When you have Internet Explorer under control, you can move on to cleaning the rest of the Windows interface. Just like Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer keeps track of the applications that you run and files that you open. It does this so that it can tailor your computer to your personal use with features such as the frequently run programs list on the Start panel. Features like this are designed to speed up the use of your computer. However, the side effect of the convenience is a loss of privacy. The next few sections will show you how to recover your privacy, albeit at the expense of convenience.
One of the great new features of Windows Vista can also be a pain when you are concerned about your privacy. The capability to select the programs that you use frequently directly from the Start panel instead of having to navigate through the entire Start menu can save you some time. However, over time, this list can become cluttered with programs that you do not want to be there. Additionally, anyone who uses your computer can easily see what programs you use.
Windows Vista also does something similar with the files that you open. Every time that you open a Word document, a digital image, or any other file, an entry is created in the Recent files list. Although this feature exists, I never find myself using it and it just seems to add another privacy concern.
In Windows Vista, it is very easy to clear and/or disable these features. Just follow these steps:
Right-click the Start button and select Properties.
Clear the two check boxes under the Privacy section on the Start Menu tab, as shown in Figure 16-6.
Figure 16-6: Clearing the program list on the Start panel
Click OK to save and activate your changes.
Depending on what check boxes you chose to clear, you may have to go back in and check them again if you would like to use the frequently run feature again.
Over time, your hard drive can become cluttered with temporary files left behind from applications and the operating system. These files not only take up space, but they can be tracks of activity on your computer. Removing the temporary files is a great way to clean up any garbage information that is left behind, increase your privacy, and free up some disk space.
Windows has advanced greatly over the course of it existence. In the early versions of Windows, there was just one temp folder that all temp files were located in. With Windows Vista, temp folders are all over the place. To remove the files, you could go to all the different folders and manually erase the files, but there is a better way.
To clear my temporary files from my hard drive, I like to use Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup is a utility that comes with Windows Vista that makes it easy to remove your temporary files. It works by automatically checking the known temporary file locations for you and removing the files. With Disk Cleanup, you do not have to worry about where to navigate on your hard drive to delete the files. Instead, just execute the program.
To get started using Disk Cleanup, follow these steps:
Click the Start button, type Disk Cleanup in the Search box, and then press Enter.
You will be prompted to choose which files you want to clean-"My files only" or "Files from all users on this computer." I recommend selecting Files from all users on this computer.
If your computer has multiple hard drives, you will be prompted to select which drive you want to clean. Select the drive you want to clean and press OK.
After the utility has analyzed your computer, it gives you a report of various types of files that it can clean, as shown in Figure 16-7. Scroll through the list and make sure that only Temporary Internet Files and Temporary files are checked.
Figure 16-7: Using Disk Cleanup to remove temporary files
Click OK to run the cleanup.
Click Delete Files on the confirmation screen. The utility will now run and exit automatically when it is finished cleaning your hard drive.
Disk Cleanup is the perfect way to easily clean up your temporary files. Now that you know how to use it, I recommend that you run it at least once a month to keep your temporary files under control.
When you visit a Web site that requires authentication or attempt to connect to remote computers, you are given the option to save your password so that the next time that you visit the page or attempt to access a remote resource you do not have to reenter your password. This feature can be a huge convenience, especially if you access a particular Web site or resource frequently. The downside to this convenience is the potential for horrible security and privacy problems that it creates. Essentially, you are taking the password off all the sites and resources for which you saved a password. Anyone who has physical access to your computer can get in using your username and password, even if they do not know your password.
Removing your saved passwords from your computer is a very good idea because doing so will protect your accounts. Removing the password is a little tricky in Window Vista because there is not an easy way to access a list of all the accounts that have passwords stored for them within Control Panel or any other user interface element. Fortunately, there is a great hack that will do just that.
Hidden away in the keymgr.dll system file is an interface for viewing stored usernames and passwords. To use this cool interface, follow these steps:
Click the Start button, type rundll32.exe keymgr.dll, KRShowKeyMgr in the Search box, and then press Enter.
The Stored User Names and Passwords window will load, showing you a list of all the accounts that are saved on your computer, as shown in Figure 16-8. To remove a saved password, select the account on the list and click the Remove button.
Figure 16-8: The Stored User Names and Passwords administration screen
Click OK on the Confirm screen and the account is removed from the list, erasing your stored password.
Repeat the previous steps for any other accounts that you want to remove.
When you are finished, just click Close.
You can also use the Stored User Names and Passwords window to add more usernames and passwords to your computer. If you have a Web site or resource for which privacy isn't a concern, such as some news Web site, just click the Add button when the Stored User Names and Passwords window is loaded.
Windows Vista runs on the NTFS file system, which allows users to set file and folder permissions. These permission settings enable you to specify the users that can view a particular file or a whole folder on your computer. In fact, file permissions in Windows Vista are so detailed that you can even specify if a person has the ability only to read your files while preventing them from saving any changes. For the sake of privacy, file permissions are very helpful because they allow you to prevent other users from even being able to gain access to your private folders.
Setting the permissions on files and folders is easy to do. Just follow these steps:
Right-click any file or folder for which you want to modify permissions and select Properties.
Click the Security tab and press the Edit button.
Make sure that your username is added to the list and that you give yourself Full Control. You can do this with the Add button.
Remove all users from the group or username list that you do not want having access to this file. It is a good idea to remove the Everyone group because this does include everyone that can access your computer, including guests. Make sure that you do not accidentally remove your username from the list. Also watch out for the SYSTEM account. This is one account that the operating system uses to access files but can be safely removed unless you experience any problems with its removal.
If you are having difficulties removing users from the username list, this could be because the user is inherited from a parent folder. Permissions are passed down to all subfolders and files. If you want a user to have access to a folder but not its subfolders, then you have to click the Advanced button on the Security tab of the properties window. After the Advanced Security Settings window loads, clear the option that says Inherit from parent the permission entries that apply to child objects. A Security notification box will pop up. Click the Remove button to remove all the inherited permissions so that you can have full control of the folder.
Now that you have the list of users and groups taken care of, set the specific permissions that the user has on the file or folder. Select the name of the user that you want to modify, and then check the corresponding boxes in the Permissions for list for the activities that you want them to be able to do, as shown in Figure 16-9.
Figure 16-9: Adjusting the permissions for Jason. Jason now has permission only to read files in the folder.
When you have finished setting the permissions for all the users, click OK to exit the permissions screen.
When you have set the permissions for all sensitive directories, you will have greatly increased your security and privacy. Also keep in mind that file permissions are inherited. Every folder within a folder inherits the permissions of the parent folder unless they are specifically removed. Therefore, if you set the file permissions for a folder, all the subfolders and files will be automatically set with the same permissions. File and folder permissions can be very useful. If you have a program on your computer that you do not want anyone else running, simply set the permissions on that folder so that only you can read and execute it.