View Full Version : Is my computer really watching me?
Qadgop the Mercotan
04-14-2001, 05:21 PM
Lately I've been inundated with email spam advising me that my computer is keeping track of all sites I visit, therefore the authorities can sweep down on me at any time and discover what sites I visit and what I download, unless I buy their diskwipe services.
My question is: Is there any truth to this? I generally avoid forbidden webspace (you know, kiddie porn, how to overthrow the government via nitrogen-laden fertilizer, etc.). I close weird browser windows when they pop up, periodically delete my temporary internet files, clear my history files, edit my cookies, and occasionally use Norton's diskwipe to clean up the "blank" spaces on my disk.
So is my computer really tracking me, or is it just hype to scare up customers? I tend to believe the latter.
04-14-2001, 05:44 PM
They do keep track of you. But not necessarily by your computer. Just your IP address. They no doubt keep track of it to know what advertisements to best send you in the form of AD banners. I read in a Time magazine that they also sell the information to other companies.
Your IP logs the time you were on, how long, and probably(but im not certain on this one) which sites your visit. Mabey even logs them in a file somewhere similar to a network log file.
Im not sure that cookies do anything for the people keeping track of your IP #, though they might be able to access them somehow. I don't mean this to sound like some wierd conspiracy, Im sure there aren't enough people to track everyone, and a program is used to automatically track thousands of users or servers. It helps in case you get caught doing something illegal like hacking into a goverment mainframe or something, and they can track your IP address down to where you are, your name..ect and have some sort of evidence against you to use in court.
04-14-2001, 05:49 PM
In terms of this specific email, definitely the latter. There's a similar panic email doing the runs of Yahoo's groups and clubs, telling people Yahoo is trapping them into child porn stings, and the only solution is to buy some disk cleaning software.
In general, you should have nothing to worry about. Your surfing can be tracked in a number of ways, and cached files can be recovered even if you delete them. However, unless the "authorities" believe you've done something they will never check. It's simply an enormous waste of time to see what everyone's been up to, and no ISP will surrender customer information without a warrant (because it's a major hassle for them).
Commercial sites can track the site you were at before theirs, and the site you left to visit. There's nothing particularly sinister about this (it's easy to do; I have statistical analysis software on visitors to my website, which I almost never go into in that much detail), unless you're worries about them building an idea of your customer preferences.
Your ISP will log which IP address you have (static or dynamically assigned) at any given time, but these logs are so enormous that no ISP will retain them for long, and it is a major effort to go through them to identify a particular person (hence it's only likely if you're suspected of something particularly dodgy). Plus, these logs will likely not record every site you visit, just what address you were using. The sites themselves will record that IP address -- but, again, these logs will be enormous and of little interest in the overwhelming majority of cases.
In terms of your hard disk, it depends on how good your current Norton software is. I'm not familiar with it at all. In general, though, it is easy to recover files. I was recently trained on two leading forensic software packages and how to use them. Both involve taking disk images of your hard disk(s) and processing them (including free space, unallocated space and slack space at the end of disk clusters) to identify current and deleted files.
In most cases, deleting a file doesn't actually remove it. It justs sets a flag to say that the memory space used to hold that file is now available to be re-used and overwritten. The larger the hard disk, the more chance the file hasn't actually gone anywhere.
The best way to clean a hard disk is to repeatedly (as in >10 times) defragment it, rearranging the space, or to use a specialist package like Evidence Eliminator. However, I wouldn't worry about it. Unless you've been up to something very bad, nobody will be knocking on your door, so buying this kind of package is wasted cash. Put it this way: computer forensics is an expensive way to get people into prisons -- the software costs around $6,000 per license and isn't commercially available to individuals ...
04-14-2001, 09:26 PM
As in, what if your ISP is rather small? I live in a small town and the ISP can't have more than several thousand subscribers. There's just not that many people in the area.
My concern is, could the ISP easily notice if I peer into an "adult" content site? Could they be interested enough to notice without a lot of trouble?
04-14-2001, 10:30 PM
mattk, I believe that you are mistaken about an ISP only providing information to feds with a warrant.
IIRC, ISPs tend to be very cooperative with the law, whether or not the specific guidelines have been followed for retrieval of information.
Now, information gotten from an ISP couldn't be used against you, but it might be enough to convince a judge to issue a warrant.
And to answer your question, Drum God: Certainly, they could find out if you were looking at porn sites, but unless there is a voyeur working for them or they have some compelling reason to do so, they wouldn't
Qadgop the Mercotan
04-15-2001, 08:02 AM
Thanks for the info, guys. I'm really far less concerned about the authorities knocking on my door than I am for my computer tracking what I do, and my ISP (or other commercial agency) becoming aware of it and using the info for marketing purposes. It seems I get more pop-up windows trying to sell me things, and now I'm wondering if they're specifically targeted to me based on surfing history or just general spam. I suspect I'm just getting too narcissistic to think that I'm the one being selectively targeted.
04-15-2001, 10:31 AM
Then you should get a cookie manager, you can probably pick up a free one at download.com QM
04-15-2001, 05:40 PM
Qadgop?? I'll be glad to be your Cookie Manager>>burp<< :p
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