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October 28, 2011updated 19 Aug 2016 9:28am

How safe, secret or private is InPrivate browsing?

Not as secret as you might think...

By Jason Stamper Blog

TOR The Onion Router

The TOR network is said to be encrypted, but how secure is InPrivate browsing?

Microsoft has made much of the fact that its Internet Explorer (IE) browser features an ‘InPrivate’ browsing mode. "InPrivate Browsing enables you to surf the web without leaving a trail in Internet Explorer. This helps prevent anyone else who might be using your computer from seeing where you visited and what you looked at on the web," the company states.

It adds: "While you are surfing using InPrivate Browsing, Internet Explorer stores some information — such as cookies and temporary Internet files — so that the webpages you visit will work correctly. However, at the end of your InPrivate Browsing session, this information is discarded."

But is InPrivate safer than using something like the popular Anonymizer tool, which features anonymous surfing technology to remove all cookies, cached files, and history archives from your web session? How about the anonymity provided by a fully encrypted network like the TOR network (The Onion Router)?

The trouble with Microsoft’s InPrivate – and this applies to Google’s Incognito mode too – is that these browsing modes only keep IE or Google Chrome from storing information about the websites that you have visited. The websites you visit are likely to have records of your visit (in the form of your IP address, which can be used to find your location). Of course any files that you ‘save as’ or download to your computer during InPrivate browsing will still remain on your computer and be visible to anyone using the computer even after you shut down the browser.

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Moreover, remember that ISPs can and do store information about your surfing habits, which could make that ‘incognito’ surfing session on Google Chrome or InPrivate session on IE a little less incognito than you might think. At least three British ISPs for instance agreed to hand over users’ surfing data with Phorm, a company set up to then try and serve you more targeted advertising based on your surfing habits.

Observers have questioned the privacy issues in this kind of situation already, but suffice to say, there are those who know what sites you visit, whether IE or Google Chrome remembers your surfing history or not. Law enforcement agencies can also ask ISPs to hand over records of websites that you have visited, even if you have been ‘incognito’ or InPrivate.

Readers who read this story also read ‘Google Chrome, Firefox incognito mode privacy flaw‘.

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