Clean Sweep that will allow you to delete or manage the cookies as well as delete the temporary files. It is very difficult to delete these files through Windows itself; the file and its contents are buried in the Windows directory.

Another area of security has to do with preventing others from actually gaining access to your system while online. When you are on the Internet, your computer is assigned an “IP address.” This is about like your street address; it tells the web site where to deliver the web page that you are visiting. The problem is, a hacker can find out your IP address and send a virus or a Trojan to your computer without your knowledge.

The best way to prevent this from occurring is with a “firewall” program. This program monitors your computer and the Internet and allows or disallows communications based on rules. Even with an e-mail only service, security is important.

Over the past two years that I have been doing this column, we have covered a lot of different topics. Now I am asking for your help. I would like to know what questions that you would like answered. They can be about things such as why won’t my CD drive work to where can I find a program that lets me catalog my collection of doorknobs. Please send your questions to the e-mail address shown, and I’ll try to provide some answers. Please include your phone number.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

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