Unless you are a Safari user, you can set your browser to delete any cookies set by websites during the current session (ie cookies set since you opened your browser)

Stamp on CookiesAccording to Wikipedia (source):

“An HTTP cookie (also called web cookie, Internet cookie, browser cookie or simply cookie) is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user’s computer by the user’s web browser while the user is browsing.”

Some cookies are definitely useful. For instance, on a shopping site, the information about the stuff that the user has put into their “shopping basket” is kept in cookies. Other cookies, however, are simply there for the purposes of recording the user’s browsing history. We’re not just talking about which websites have been visited. We’re talking about what pages the user looked at, how long they looked, where they went next, and so on. A lot of people find this intrusive, and even creepy. If you go to a website and look at, say, pink elephants, and then go to a completely unrelated site a couple of days later and are presented with adverts for pink elephants, you can be sure that cookies have been tracking you around.

It is possible to set browsers so that cookies can not be set. This, however, is probably not a good idea as it could make the website difficult, if not impossible, to use. So another approach to improving your privacy online is to delete all cookies as soon as you close your browser. This means that those who would track you around cyberspace have to start all over again each time you open your browser.

The way that you set your browser is detailed below for the major browsers. Note that I’m assuming that you have the latest version of the browser. If you don’t have the latest version then it’s a good idea to get it. If your operating system is too old for the latest version of the browser (you XP users know who I’m talking about) then maybe it’s time to start thinking about a new computer.

Sweep cookies awayChrome

  • Click on the three vertical dots at the top right of the browser
  • Click on “settings”
  • Scroll down and click on “Show advanced settings”
  • Under “Privacy”, click on “Content settings”
  • Click on the button next to “Keep local data only until you quit your browser”
  • Click on “Done” at the bottom right of the screen and close the “Settings” tab (by clicking “x” on the the tab or by closing the browser)

Firefox

  • Click on the three horizontal bars at the top right of the browser
  • Click on “Options”
  • Click on the “Privacy” option at the left of the window
  • Under “History”, next to “Firefox will:”, select “Use custom settings for history”
  • Next to “Keep until:”, select “I close Firefox”
  • Close the options tab (by clicking “x” on the the tab or by closing the browser)

Internet Explorer

  • Click on the gear icon at the top right of the browser
  • Click on “Internet Options”
  • Click on the “General” tab
  • Place a tick in the box next to “Delete browsing history on exit” (by clicking on the box)
  • Click on “OK”

Cookie MonsterEdge

  • Click on the three dots at the top right of the browser
  • Click on “Settings”
  • Beneath the text “Clear browsing data”, click on “Choose what to clear”
  • Place a tick against “Cookies and saved website data” (and any other items you would like to clear)
  • Slide the switch underneath “Always clear this when I close the browser” to the right (so that it says “on” next to it)
  • Close the “Settings” by clicking on the three dots again

Safari

You can’t – but you might want to have a look at this Apple Communities page on Safari and cookies

I’m often asked by my computer support clients whether it is a good idea to let browsers save the logon credentials for websites

Knocking on Google login panelFrom the point of view of security, there are two types of threat to consider:

  • Anyone who has access to your computer might be able to use and/or steal your passwords. Only you can assess whether household members (or office colleagues, for that matter) pose a threat to your privacy and security.
  • The browser software could be hacked to reveal your passwords. I don’t, personally, know of anyone who has had this happen to them, but I have read several times on the internet that there is malware out there that can do it.

So, I can’t actually answer the question for you. I think it comes down to something we do all the time without even thinking about it – balance risk against convenience. If we wish to cross the road and we are on a quiet country lane then we are unlikely to walk 100 yards to the nearest pedestrian crossing. We might be prepared to walk much further than that for a safe crossing if it’s the Euston Road we are trying to negotiate.

I’d like to suggest a few questions that you might ask yourself to give you an idea of whether it is a good idea for you to save passwords in your browser:

  • Do you think that online banking is too risky? If so, I think your caution will probably extend to never letting browsers store passwords. Personally, I trust online banking and would hate to do without it but if I was cautious enough not to trust online banking then I certainly wouldn’t trust my browser to keep my secrets safe.
  • Would the consequences of someone finding a particular username and password combination be catastrophic? If so, it probably wouldn’t be wise to commit that specific password to your browser.
  • Do you tend (despite advice to the contrary) to use and re-use the same password(s) over and over again? If so, you must bear in mind the risk that discovery of one of your passwords could give someone access to other accounts. Committing even one username/password combination to your browser could expose many other accounts to being hacked.
  • Do you have children in the household? In my experience, households with children suffer far more from malware attacks than households without. I’m not blaming the children. I think it’s probably because the nasty scrotes that write malware know that children have less mature judgement than adults, less fear, a greater propensity to be led by others into visitng specific (dangerous) websites, a greater propensity to share online content (including malware) with each other, and so on. If your risk of catching ANY malware is increased, then it probably follows that the risk of catching malware that can find your passwords is increased.
  • Do you think that usernames and passwords give you a huge amount of grief in your online life? I know some people who seem to be able to remember an enormous number of combinations of usernames and passwords, whereas others can’t even remember their own phone number. If passwords give you a huge amount of grief then it might well be worth reducing the burden somewhat by getting your browser to remember some of the less important username/password combinations.

Hooded Computer UserQuite often, when I have (annoyingly) answered the original question with “it depends….”, the client will then ask “what do YOU do about saving passwords online?”. The answer is that I use some software called LastPass to remember most of my online passwords, but I also record all my usernames/passwords somewhere else as well. I don’t use LastPass to remember the most important financial combinations. If you asked me to rationalise why I do what I do, I can’t. What I can say is that I think I balance risk against convenience in a way that seems to suit me. And when I see my clients struggling to find specific passwords, I often think that they would probably be better off by committing at least some of them to their browser for safe-keeping.

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/

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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