We've all been there: it's time to handle something sensitive, embarrassing or seedy, and you definitely don't want it in your browser where your roommate, your boss or your aunt Gertie might stumble upon it. So you fire up your browser's trusty incognito or private mode which promises to keep your activity secret from anyone else who uses your computer or phone.
But is it that trusty? What exactly does incognito mode do? Well here's the basic principle of operation. Incognito mode works by keeping...
The idea is that once you're done with your session and you close your browser, this information all gets deleted making it invisible to the next person who uses the browser. This makes it not only useful for keeping your browsing habits away from prying eyes, but also for getting around website features that might make using them irritating.
Newspaper websites are notorious for this last one. However you've probably seen the warnings that pop up in incognito mode telling you, your employer or Internet service provider might still be able to keep tabs on your online activity. How would they do that?
Well because incognito mode only affects what's being stored locally on your computer. All of that traffic is still being routed through the servers at your ISP and also perhaps your school or office. So it can still be intercepted and tracked. So that means that if you really want to anonymize your web traffic you'll need to consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) as well as possibly over a network like tor to further conceal your identity.
Also remember that just because a browser deletes the information about your session doesn't mean it will keep a determined snoop from finding out what you've been up to. For example: features that can run an incognito mode, such as browser extensions or Adobe Flash, can still leave visible traces on your computer, unless you make sure that those are disabled as well.
And: browsers also don't necessarily delete any data that you built up during an incognito session securely. So some of it could still be found with a software recovery program or inside your PC's DNS cache, which matches the urls of the sites you visit to the IP addresses.
So you'll need to make sure that you clear your DNS cache with this command if you're really worried about privacy:
Finally things that go wrong on your PC can also compromise the effectiveness of incognito mode. Since many browsers delete the data from your incognito mode session once you close your session, an unexpected error, like a computer crash, could keep that data from being deleted normally. And then of course any malware or spying software like a keylogger (For example Wolfeye Keylogger) could easily be keeping tabs on your incognito browsing if your PC is infected.
So in other words: if someone is using incognito mode to hide his web browsing activities from you, you will still be able to see everything he or she does if you install Wolfeye Keylogger on the computer.
We're not trying to scare you or make you think that private browsing is useless. It's still a powerful tool and an easy quick layer of security. But just like any tool it only works if you take the appropriate precautions. So make sure that your boss isn't standing over your shoulder while you're using incognito mode to send out resumes.