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

With increasing connectivity, access and data sharing, protecting privacy has become more of an issue than ever. Questions here range from how to keep private things private, what to do after they're not, and how to at least be aware of what is and is not private when it comes to computing and the Internet.

Are my Skype conversations private?

Someone sniffing a Skype conversation would just find digital noise. But I guess it depends on... how paranoid are you?

Are streaming audio or video calls kept somewhere?

The basic technology is to get the audio/video from my machine to yours so you can hear me. Nobody's in the middle storing it; we're just not that interesting.

Are there hidden files that save every keystroke I've ever typed, and how do I find them?

There's a lot of misinformation and even paranoia relating to keystroke logging and privacy. Much of it, however, is based on small kernels of truth.

Can an anonymous proxy service capture my email password?

Anonymous access or proxy services provide a level of anonymity by hiding your IP address from sites you visit. A malicious proxy can do a lot more.

Can hackers see data going to and from my computer?

In some instances, it might be possible for hackers to see data going to and from one's computer. Sometimes it matters, but sometimes it doesn't.

Can information I posted years ago on a social site be cached and found on the deep web?

The best way to stay safe online is to consider that anything you post can be cached, seen, and even copied. Don't post anything you want kept private.

Can my ISP know if I am using a VPN?

VPN's (Virtual Private Networks) connect through particular ports and have particular characteristics that are visible to your ISP. I discuss what they can and cannot see.

Can my credit card information be read remotely?

Credit card theft "out of pocket" is possible with a new technology. And yes, foil in a wallet is a way to "foil" the thieves.

Can my mobile phone calls be listened to?

While it's possible that cellular calls can be listened in on, it's one of those things where somebody would really have to go out of their way for it to happen.

Can my spouse really read my IM conversations?

It's possible for someone on your local network to monitor and perhaps even log internet traffic. That could easily include your IM conversations.

Can my work track what I do on my home computer via a remote connection?

Using a computer at work puts you at the mercy of your workplace IT policy. It's technically possible that your work could track all your activities.

Can people get my phone number from my web page?

Registration information for domains or web hosting services can sometimes be public. We'll look at how to keep your information private.

Can someone find my home address or telephone number from my email address?

Both you and your email provider share responsibility for your privacy. By taking care before providing personal information you can avoid its abuse.

Does "Do not track" work?

Do not track means different things to different people. Ultimately, you are relying on the receiving server to honor this ambiguous term.

Does a sandbox or virtual machine help protect your privacy?

Sandboxes and Virtual Machines can help isolate you from certain types of threats. We'll look at what they are and how they might, or might not, help.

Does just looking at a file leave a trail?

While simply viewing a file seems like a benign thing to do, there are many ways that the file itself or the fact that you viewed it might be recorded.

Does locking my computer keep it safe?

The lock function in Windows is convenient and fast, but it's not quite as secure as you might think. We'll look at why.

Does sharing a computer mean that I'm sharing my Google web history?

It's actually difficult to maintain privacy on a shared computer. Google's web history is one reason, but your browser's history is another.

How can I be sure my actions aren't being logged on this computer I'm using?

When using a public computer it's practically impossible to know for certain that your activities aren't being logged.

How can I keep my kids safe from internet garbage?

There's a lot of garbage on the internet and it's difficult to prevent your children from seeing it. There are tools to help and steps to take.

How can I password protect a desktop shortcut?

Passwording a desktop shortcut, while theoretically possible, wouldn't really accomplish the goal of securing information. We'll look at alternatives.

How can an https web site still be nonsecure?

Surprisingly, it's possible for aspects of an https site to still be nonsecure, if the site is improperly designed. And it's very difficult to tell.

How do I block people from finding information about me on the internet?

Once information has been posted on the internet and can be found, it's nearly impossible to remove it. The internet has a long and persistent memory.

How do I keep myself safe from others on my LAN?

We put a lot of emphasis on keeping ourselves secure from internet threats. But what if the threat is on our own network? How do we stay safe then?

How do I stay safe in an internet cafe?

When connecting to the internet in an internet cafe, hotspot or other public connection you could be opening yourself up to serious security issues.

How else can websites get my information?

We look at three additional ways that web sites, and others, might gain access to information you might not realize you're providing.

How much can people find out from a photo I email them?

Photographs often include additional embedded information about the picture. Most is boring camera stuff but a couple of items are worth knowing about.

How much sensitive information is stored on my computer when I purchase online?

There are numerous things that can be downloaded to your computer while surfing or shopping online. It's best to know what they are and how to manage them.

I Googled my phone number and it turned up my home address - is that legal?

The publicity of your phone book listing hasn't changed, but its ease of access has changed dramatically. Should you care? What are the implications?

Is it possible for a hacker to get my Hotmail password without access to my computer?

It's easy to think that as long as you keep your computer out of other people's hands you're safe. It's nowhere near that simple.

Just how do websites track or monitor our activity?

Many people are concerned about website tracking and monitoring. While it's not something most need to be concerned about, it can get quite involved.

My ex-boyfriend set up my computer and is now spying on me. What can I do?

Trust is tricky when it comes to computers. When you add relationships to the mix, things quickly get complicated, and unfortunately, very serious.

Should I be concerned about the tracking cookies I'm being told about?

I personally would be annoyed at a tool for bugging me about tracking cookies - when I don't consider them an issue!

Ultrasurf and anonymous browsing

Ultrasurf is an anonymous browsing service. I'll discuss a reader's problems using and also review alternatives and the impact on speed.

What does "leaving a secure internet connection" mean?

One of the ways that hackers gain access to valuable information is to eavesdrop on internet connections. It's important to know if you're secure.

What does it mean when a site says they "receive and store certain information"?

Privacy statements of many websites have wording that indicate they receive and store information. We'll look at just what that might mean.

What's your take on the online spying bill CISPA?

CISPA is a bill that is worth reading about. In this article, I recommend several reliable sources for information.

When I delete private email at work, can it still be found?

Whenever you do anything private on a work computer or network, you're exposing yourself to snooping by the company. Even when you delete private email.

When I visit a web site, can the server identify me?

Web servers at least get your IP address when you visit. Whether or not that or other information can actually be used to identify you specifically depends on a lot of things.

Why am I not getting asked additional security questions when I expect them?

Sitekey is a technique used by many financial institutions to protect your account. How it decides to ask you additional questions can be a puzzle.

Why did you tell people you weren't going to be home?

When I left on a three week vacation I did not hide the fact, and in fact mentioned it publicly in the weeks leading up to it. Was that advisable?

Why do sites ask for age verification if it's so trivial to make up a fake birthday?

Keeping kids safe on the internet is a difficult problem... you're right. Age restriction requirements are easy to break.