It seems that Microsoft Internet Explorer keeps a record of all web sites you ever visit, and all search engine terms you type in to any search engine—even if you tell it to clear the history! It also collects all your cookies from every site you visit, in a separate set of secret folders hidden away from the normal cookie folder—so even if you think you cleared out your cookies, you probably didn’t.
They’ve clearly gone to a lot of work to prevent people finding these hidden files too—they’re specially flagged to stop them displaying in the DOS shell or Windows. Even if you unflag them, special code in Windows will hide them again next time you reboot. The code is hidden away in rundll32.exe, which is supposed to be just the tool that runs 32-bit DLL libraries. Sneaky or what?
In fact, only the old Windows Explorer program (left over from Win3.x) will show the directories. Even then, Windows is specially patched to prevent you from looking at the files unless you copy them somewhere else first!
So what’s in these files? Well, looking at my own machine, I see a log of sites I’ve visited that I know I haven’t been to this year, and searches for stuff I was researching last year as well. There are I can think of no legitimate reason for this information to still be stored in database files on my disk. Even ignoring the possible privacy implications, all this unencrypted secretly logged data represents a significant security risk. Do I want anyone who gains physical access to my machine to be able to get my online banking account details? I don’t think so.
For more information and a guided tour of what Microsoft have secretly stored on your hard disk, see <URL:http://www.f***windows.com/content/ms-hidden-files.shtml> I think I’m about to switch browser, now that Mozilla seems stable enough to use… I’m glad I’ve never used Outlook Express.