Think that your browser’s private mode keeps your browsing completely private? Not so! More often than not, you’re still leaving traces of your browsing session behind, and today we’ll tell you how to get rid of them for truly private browsing.
Keeping track of where you’ve been doesn’t end with simply clearing out your browsing history and other private data—your operating system continues to store more information about what you’ve been up to, like cached DNS lookups and worse, Flash cookies that don’t get wiped. It’s worth noting that you won’t be able to erase all of your tracks all the time—if you are browsing stuff that you shouldn’t at work, you can still get caught by a system admin even if the history on your PC is gone. On your own PC, however, here’s how we suggest boosting your browsing privacy (complete with a couple of scripts to automate the process).
Cached DNS Entries
Every time you browse to a web page, your PC has to request the IP Address for that web site from your default DNS server, and then caches them locally on your machine for a while to speed up future access to that web site—even in a private browsing session.
You can see these for yourself by opening up a command prompt and typing in ipconfig /displaydns to see the full list of cached DNS entries, then open up a new private browsing session and go to a site you don’t normally access. If you re-run the command again, you’ll see that it’s been added to the DNS caching, telling anybody with access to your machine that you’ve been watching the PowerPuff Girls. Cleaning the cache is easy, just type in ipconfig /flushdns to wipe everything.
Worse: Flash Cookies
The secret tracking information doesn’t stop with simple DNS entries, which don’t really tell anybody much about what exactly you were looking at—but the hidden Flash cookies will tell a whole different story.
You can see these entries by heading into the %appdata%MacromediaFlash Player #SharedObjects directory, and once you are done panicking, you can simply delete them all to get rid of them-for now.
Clear Flash Cookies in Firefox
Luckily Firefox’s great extension support makes it really simple to get rid of those awful Flash cookies with the previously mentioned Objection extension. You’ll have to download the development release and use an about:config hack to make it compatible with the latest versions of Firefox, but once you’ve done that, installed the extension, and rebooted Firefox, you should be able to head into the settings to make short work of those Flash cookies.
The Settings tab gives you an option to automatically remove the Local Shared Objects on browser open or close, the File details tab will allow you to take a look through all of the local cookies already stored, and the Flash player settings tab gives you access to a bunch of options, including telling Flash to never store information.
Run CCleaner After Browsing
When it comes to cleaning up all of the extra traces that applications leave behind, nothing quite equals using CCleaner to get rid of all those little bits that really shouldn’t be there anymore, regardless of which browser you are using. Just make sure to open up CCleaner and look for Adobe Flash Player in the Applications tab, and keep that box checked.
Once you’ve made sure that your CCleaner settings are perfect, you can create a shortcut to run CCleaner silently with a simple double-click on an icon, or even assign a hotkey for quick junk removal. If you are using Windows 7 or Vista, you’ll probably notice that there’s a UAC prompt every time you run the shortcut-you can create shortcuts that bypass UAC, or just disable it entirely instead. If you are even more paranoid, you can setup CCleaner to run on a schedule, automatically.
Create a Batch File to Clean Everything
Your best bet is to create a simple batch file to run after your browsing session, to make sure your browser cache, Flash cookie cache, and DNS entries are cleaned out. You could get fancy and create an AutoHotkey script to do the same thing, but a batch file should do the trick for regular people. Just create a new plain text file and save it as a .bat file (e.g., browserclean.bat), then add the following to the file, noting that the /AUTO switch tells CCleaner to run silently.
“C:Program FilesCCleanerCCleaner.exe” /AUTO
Once you’ve created the file and saved it into some useful location, you can create a shortcut on your desktop, quick launch bar, or pin it to your start menu.
Create an AutoHotkey Script to Automatically Clean Everything
If your geek skills are a little more advanced, you can simply create a script that opens up your browser in private browsing mode, and then waits until you’ve closed the last window to run CCleaner and flush the DNS cache. Just create a new AutoHotkey script and paste in the following script, modifying the paths for your own install locations.
Run, C:pathtochrome.exe –incognito
WinWait, – Google Chrome
WinWaitClose ; Wait for Google Chrome to close
Run, C:pathtoccleaner.exe /AUTO
Run, cmd /c “ipconfig /flushdns”
MsgBox, Browsing Session is Cleaned.
The first line in the script will launch Google Chrome using incognito mode—you could use Firefox instead, but you’ll need to install the Private Browsing Command Line Flag extension and use the –private argument. The WinWait lines tell AutoHotkey to wait until the browser session has closed (you can change out “Google Chrome” for “Mozilla Firefox” if you need to), and then the script continues by running your cleaner utilities.
So what’s your take? Will you take the extra steps to keep your privacy intact, or is wiping the history enough for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.