Online privacy and security: frequently asked questions

Here are answers to common questions about online privacy and security.

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What is phishing and how can Internet Explorer help protect me from it?

Online phishing (pronounced fishing) is a way to trick computer users into revealing personal or financial information through an e‑mail message or website. This information is then usually used for identity theft. Internet Explorer's SmartScreen Filter can help identify suspicious and reported phishing websites. For more information, see SmartScreen Filter: frequently asked questions.

How can Windows help me browse more safely?

Windows provides a built-in troubleshooter that can automatically find and fix some common security problems in Internet Explorer:

  • Open the Internet Explorer Safety troubleshooter by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type troubleshooter, and then click Troubleshooting. Click View all, and then click Internet Explorer Safety.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small text files that some websites put on your computer to store information about you. Cookies can make browsing more convenient by letting you return to websites without having to log in again, or by remembering your webpage preferences. Most cookies are created by websites that you visit and they are useful to you. Some cookies, however, are created on your computer by advertisers to track your browsing and shopping habits without your knowledge or permission. Internet Explorer lets you block or allow cookies. For more information, see Cookies: frequently asked questions.

What should I know about privacy policies?

Many websites that collect personal information also publish privacy policies or privacy statements that describe how the site will use your information. Before entering any personal information into a website, you should read the privacy statement carefully, especially if you are unfamiliar with the site. Look for conditions that you do not agree with, such as allowing the website to share your information with others or the requirement that you will accept e‑mail or advertising. Remember that even though the website might have a privacy statement, it doesn't mean that the website will not misuse your information. You should not give personal information to a website you do not trust. For more information, see When to trust a website.

How can I protect my privacy when shopping online?

Most online merchants use secure connections to provide an encrypted connection between Internet Explorer and the website. Encrypted connections make it difficult for a hacker to intercept your personal or financial information as it is being sent to the website. This encryption is provided by a security certificate, which is an electronic document that identifies the website. Although encryption can help protect your information as it travels over the Internet, it doesn't guarantee that the website is reputable or that they protect your information once they receive it. In Internet Explorer you will see a lock in the Security Status bar at the top of your browser. Click the lock to view a security report that displays the identity information about the website. For more information about secure transactions, see How to know if an online transaction is secure.

How can I help prevent websites from sharing my web browsing habits?

InPrivate Filtering can help you control whether information about the websites you visit is shared with other content providers. When you visit a website that displays content from another content provider, that content provider automatically receives some information about your visit. If you visit additional websites that have content from the same provider, that content provider can build a profile of your browsing habits. This information can be sold to other websites, or used for things such as targeted advertising. For more information on InPrivate Filtering, see InPrivate: frequently asked questions.

How can I prevent my computer from keeping a history of where I browse?

InPrivate Browsing can help you browse the web without leaving a trail on your computer while you're using the web. This can be helpful when using a public kiosk or if you don't want others who use your computer to see where you've been. To start InPrivate Browsing in Internet Explorer, click the Safety button, and then click InPrivate Browsing. Keep in mind, however, that InPrivate Browsing does not prevent websites or network administrators from seeing where you've been. For more information see What is InPrivate Browsing? You can also delete your browsing history without using InPrivate Browsing by clicking the Safety button in Internet Explorer, and then click Delete Browsing History. For more information, see Delete webpage history.

Where can I get more information about privacy, security, and online safety?

Internet Explorer has features that can help you browse more securely. For more information, see Security and privacy features in Internet Explorer.

The Microsoft Security at Home website provides tools, tips, and links to help you and your family browse the Internet more safely.