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The Anonymous Surfer: 10 Methods to Ensure Your Online Search Security

It is very disconcerting to know that any search for information and data online can be traced back to the user. Imagine using a search engine for hours at a time everyday and then finding out later that your online history, reading habits and finances can be used as a reference by other people, especially strangers. To add to the queasy feeling you’re having right now, even your finances, medical history, political attachment and sexual preferences may be at risk. Feeling paranoid? Here are 10 methods you can use to protect yourself:

1. Avoid ‘vanity searches’.
If for any reason you feel the need to search for yourself online using your own name, address, Social Security number, and personal information, don’t do it with the computer you use regularly. These data can be easily traced to you, making it easier for anyone who wants to invade your privacy or steal your identity to do so. If you have to search for information online regarding yourself, use another computer.

2. Read the fine print.
You can protect yourself better if you learn about a website’s privacy policy first. Most websites automatically collect information regarding your visit, including websites you’ve looked at, your software, hardware and type of computer you’re using. Even the tiniest personal information you provide can be linked to your unique browsing habits.

3. Log off before doing a search.
Many of us have personal accounts with popular search engines such as MSN’s Hotmail and Google’s GMail. To ensure online search security, avoid logging on before performing a search. That way, your searches cannot be linked to you.

You should also keep yourself logged out when using other search engine services, such as instant messaging, map searches, etc.

4. Install another web browser.
This is a good thing to do if you want to keep your search-related activities and your e-mail (which contains some of your personal info) separate.

5. Don’t be remembered.
This is a simple but important step to ensuring your online search security. When you log on to a service such as Google’s, you will find a line of text that says, ‘Remember me on this computer’. Although clicking on this will help you access the service easier the next time around, it can expose you unnecessarily.

6. Prevent cookies.
Each time you visit a website, it can put a tiny piece of electronic information onto your computer, called a ‘cookie’. A cookie is like a small recorder that most websites use to help record your activities. That means if you visit the site the next time around, you will be recognized, regardless of where you are, provided you use the same computer. If you use another computer, this won’t happen.

To make sure you secure your online search, configure your computer to . But if this proves inconvenient for your searches, try using temporary ‘session’ cookies. These cookies expire after you turn off your browser so you don’t get linked to your searches.

8. Change your IP address.
Your IP address is provided by your ISP or internet service provider. That’s the number that resembles this: 12.3.456.789. This identifies you or at least your computer, as a unique user. This makes your IP address particularly important in your efforts to secure your online searches because it can be traced back to you.

You can change your IP address two ways: by using a different ISP and by using a dynamic or changing . If you are a regular Comcast user, for example, your IP address will change if you use AT&T. With a dynamic IP address, this link will change each time you turn off your modem and not use it overnight.

9. Use a web proxy.
A web proxy can keep your IP address hidden from the sites you visit by acting as the ‘middleman’ each time you access information on the internet. It’s like communicating through an operator, who bounces your inquiries and the information from a website back and forth.

10. Use an anonymizer.
An anonymizer is a computer program that blocks your identity online by routing your traffic through a web proxy server. This will ensure online search security by preventing your searches from being associated with you.

Great advice to the start the New Year out right!

Your Online Security Authority<BR>Bill Wardell

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