- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

You have heard the story it's true, I'm told about the fellow who picked the wrong outfit to wear when robbing a bank? It was his U.S. Army fatigues, with his last name and unit number stenciled on the front.

Most of us aren't bank robbers, of course and if we were, hopefully we wouldn't be that stupid. But what do you (and I) leave behind when we use a computer to surf the Internet? The answer is probably a lot more than you might think.

According to a news release from a British firm, Robin Hood Software, "When you access the Internet, your computer keeps permanent hidden records of your activity for months or years, including web sites visited, documents, pictures and sounds."

How true: Many of these are stored as "history" files in your Web browser (the default setting in Microsoft Internet Explorer keeps a 20 day historic rundown of where you've gone on line), and others are stored as "Temporary Internet Files" on your PC's hard drive. Yes, including those (nonvirus) pictures of tennis star Anna Kournikova that you checked out during your lunch hour.

One of the hallmarks of American democracy has been and is a fierce defense of individual rights and privacy. While this is not the space to debate the question of whether or not the Constitution provides for a "right to privacy," many employees in businesses are surprised to learn that their bosses have the right to scour their PCs and see what they've been checking out. (Can you say "hotjobs.com"?)

At home, similar surprises and snooping can await. True, the best family relationships are open and honest, but for whatever reason, I might not want my significant other to see what I'm searching for on line, whether it's a surprise getaway or a special gift.

The aforementioned Robin Hood Software, based in London but doing business over the Internet, has recently released a $74.95 program, Evidence Eliminator, that'll scrub your hard drive clear of those records. It can cover your tracks in some other applications, too, and free up some hard disk space in the process.

"Areas cleaned include Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator browser histories, typed URL's, cookies and cache, sent and deleted e-mails, file cluster slack, deleted files, directory entries, unallocated clusters and deleted registry entries," the firm claims. "Plug-in modules eliminate all traces of your activity in WinZip, Microsoft Office and other popular applications," their statement adds.

I tested the software recently and was astonished at its thoroughness. It did wipe clean a ton of stuff, not the least being all the cookies placed on my computer that identified me to my bank and some other places where I log in regularly. So, I had to re-enter the information when I returned to those sites. That wasn't a major hassle, however, because of everything else it did to "clean off" my computer.

It is possible to customize the program, and the publishers offer a kit you can use to create "plug in" modules for certain tasks and applications. The information at their Web site is rather good.

I was truly impressed with the speed and efficiency of the software. With my current operating system, Windows Millennium Edition, Evidence Eliminator runs most of its functions except "real-mode" MS-DOS functions including registry defragmentation. The makers further suggest that cleaning Internet Explorer cache index files and SWAP files should be manually carried out in both Windows 2000 and Windows ME. So, I had a little extra work to do.

But overall, and for the first time, I can now click a button and make sure that my business remains, well, mine. I'm not suggesting that anyone use software such as this for a nefarious purpose and employees of government agencies and companies will want to observe their organization's policies on what programs they can or can't install.

There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you can find out more about the program at www.evidence-eliminator.com/.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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