The computer helper: Everyday privacy
Oct 19, 2007, 2:09 GMT
Washington - Most of the privacy threats we hear about are from anonymous 'hackers' or unnamed forces waiting to swoop via an Internet connection and steal our data or personal information.
But many people have privacy concerns that are closer to home.
While the outside threats do exist, it's probably far more likely that a friend, guest, colleague, or family member will see information on your computer that you had not intended to share.
How can you tighten security at home or the office? Read on for some answers.
Q: My wife regularly uses my Vista computer, but I have a folder of documents I would like to keep secure. Can I hide a particular folder from others?
A: Yes. Note that there are a number of programs available online that claim to hide folders or files for you. A simple web search for 'hide folders' will turn up names like Lock Folder XP and Hide My Folders. Such programs can potentially cause problems, however, with the operating system and with other utilities that may work at the file-system level, such as backup and antivirus applications.
A simpler and certainly less expensive alternative is to use the 'hide' feature that's built into all recent versions of Windows. To test it out, create a folder called 'test,' and copy some discardable files in it.
Open Windows Explorer, right-click the folder, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. On the General tab of the resulting Properties dialog box, you'll see a check box labeled 'hidden' in the Attributes section. Select the 'hidden' check box, and click OK.
The folder will disappear, unless you have set up Windows Explorer to show hidden files and folders. You change this setting by opening the Tools menu (Alt-T), selecting Folder Options, clicking the View tab, and then selecting the 'Show hidden files and folders' option button.
You may want to use this 'Show hidden files and folders' setting if you ever forget the name of hidden folders that you've created. For now, though, make sure the 'Do not show hidden files and folders' option is selected.
To navigate to a hidden folder, you simply place the cursor in the Address bar of Windows Explorer, type 'c:test,' without the quotation marks, and press Enter.
To navigate to the hidden folder from an application's Open dialog box, you simply type 'c:test,' without quotation marks, in the File Name box, and press Enter. Unless the files themselves have been marked hidden, you should see all of the files that you have placed or created in your hidden folder.
This method of hiding files and folders is by no means secure if you're trying to protect folders from tech-savvy users who might intentionally be looking for something hidden on your PC. But as an everyday security measure for most people, this solution is all that's needed.
Q: On my Windows XP Start menu, there's a Documents entry that lists all of the documents I have opened recently. How can I get rid of that so that someone using my computer cannot see at a glance which documents I've been working on?
A: It's easy. Just right-click your Start menu, and click Properties. In the resulting Properties dialog box, click the Customise button, and then click the Advanced tab. In the Recent Documents section, clear the check box labelled 'List my most recently used documents,' and click OK until you're out of the Properties dialog box.
In Vista, the procedure for removing recently-used documents is a bit different. Click the Start orb, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box appears, with the Start Menu tab in focus. Locate the Privacy section, and clear the check box labelled 'Store and display a list of recently opened files.' Click OK, and you're done.
For more advanced hiding of various Start menu items that might reveal your activity, download either TweakUI for XP (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.m spx) or TweakVI for Vista (http://www.totalidea.com/content/tweakvi/tweakvi-index.php).
In TweakUI, the Explorer section contains various options for hiding Start menu items. In the free version of TweakVI, click the Visual Tweaks button, and then click Startmenu tweaks. There, you'll find a great number of options that let you hide just about anything on the Start menu.
Q: My biggest security problem is passwords. I use the same password for everything, and my family members know it. So although I visit a lot of sites that require me to enter my password, they're not really secure. I refuse to use multiple passwords because I'll forget them. Is there a better way?
A: Passwords are indeed a double-edged sword for many people. They're supposed to provide a level of security, but the best passwords are too easily forgotten.
A good solution to this problem comes in the form of fingerprint readers found on some keyboards today - or available as standalone devices. Microsoft, for instance, makes a reasonably-priced keyboard with a built-in fingerprint reader.
To use these products, you typically first install the device and accompanying software. Then you register your fingerprint by touching the integrated fingerprint reader.
From that point on, whenever you visit a site that requires a user name and password, you touch the fingerprint reader, enter a user name and password, and that data is stored by the software so that you never have to enter it again. Instead, on subsequent visits, you simply touch the fingerprint reader, and you're in. You can even enter your Windows logon password that way.
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