Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Seeing what websites a person has been to is easy to view unless the person is highly tech savvy and knows how to cover their tracks.

How do I retrieve a website after it's been deleted? For example, if someone uses your computer and is looking at dirty websites, then deletes them before you can see them, how can I find out what that person was looking at? In other words, how can I bring that deleted website back to see what they're hiding? Asking the person does no good because they're hiding it.

In this excerpt from Answercast #75, I look at the possibility of retrieving browsing information from a computer if it has been thoroughly deleted.

Seeing websites a person has been to

In a lot of ways, it depends on the expertise of the person who's doing the surfing. Sometimes, deleting the history isn't really enough. If you do something like go "back" in your web browser or start typing the suspected URLs of some of these sites, that kind of information can still automatically pop up.

Now, unfortunately, exactly how to undelete the deleted is really not that easy.

In a sense, it is a deleted file that should technically be un-deletable. But it also varies dramatically based on what browser you use and (of course) how long it's been since the web surfing took place and the history was deleted.

My recommendation is that if you are seriously concerned about this kind of use or abuse of your computer, that you install some keyboard logging or more correctly, parental-control software. This is a situation that many parents find themselves in. There are many parental control packages out there that are available for both monitoring and control.

Parental control software

Parental control packages run the gamut. They actually do either of two things and usually both.

One is you can set them up to restrict access to certain places or certain websites. That will prevent someone from being able to access the sites that you're concerned about.

The other is it will actually log (sometimes not even on the same computer, perhaps on another computer on your network) the activity that takes place on the computer you're concerned about.

Getting past software controls

Now, I do have to throw all of this out there with a big, fat caveat - and that's twofold. One is if the person who is doing this is at all technically savvy, the short answer is ultimately you can't get the information you're looking for.

Parental control software can be bypassed; key loggers can be discovered and uninstalled. And anything that you might do to try and retrieve the information could be futile if the person has done an appropriate job of cleaning up after themselves.

Even if they haven't, even if they now discover that you are somehow restricting what they're looking at or monitoring what they're looking at, ultimately, they're just gonna go do it somewhere else. So, even though the person is denying or disavowing the fact that they're doing this kind of stuff, ultimately in my opinion, it really does boil down to more of a personal problem - or a personal discussion you need to have with this person, rather than a technological solution.

That's the state of the art right now. If someone is sufficiently technically astute, it is possible to erase the traces completely without really a lot of work and have the information become completely undiscoverable.

Next from Answercast 75 - Why can't I burn an ISO to this blank DVD?

Article C6089 - December 1, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Jody
December 1, 2012 11:25 PM

Yes as This is the problem I have with my son. I can set the Parental Controls on his PC. But? NOT on other devices such as the IPAD 2. I Do use a Cisco Expensive Router. It Only allows me to block 8 sites (even though, from what I read, The IPAD has no Flash player, allows 10 of them "sites" and? Lists them on the interenet.) So? leaves the other 2 "sites" Open for him. Then? He goes through his PS3 also .. No amount of talking is going to get him to stop. Warned and Warned him that he can and will go blind from this activity. All Jokes aside? I told him about a serial killer. Who Killed due to watching all this "Material" , made him become a serial killer along with other "horror" stories i've heard. When they Made these devices? THEY should have made it Possible for PARENTAL Controls. Guess they were thinking and they do gear them towards the Young in sales and advertisements.

Jody
December 1, 2012 11:27 PM

Re-Iterate!! .. They WERE NOT thinking when they developed all this new High Tech gear. To Make it so Us Parents Can Control the access to these "sites."

Bill
December 2, 2012 10:22 AM

Jody, get a NETGEAR WNDR4500-100NAS N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router. I have hundreds of ip's & sites blocked plus has PARENTAL Controls u can install and more.

SkiddMarxx
December 4, 2012 8:36 AM

OpenDNS is a good free option for blocking undesirable websites. Leo wrote an article about it a few years back (http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_block_porn.html). Basically set up an account at opendns.com and select the type of sites you want to block and set your router to use OpenDNS's DNS addresses. Can be a little tricky, but there's plenty of help available with a little googling (or binging)

dan
December 4, 2012 9:09 AM

If you want to prove that someone has been to a site they should not be at take a look at the saved cookies. Most will at least indicate what site they came from. This is also easy to beat by either going to private browsing or deleting the cookies in question but folks rarely think about them.

As look at cookie exceptions.

Keyloggers are a bad idea in my mind since you will also capture legitimately private information. As far as Nanny software is concerned your kids should not be able to by pass it if they are only allowed to sign in on a limited account.

Bill
December 4, 2012 10:03 AM

Just reading the comments tells you what the problem is.
"Keyloggers are a bad idea in my mind since you will also capture legitimately private information." No, where minor kids are concerned there is no private information. You are the parent not the best pal.

How about forbidding a child from erasing past search history, temporary files or cookies? Can you see that they have been erased?

keith
December 4, 2012 10:15 PM

As a computer shop owner, I've had this conversation with a few people. I personally think that keyloggers are not a good idea. Imho, it breeds a sense of distrust if/when they are discovered. That said, I'm not the parent of a rebelling teenager...yet.

I echo the recommendation of OpenDNS as a great free option. It works at the router level which makes it apply network-wide and is more difficult to circumvent. They also maintain an extensive blacklist for you so you don't have to manually be adding sites/domains yourself.

As far as recovering the browsing information, for someone like me, or a forensic computer scientist, a lot can be uncovered. The problem is that this type of analysis requires expensive software, and at times, expensive hardware.

The obvious places to look are at browser history, autocomplete info, cookies, and temporary internet files. A less obvious place to look would be the router log files. As Leo states though, any competent surfer can easily delete these tracks (except for router logs - if they don't have admin access). The trick at that point becomes a combination of knowing the surfer's habits and data recovery efforts.

I have to agree with Leo that it is a personal problem. If someone is searching something on your computer that you do not want them to, then you should tell them to stop or stop letting them use your computer. If a minor is concerned, then you might consider more drastic methods like monitored web usage, obligatory whitelists, "nanny", etc...

But before you do anything, make sure you think through the consequences.

Tom
December 8, 2012 7:24 PM

@Jody. If you beleive that looking at certain "materials" will turn your son into a serial killer than you should look at yourself first.There's something wrong in your thinking. That is a bizzare twist of logic. If you have seen evidence that your son has an issue of a violent nature, then seek help for him instead of trying to restrict his internet access. If his interests are generally normal (even with some kink thrown in) leave him alone. The puritanical attitude towards sex in the US always amazes me.

frank
December 12, 2012 10:45 AM

Judging from the tone of the person writing the question, she is checking up on an adult, probably her husband. Not a child.therefore, she would be better off getting over her insecurities with porn and stop treating herhusband like a dog she can train. As for keyloggers, etc. I have a 12 year old boy going on the internet at 1am. I take the router to bed with me. You cant stop a boy from looking at porn, but i can stop him from looking at 1am.

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