By Jim Bray
If you're prone to paranoia, or big on conspiracy theories, the prospect
that Big Brother may be watching your every move in cyberspace is sure
to have you tearing out your hair.
There's good reason for this worry, too. Plenty of reasons, in fact.
After all, whether you realize it or not, whenever you surf the Internet
someone or something is trying to get a handle on who you are and how
they can exploit it.
There are simple assaults on your privacy, like those cookies
that many web sites inflict on your computer when you surf by (we don't,
by the way!). Then theres important personal information of yours
that gets spread through the virtual world every time you make an on-line
transaction. Not necessarily financial data, but lifestyle and demographic
These aren't necessarily Bad Things, but you should be aware of them.
You should also be aware of more potentially insidious tracking tricks,
like Web Bugs and Spyware digital beasties
designed to collect information about you and your Web surfing habits.
It's even said that the US government has programs that not only track
visitors to web sites they feel are worth monitoring, but can sift through
e-mail as well.
Is it any wonder that an increasing number of cybersurfers are getting
increasingly concerned that George Orwell may, in fact, be alive and well
Now, I know none of us would ever do anything that would make the government
suspicious of us, and it might be hard to imagine a government Overlord
concerned with tracking the habits of ordinary citizens, but facts are
facts, and Big Government supporters had better get used to the dark sides
of the philosophy they espouse.
So what can you do if you just want to keep your corporate or personal
information to yourself, if for no other reason than it's no one else's
You could start with a couple of simple tricks with your Web Browser.
To keep cookies away, you can tell your Browser not to accept them, or
to notify you that a Web site is trying to set a cookie. In Netscape 4x,
you can do this under the Preferences settings found in the
Edit menu. The cookie section is under Advanced.
In MSIE 5x it's much more difficult to find the cookies setting.
It's on the Security tab of the Internet Options
selection of the Tools Menu. You have to click on Custom
Level and scroll down until you find the Cookie section.
You can also refuse to store your personal information in your Browser.
You may have to use a stand-alone E-mail program to send mail, rather
than using the Browsers program, but it may be a small price to
pay especially since there are free e-mail programs.
The easiest way to keep your personal information out of cyberspace when
making on-line purchases with your credit card is, not surprisingly, not
to make them.
For the really frightened, you can actually buy a computer that bills
itself as being a fortress.
A Florida company, Compu-King, has introduced a series of PCs called
Kangaroo that it's targeting at the security conscious business or consumer.
Kangaroo Computers are made to order, and the company claims each computer
is hacker-proof. Compu-King uses the latest encryption software and tests
every computer for privacy leaks before it leaves their, er, pocket.
Kangaroo makes three models, from the entry level Joey to
the top of the line Great Grey, and for the most part they're
pretty straightforward. The differences come below the surface, from processors
that don't identify their owners to special software that supposedly lets
you surf anonymously. Kangaroo also includes encryption programs and a
utility it says turns their hard drives into impregnable vaults.
I assume business is really jumping around their place.
Thats all very well and good, but you can have a hacker-proof PC
today, and have it hacked tomorrow, so I don't know if all this stuff
will keep hackers out of your system for longer than it takes to unpack
the box. It's probably better than nothing, though.
In the meantime, it could give you or your company some peace of mind
in an on-line age where everyone wants to poke his or her nose into everyone
Too bad we even need to think about such things, but such is life in
todays wild and wired world.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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