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Using your Computer Safely and PrivatelyChange your password often, and don’t tell anyone what it is. Set up a program that you need a password even to get ON your computer, and change it often. Don’t use anything the assailant would guess.
When you use a computer on the Internet, it records a lot of information about what you have been doing. This is meant to make it easy for you to go back to places you have been on the Web, or to recall what someone said in a Chat room. Unfortunately, others can look at this information too, if they have physical access to your machine. So you need to know how to clean up after your software, and keep information that could put you at risk in your own hands alone.
If you don’t feel comfortable with this task, consider going to an Internet cafe, or library, to access the Net instead. Set up a yahoo or hotmail address that only you know about for email.
When you use a browser, like Internet Explorer or Netscape, it records the URLs of the sites you visit, and information about those sites, in several places. For some things, like "cookies", it’s best to prevent the browser from storing them. For other things, like the browser "cache" or "history", this cannot be done, so you must do some cleanup whenever you finish a Net session.
To prevent Netscape from accepting cookies, go to Options | Network Preferences, pick the Protocols tab, and check the box for "(Alert before) Accepting A Cookie". Then you will be asked whenever a site you visit tries to set a cookie, and can refuse it. Do this before you start browsing.
For Netscape 4, go to Edit | Preferences. To clear the cache, select Advanced, then Cache, then press the "Clear Disk Cache" button. To clear the History, press the "Clear History" button.
Earlier versions of Netscape, 2.x and 3.x, are a bit more complicated to clear. To clear the Disk Cache, after you are done browsing, go to Options | Network Preferences, the Cache tab, and push the "Clear Disk Cache Now" button. Clear the indication of which links have been visited with Options | General Preferences, the Appearance tab, where you press the "Expire Now" button in the lower right.
That still leaves the "History" window. Unfortunately, there is no button for it. You will need to close Netscape, then go to the directory where Netscape is really installed, and delete the file "NETSCAPE.HST" that you find there. If you don’t know where Netscape is installed, do a search for the NETSCAPE.HST file in Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer).
Some versions of Netscape may also have a list of recently accessed URLs in their preferences file. After you exit Netscape, look for that file (one that has a real recent date/time in the Netscape directory), and see if such a list is in it (using Notepad). Delete whatever you need to.
You can clear Internet Explorer from its Internet Options panel, the General tab, which is under View in some versions and under Tools in others. Press the button "Delete Files"; in the History section, press the "Clear History" button. It’s also a good idea to change the amount of disk space used to store temporary files; move its slider all the way to the left. Finally, change the days-to-keep-page setting to zero.
Under Internet Options, Advanced, turn off "Use Autocomplete", as that can also clue someone in about visited locations.
Chat and Instant-Message Programs
If you use ICQ, AOL Communicator, Excite PAL, or the like, make sure you clean out the history information. You may also want to use aliases for some of the names of the people you connect with. Remember that these programs store every word you send or receive, just like email.
Chat programs like MIRC can also have logs that you need to delete. Even worse, many chat rooms have archives that can be accessed later by anyone; AOL is known for this. And people may be lurking who you’d rather not talk to. Be very careful what you say in such places, and use an alias that only your good friends know.
There are many different e-mail programs, and they all have different ways of storing messages. You may need to check the "Outbox", the "Sent" folder, and any other folders you did not create yourself to see what is kept there.
If you use Netscape Mail, empty the Trash folder to keep your deleted messages from coming back to haunt you. To do so, go to the File menu and choose Empty Trash Folder.
If you use Eudora, make sure that you "compact" the mailboxes after you delete messages. Otherwise the messages are really still in there, and can still be retrieved. The mailbox might show 0/0/119K in such a case; make sure it says 0/0/0K when you are done.
On America On-Line
If you’re still living with the assailant, he can read your email if he knows the password on the master account. The master account is the first screen name created when the account was opened. He can change the password of any other screen names on that account if he has access to the master account. If he knows the credit card number you set up the account with, he could have someone call, pretending to be you and change the password. (If you don’t store your password, but enter it every time you sign on, you would know that the password had changed).
If you’ve left him, buy your account with a credit card that lists the mailbox address (of a place such as Mailboxes, Inc.) and give AOL the mailbox address as well. AOL is not supposed to release information about subscribers, but mistakes happen. You can create different screen names and unless the assailant has physical access to your computer (or knows someone who does), he won’t know what those screen names are. Therefore, he can’t set up his "Buddy List" to track you whenever you are online.
If you know his screen name, you can block him from tracking you through Buddy List, and you can also use keyword "mail controls" to block email from him.
Save any email he sends you. If you receive "instant mail" from him, print it out and save it.
All of these things are evidence that he is stalking or harassing you.
If you use a provider other than AOL, consult directly with them about the best way to secure your account.
Word Processing Files
If you write a letter in a word processor, like Word or Works, make sure you know exactly where the file is being saved; if you need to delete it, you must know the "path" to the file. If you have a good hiding place for floppy disks, you may want to keep all your files on them, so that you never have anything on the hard disk that could put you at risk.
Some word processors save a temporary copy of the file you are working on, so that they can recover it for you if you forget to "save" before turning off your computer. If you think this may have happened, you can check by shutting down the word-processor, then starting up again without choosing a document first. If it has a "recovered" document on disk, it will usually load it automatically then. If you close the document and tell the word processor not to save it, that should remove the "recovered" version. Otherwise, it may "pop up" in front of the next person to use the word processor.
Another "helpful" feature that can leave full, readable copies of your files around is the "backup" feature, which saves the previous version of your file someplace with the same name and extension .back or (for Word) .wbk. In Word, check the Tools | Options | File Locations tab to see where such copies of your files may be kept. You can also use Tools | Options | Save tab to stop the backup process entirely; just uncheck the "Always Create Backup Copy" and "Automatic Save" boxes.
Many word processors let you save your file with a password, so that nobody who doesn’t have the password can read them. The "encryption" used is not real strong but may be good enough to stop someone who isn’t real computer-savvy. Unfortunately, people do lose passwords, and so there are many tools on the net to help you "recover" the lost password. Somebody who wanted to read your file could use one of those programs, and defeat the password. So this is not a very good way to protect your documents.
Watch out for the File menu, too. Many Windows word processors, as well as spreadsheets and other applications, keep a list of recently used documents on their own File menu. In Word, you can change this with Tools | Options, the General tab, by setting the number for the Recently Used File List to zero (4 is the default). If the list disappearing would be a problem, you can also just open and close files until they push the hazardous names off the end of the list.
When you delete a file on Windows 95 or 98 or the Mac you may think it is gone. But it’s not. It’s merely in the Trash (or Recycle Bin), and can be hauled out any time up until you "empty the trash". Even then, someone with computer knowledge can use tools that resurrect the deleted file much of the time. It’s really best to use floppy disks whenever you can, so that you can physically put the disk with the files someplace safe.
In Windows 95, 98 and 2000, you will also see references to the documents you create under the Start button, Documents. You can clear the whole list by right-clicking on a blank part of the Taskbar, and choosing "Properties." Pick the "Start Menu Programs" tab, and click on the "Clear" button under the "Documents menu." Note that this does not remove the document itself, just the mention of it in the Documents list.
If you want to minimize suspicion by leaving the list, but just removing one or more particular documents, you can do that using Windows Explorer. Go to your Windows directory, and open the Recent folder in it. You will see a shortcut for each entry on the Documents list. Right-click on each one you want to get rid of and select Delete from the pop-up menu. Then go empty the Recycle Bin to finish the job.
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