Private Browsing's False Sense of Security
- By William Jackson
- September 30, 2008
They call it private browsing. Microsoft recently released a beta
of Internet Explorer 8 that offers it. You'll find it in Mozilla's
Firefox and the new Google Chrome. Apple's Safari has offered the feature for
But what vendors call private browsing, others call porn mode.
Not everyone who uses private browsing wants to view porn anonymously, but
there is a good reason for the name. Private browsing can prevent others who
sit down at your computer from seeing what Web sites you've visited, but
it doesn't do much to keep more sophisticated sleuths from seeing where
you've been and what you've been doing.
When browsers are in privacy mode, they automatically delete search histories,
browse histories and page caches. But they do nothing to protect you from hackers
or spyware that tracks and reports on your online activities.
"The private-browsing mode avoids embarrassment and prevents your spouse
from learning about the surprise gift you're researching for her,"
said Ray Dickenson, chief technology officer at Authentium. The company offers
SafeCentral technology for secure browsing.
"But it doesn't prevent the disclosure of your user names, passwords,
credit card numbers and other personal information to criminals," he added.
"While we applaud the feature as a valuable tool for users, we're
concerned the name will only exacerbate the current explosion of digitally cultivated
identity theft by fooling users into thinking they're protected."
Authentium obviously has an interest in warning users about what private browsing
does not protect them from, but some degree of paranoia is warranted.
Make no mistake, private browsing is a welcome feature. As vendors say, it
can keep your spouse from finding out -- accidentally or otherwise --
about the birthday present you just ordered online. And yes, it can keep your
friends, family and co-workers from seeing items in your browser history that
you don't want them to see.
But don't get the idea that private browsing offers any real protection
from the Internet's more nefarious denizens.
William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).