Internet Invisibility (Sort Of)
Have you ever wished you could be invisible? To move about without anyone knowing where you are or where you have been? Sure, hailing your waitress might be difficult, but think of the security advantages! No one can steal your wallet if they can’t see you, right?
Most internet browsers, from Safari to Chrome to Firefox, now offer the option to surf the web “invisibly.” Or at least partially so. It’s called private or incognito browsing, and while it’s gotten a bad reputation for the shameful uses it’s put to, private browsing has some worthwhile security advantages that you might want to consider. But first….
What is Private Browsing?
When you open a private browsing session, websites are prevented from placing cookies permanently on your device. Cookies are what enable a website to gather information for advertising purposes and also to remember login information for auto-fill functions if you ever log back in on the same device. Private browsing also prevents your browser from remembering auto-fill information and also from storing what sites you’ve visited in its history. So anyone who uses the same device won’t be able to see where you’ve been online or what you’ve been up to.
It is important to note that this “invisibility” is not complete. Private browsing does not hide your actions from the network or from the individual websites you visit, it simple prevents your own device from remembering any of it. Essentially, your movements become invisible to yourself and anyone who uses the same device after you.
So, Why Would this Ever Be a Good Thing?
Good question. While its security benefit is limited, there are several legitimate uses for private browsing which you might find helpful:
1. If you ever access the internet from an Internet Cafe or Library, private browsing can be an added layer of protection to prevent the next person who uses the computer from seeing which sites you visited and, potentially, stumbling upon login pages which autofill your information.
2. Have you ever shopped for gifts online, only to have the intended recipient of the “surprise” stumble across the search history the next time they got online? Surprise ruined. Private browsing keeps your shopping activities secret. The same principle applies to other searches, like researching a medical condition without worrying your family or searching for a job without unintentionally tipping off coworkers.
3. Sometimes we need to check email or even financial information in a hurry, and the only means available is a friend’s computer or phone. Performing these tasks with a private browsing session prevents your searches, as well as your login information, from being auto-suggested or auto-filled when they return to their device. Of course, this is also a helpful suggestion you can make when a friend borrows your device.
4. When performing a search (on Google, for example) or looking through recommendations on a site like Amazon, the suggestions you receive take into account your past use and, in some cases, even the recommendations of others. Searching via a private browsing session gives you “pure” results, unconnected to what you or others have done in the past. Nor will your search affect what suggestions or recommendations you are given the next time you visit the same site.
5. Often, if you have two accounts with the same website, you have to close one in order to open another. But what if you want both open at the same time? Private browsing allows you to open multiple accounts for the same website at the same time.
So there you have it. Private browsing is by no means a security silver bullet, but it can be a practical tool to both supplement your security and keep your browsing history hidden from prying eyes. Depending on what browser you are using, there are different steps to opening a private browsing session, but the information on how to do it is readily available. A quick google search will turn up instructions for whatever browser you use and you can always contact us at our PSMail Helpdesk for additional questions.