Are HTTPS Connections Really Safe?

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I’m confused. I keep hearing that https makes your connection to a website “secure”. What does that mean? Does it mean I can trust the site I land on?

“Https”, or secure http, is an important part of keeping you and your data safe online.

But it’s only a part. Understanding what it does and does not do is important.

To begin with, https does two, and only two, things.

Read moreAre HTTPS Connections Really Safe?

How Do I Change My Website to Be an https Secure Site?

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I manage the website for a small non-profit. My HTML skills are just enough to stay ahead of the Executive Director’s requests. They have asked if we can switch to an https secure site – with all pages being HTTPS. How does one do that? The HTML does not seem to change, but there must be something that tells the browsers to switch to encrypted communication.

This isn’t about how your website is designed — as you note, the HTML doesn’t change. It’s about how your site is hosted.

When you use https, the connection requested by your browser is different. Behind the scenes, https is a completely different protocol than http. Your web server needs to understand and support that for your site.

How you make that happen isn’t standard, but it is getting easier.

Read moreHow Do I Change My Website to Be an https Secure Site?

Two Steps to Better Search Results

As I mentioned in a previous article, people are often confused as to what is and is not “searching”. But even when they know they’re searching, they often give up in frustration when they don’t find what they want.

Searching effectively is the key to unlocking the vast amount of information available to us on the internet. Unfortunately, searching well is a bit of mystical art.

While advanced stuff you can do with most search engines (like Google or Bing or others) is pretty impressive, you don’t need to be a “search engine jockey” to get better search results.

I want to share the two mistakes I see people making most often. I’ll also share a two-step approach to getting better search results that I’m convinced will get you what you’re looking for well over 80% of the time (assuming what you’re looking for exists, of course ūüôā ).

Read moreTwo Steps to Better Search Results

Why Do Ads Follow Me Around the Internet?

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After visiting major online computer and electronic retailers’ websites, I find that they have tracked items I looked at, combined with my computer’s browser settings or web address and then displayed these items as pop-up ads in my other browser pages. I believe something from the computer store website has inserted spyware into my browser settings and I refuse to trust any spyware. If I increase the security settings, many sites I need to visit no longer function. I have pop-up blocking enabled and expensive anti-virus working, but this is circumvented. I can individually block the sites, but how or what can remove their new spyware from my computer?

Let me put your mind at ease: this isn’t spyware, and it’s not malicious.

It may be a little creepy, but there’s no intent other than marketing.

Read moreWhy Do Ads Follow Me Around the Internet?

Supercookies and Evercookies and No Cookies at All: Resistance Is Futile

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I just read an article talking about so-called ‚Äúsupercookies‚ÄĚ and “evercookies” — cookies which are supposedly impossible to delete, and left without the computer user’s permission or even knowledge. What are ‚Äúsupercookies‚ÄĚ? What are “evercookies”? And how can I protect my computer from them?

I’ll start out by saying that options to protect yourself from supercookies and evercookies are relatively¬†limited, if effective at all.

Supercookies and evercookies are the result of a website owner’s desire (or more often, the desire¬†of the advertising networks used by websites) to accumulate data about computer users and the sites they visit — even those users who disable or clear cookies in their browser regularly.

Bottom line: clearing cookies isn’t enough — not nearly enough.

And there may be nothing that is.

Read moreSupercookies and Evercookies and No Cookies at All: Resistance Is Futile

Half a Dozen Uses for OneDrive

If you don’t trust Microsoft, you should probably stop reading. If you don’t trust Microsoft, you probably won’t trust OneDrive with your files.

If you’ve decided you’re never going to trust “the cloud”, you can stop reading now as well. There’s no getting around the fact that OneDrive is, at its heart, a cloud-based service.

If you have Windows 10, especially if you have Microsoft’s Office 365, you already have OneDrive available to you. (If not, it’s easy to get.) If you’re interested in learning how you can put OneDrive to use, read on.

I’m convinced that OneDrive is one of Microsoft’s most under-appreciated services.

Read moreHalf a Dozen Uses for OneDrive

Dealing with Browser Problems

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I haven’t seen you mention Firefox problems. I’ve been using it for internet but it goes into “not responding” mode, particularly when I click on a link in a news email.

Actually, I talk about browser problems all the time. Particularly since people encounter browser problems all the time. ūüôā

The problem, though, is that it’s never as simple as telling you “Well, here’s what you do to stop ‘not responding’ problems”. There are so many possible causes, there’s no way to know which one might applies to your situation.

What I use instead is a more general approach to dealing with internet web browser problems that applies to all popular browsers — not only FireFox, but Chrome, Internet Explorer, and more.

Read moreDealing with Browser Problems

What’s a Browser Cache? How Do I Clear It? Why Would I Want To?

The browser cache appears in more answers than questions, but often causes even more questions.

Even while following instructions to empty the cache, many people aren’t clear on what this piece of magic really is, or why clearing the cache does anything at all.

Let’s review what the browser cache is and why it exists. I’ll also point you to steps to clear it in Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, and try to dream up some reasons why that sometimes helps.

Read moreWhat’s a Browser Cache? How Do I Clear It? Why Would I Want To?

Is Copyright Still an Issue If Something’s Not Available Anywhere?

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I want to be able to copy some old VHS to DVD via my PC. Your site answers all the questions except one, as 99% of my VHS tapes have copyright restrictions. Is there a device I can obtain that will allow me to copy these tapes? As most of these movies are now ‘out of production’ and unobtainable I do not see copyright as an issue.

Before I dive in, I need to be super clear: I’m not a lawyer. Never have been, and don’t plan on becoming one. This is not legal advice; use it at your own risk, no animals were harmed, some objects may appear smaller, and so on and so on.

That being said, what follows is my pretty clear opinion, which I believe to be relatively accurate.

The bottom line: copyright is most definitely an issue.

Read moreIs Copyright Still an Issue If Something’s Not Available Anywhere?

How Do I Get My Web Browser’s Menu and Toolbar Back?

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I have lost my internet toolbar which allows me to go to my tools, file, internet options, etc. What do I do about this?

From your description, I’m going to assume you mean that all this is¬†happening within Internet Explorer, though similar features are present in other browsers (as well as other applications).

It’s easy to accidentally hide menus and toolbars.

I’ll examine those, and show you how to get your toolbar, menu, or whatever¬†it is that you’re missing back.

Read moreHow Do I Get My Web Browser’s Menu and Toolbar Back?

How Do I Remove Myself from the Search Engines?

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It was unwise of me to put in my name in some¬†guestbooks. I’d like to remove my information from the search results of the¬†major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and so forth. I tried in vain to contact¬†the webmasters of those sites. I’m becoming fussier about that and it’s getting¬†more awkward as far as my profession is concerned. Would you please assist me¬†in dealing with this problem?

Search engines are amazing. They’ve collected and indexed billions and billions of pages¬†of information out on the internet, making them¬†available for any of us to find, review, and use.

Getting into search engines is not terribly difficult. Getting out? The news is not good.

In fact, in my opinion, it’s a lost cause.

Read moreHow Do I Remove Myself from the Search Engines?

What Good is Incognito Mode?

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I use incognito mode in my web browser to keep my online activities private. I mentioned that to a friend and he said it wasn’t private at all. If he’s right … what’s the point?

You’re both right, and you’re both wrong.

Incognito mode in Google Chrome (also referred to as “Private” or “InPrivate” in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, and other browsers) protects your privacy to a point.

It’s critical to know where that is, because beyond that point, Incognito does exactly nothing to keep you more private.

Read moreWhat Good is Incognito Mode?

Is the Cloud Dangerous?

One of the comments I received on my article on lessons learned from a fairly public online hacking was very concise:

“That’s why the cloud is dangerous.”

I think a lot of people feel that to varying degrees.

I disagree strongly.

I also think believing the cloud is dangerous prevents you from taking advantage of the things it can do for you —¬†things like protecting your data…

… as well as a number of things you’re already doing, and have been doing¬†for years.

Read moreIs the Cloud Dangerous?

How Do I Stop Websites from Pestering Me About Notifications?

It seems many websites now really, really want to keep you as informed and as up to date as possible by providing notifications in your web browser when something they think is important happens. As on mobile devices, all these websites seem to act as if they were the MOST IMPORTANT WEBSITE EVER, and if it were up to them, you’d be faced with a never-ending stream of notifications.

Fortunately, most browsers ask if you want a specific website to present notifications the first time you visit. Naturally, we almost always say “no”, and move on.

The problem? So many websites want to display notifications that even responding to these queries can quickly get annoying.

Fortunately, in most browsers you can turn if off.

Read moreHow Do I Stop Websites from Pestering Me About Notifications?

What’s an “Internal Server Error” and How Do I Fix It?

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I’m trying to download software from a specific site. No matter what I¬†try to download, I get this error message:

Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request. Please contact the server administrator webmaster@******.com and inform them of the time the error occurred and anything you might have done that may have caused the error. More information about this error may be available in the server error log.
Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

How is this resolved?

I’m very familiar with this error. I see it all the time when setting up¬†or making changes to websites.

The good news? It’s not your fault.

The bad news? There’s probably nothing you can do.

Read moreWhat’s an “Internal Server Error” and How Do I Fix It?

Five Reasons I Went All-in with Dropbox

I use Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and Amazon Web Service‚Äôs Simple Storage Service (S3) for online or “cloud” storage and backup. Each has their pros and cons, and each has their role in my setup.

I was reviewing my costs recently. I noted that I have over a terabyte of photographs safely backed up to S3, and concluded that S3 is both inconvenient (it isn‚Äôt really ‚Äúsimple‚ÄĚ to access) and possibly my most expensive option.

Thanks to a recent change, I’ve settled on Dropbox as my most effective online storage solution.

Read moreFive Reasons I Went All-in with Dropbox

How Do I Uninstall and Reinstall Internet Explorer in Windows 10?

Because it’s so tightly intertwined with Windows itself, repairing Internet Explorer (IE) by uninstalling and reinstalling has always been a somewhat obscure process. With the advent of Windows 10, that process changed. It’s no more or less obscure; it’s just different.

Uninstalling IE can be marginally helpful if you never use it, but by resetting some of the software and settings reinstalling can be a useful diagnostic step if you’re having problems.

Read moreHow Do I Uninstall and Reinstall Internet Explorer in Windows 10?

Does Getting Porn Spam Mean You’ve Been Surfing Porn Sites?

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Why does my sister’s email get hit with xxx-rated “chat ads”? Mine doesn’t¬†ever… would you have had to visit a site of that type or signed up etc. to be¬†getting those kind of ads?

No.

To the relief of those whose partners have wondered, asked, or accused along those same lines, the answer is an unequivocal no. Getting porn spam does not mean you’ve been visiting porn. Period.

The opposite¬†is also true: not getting porn spam doesn’t imply you haven’t¬†been surfing porn.

Getting porn spam and visiting porn sites are generally¬†unrelated to one another.¬†I’ll explain why that is.

Read moreDoes Getting Porn Spam Mean You’ve Been Surfing Porn Sites?

How Does Bitcoin Mining Work?

It’s been hard to avoid hearing about cryptocurrencies lately, especially Bitcoin. Opinions run the gamut from it being “worthless, artificial gold” to the wave of the future and next universal currency we’ll all be using someday. Regardless of what you think about its future, the underlying technology is fascinating to people like me.

Recent reports once again question the (unverified) excessive amount of electricity being used to power Bitcoin mining operations.

The question is, of course, how does mining something that exists only as bits and bytes in a computer use so much electricity? Heck, just what is “mining” in this context, anyway?

To understand that a little better while sidestepping some of the complexity, we’ll play a game.

Read moreHow Does Bitcoin Mining Work?

What are Browser Cookies and How Are They Used?

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of sites that include a “This site uses cookies, is that OK?” kind of warning in response to regulations imposed by various countries.

The question assumes, of course, that you know what a cookie is.

It’s a surprisingly simple concept that can be used in a variety of ways, ranging from tracking your behavior across the web to ensuring that you don’t need to log in every time you open even a single email.

Read moreWhat are Browser Cookies and How Are They Used?

How Do Chrome and Chrome Relate?

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3-4 times per week I find a Chrome script message overlaid on my email s/w (Thunderbird) page.

Typical message reads “chrome://global/content/bindings/general.xml:113”

The message text varies, but is always prefaced with “chrome…”.¬†When this happens, Firefox slows to a crawl and the T-Bird tray icon shows an ominous orange background.¬†I had Chrome on my machine at one time but deleted it (hopefully) using Revo Uninstaller at the most thorough uninstall setting.

In yet another case of horrifically confusing terminology choices, the “chrome” you’re seeing isn’t the Chrome you’re thinking of.

Put another way, this isn’t the Chrome you’re looking for.

Read moreHow Do Chrome and Chrome Relate?

Is Online Document Conversion Safe?

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Many programs on the internet let you do things such as change a Word document to a PDF by sending it to the cloud and then having it return converted. How safe is this?

The short answer is my most common answer: it depends.

It depends on who is providing the service and how sensitive you feel your documents are.

There are good services and bad services. Fortunately, there are also alternatives.

Read moreIs Online Document Conversion Safe?

What Recourse Do I Have If Someone Used My Credit Card Online?

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Someone used my credit card online without my permission. My American Express statement showed a charge for software that I had not ordered. I notified Amex and they checked it out and said that the charge appeared legitimate. The problem was that the order data supplied was my card number, my address, and everything else, except the email address was not my email address.

Someone used all of my data and created a special email address to download software and charged it to my account. Amex has turned this over to their Fraud department, and my card number has been changed.

Can an email address be identified as to who originated it?

If a software provider gives a customer a license number for their software, can they revoke that license and make that software inoperable?

What you’ve experienced is very close to identity theft. Besides your credit card number, someone knows enough about you to correctly fill in the billing address used to verify card ownership.

The opportunities for full resolution are few and difficult.

Can the email address be traced? It’s extremely unlikely. Can the software be disabled? Ditto.

Let’s look at the steps you should take when this happens, and why resolution is rarely satisfactory.

Read moreWhat Recourse Do I Have If Someone Used My Credit Card Online?

What’s Your Take on Firefox Quantum?

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I think many, like myself, will like to hear your evaluation on the latest Firefox. I know I lost a number of my regular add-ons since the new version is not compatible. I hope the programmers will get busy and fix them. I appreciate all those who make Firefox’s add-ons.

Firefox Quantum, AKA version 57 or later, is touted as representing a major overhaul of Firefox to improve speed, security, and privacy. At the same time, the interface used to enable add-ons has changed, presumably for the same reasons.

Like you, I was curious if the new Firefox would behave differently. Not long ago, I ran a quick personal trial of half a dozen different browsers, and found that every single one of them had issues of one sort or another. Be it memory usage, speed, compatibility, or something else entirely, none of them were without issues.

I loaded up Firefox Quantum and have been using it for a couple of weeks now. In fact, I’m typing in it right now.

Read moreWhat’s Your Take on Firefox Quantum?

What Does It Mean to Register a Domain?

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What is the concept of domains and domain registering?

Domain registration is something many people take for granted. Yes, it means ownership of a sort, but it’s not enough to register a domain; if you actually want to use it for something, you’ll need to do more.

As I write this, I own something like 69 too many domains, so I know a little bit about it.

Let me walk you through the concepts.

Read moreWhat Does It Mean to Register a Domain?

Where Do Cookies Come From?

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I have cookies on my computer from websites that no one in my household said they had visited. Is this possible? Is there a way to tell if a cookie was an actual site visited or a third-party cookie?

Yes, it’s very possible to find cookies from websites you’ve never been to. In fact, I’d say it’s almost a certainty.

However, I can’t think of a way of telling third-party cookies apart from those sites you actually visited.

It gets surprisingly complex.

Let’s look at where cookies come from.

Read moreWhere Do Cookies Come From?

How Do I Change My Browser Home Page Back to What I Want?

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I upgraded my browser, and I’ve always had MSN as my¬†homepage. Now, suddenly, the MSN homepage is all changed and I hate it. Can I change it back, and¬†if so, how do I do it?

When your browser’s home page changes, there are two possibilities at play: the home page setting in your browser has been changed, or the content at the home page you’ve selected has changed.

I’ll look at both, and what you can and can’t do about each.

Read moreHow Do I Change My Browser Home Page Back to What I Want?

Is It Time to Start Using an Adblocker?

One of the positions I’ve held for as long as Ask Leo! been around is that adblockers are fundamentally wrong. They prevent sites that depend on advertising from making the revenue they need to survive.

Let’s be clear about one thing up front: this isn’t about greed. This is about survival. Many useful websites exist solely because of the advertising revenue they’re able generate. If that goes away, the sites go away. Rarely does advertising on small- and medium-sized sites cover more than the basic costs.

If you consider viewing advertisements the “cost” of consuming the content you want for free, then blocking those ads can rightfully be¬†considered theft. You’re using the content without paying the price.

That’s been my position for years.

But, at the risk of being hypocritical, I’m starting to change my mind. And the advertisers have no one to blame but themselves.

Read moreIs It Time to Start Using an Adblocker?

How Can One Service Take Down So Much?

As I type this, a surprisingly large number of web sites – including some aspects of Ask Leo! – are recovering from a massive outage at one of the internet’s major cloud service providers: Amazon.

While the specifics of what caused the downtime has yet to be made public, the outage serves to highlight some important aspects of the modern internet, and raise a few questions along the way.

Read moreHow Can One Service Take Down So Much?

How Much Can I Trust Information on the Internet?

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I’m a computer science student, and I’m confused about the extent to which I¬†should rely on the internet for the information about computers. For example,¬†if we take the term “IP address,” then a lot of information has been provided¬†on (for example, Wikipedia), which is a lot more than what is written in the¬†recognized books. My question is how much should I rely on the web for such¬†technical aspects?

I originally addressed this question in an Answercast back in 2012.

It was an important question then, but oh, my, it’s amazing to consider how much more¬†relevant this question has become since then. Of course, it’s not just about technical information, but also about information relating to just about anything you can imagine.

You know Рlike the news.

I’ll look at the quality of information available on the¬†internet and offer a few suggestions to help sort out what is good and¬†what is questionable.

Read moreHow Much Can I Trust Information on the Internet?

What is Cloud Computing?

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So what on earth is cloud computing? Is it beneficial? I keep hearing all about “the cloud”, just what is it?

The best definition of “the cloud”, or “cloud computing”, that I’ve run across is, to paraphrase:

Cloud computing is just using someone else’s computer.

In some ways, it’s too simplistic to be useful, so I’ll dive deeper and explain more.

At another level, it’s wonderfully¬†simple and perfectly¬†accurate.

Read moreWhat is Cloud Computing?

Change the Search Engine in Microsoft Edge

The Edge browser is Microsoft’s latest attempt to put a nail in the coffin of Internet Explorer. Designed from the ground up as a faster, safer, alternative browser, it’s the default web browser in Windows 10.

Unfortunately, it’s been slow to catch up to the level of features included with other browsers. In some cases, though, it’s not that a¬†feature isn’t there¬†– it’s that it’s so well hidden.

This seems to be the case with changing the default search engine used by Edge. It’s not really obvious how to do it, but¬†it’s actually not that hard.

Read moreChange the Search Engine in Microsoft Edge

How Do I Prevent My Internet-connected Devices From Being Hijacked?

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I am concerned about the recent denial of service attacks that have, evidently, been driven by huge numbers of compromised internet-connected devices. I don‚Äôt want any of my devices to be part of that attack. All of my internet-connected devices are located behind my router (granted an old Linksys BEFSR81) and password protected. Is everything sufficiently ‚Äúhidden‚ÄĚ from internet attacks?? In any event, are strong passwords enough to prevent rogue access?

It’s definitely a concern. Recent events have made two things excruciatingly clear:

  • We’re connecting more and more non-traditional devices to the internet.
  • Security on those devices is, apparently, abysmal.

So how do you protect yourself from being part of the problem? Well, as with so many things, there’s no clear or absolute answer¬†– but I do have a couple of ideas.

Read moreHow Do I Prevent My Internet-connected Devices From Being Hijacked?

Why CAPTCHA?

We’ve all seen them, and to one degree or another, been frustrated by them: those distorted characters we’re supposed to be able to recognize, read, and type into a corresponding field on a web page.

That’s a CAPTCHA, which is an¬†acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell¬†Computers and Humans Apart.”¬†It’s even trademarked by Carnegie Mellon¬†University.

As frustrating as they sometimes are, they exist for a very important reason.

Read moreWhy CAPTCHA?

What Does “There is a problem with this website’s security certificate” Mean, and What Should I Do?

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I have a laptop that consistently has a problem when it accesses a site online. Each and every time I get the same message from the site I am visiting. The message is strange and I have no knowledge of how to correct the implied problem.

The message is: “There is a problem with this website’s security¬†certificate. The security certificate presented by this website has¬†expired or is not yet valid.”

This message appears when I try to access my email account.

The problem is most likely not yours to correct. More often than not, it’s a problem with the website¬†itself.

You still need to be careful, though.

Let’s look at security certificates on https connections: what they¬†mean and what you should do when faced with messages such as this.

Read moreWhat Does “There is a problem with this website’s security certificate” Mean, and What Should I Do?

Where Do You Get Your Answers?

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Where do you get your answers?

Unlike search engines such as Google or Bing, Ask Leo! is a real person: me, Leo Notenboom. That means when I get a question (and I get lots of questions), there are various steps I take to come up with the answers I post here.

Did I mention I get lots of questions? Unfortunately, that means I¬†can’t answer every single one. However, I can outline some of the resources I¬†use when I need them.

Read moreWhere Do You Get Your Answers?

How Do I Search a Site That Has No Search Box?

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Leo, the search box on your site disappeared. How do I search?

The search box in the upper right of each page depends on two things: Google being accessible from your location, and Javascript being enabled. If either of those conditions aren’t met, there’s no search box. (Firefox’s NoScript extension is the most common cause for the latter – just make sure askleo.com gets an exception, and all should be well.)

But that got me to thinking …

As long as you can reach Google, you can still search my site. In fact, you can search any site that is searchable.

It’s a handy trick to know.

Read moreHow Do I Search a Site That Has No Search Box?

Why Do Websites Use Pop-ups?

If you read¬†my article¬†Can we no longer view websites without getting pop-ups?, you’ll see that some of the comments on that article¬†range from annoyed to indignant – and not at the state of the web in general (though that’s¬†certainly represented there as well).

No, some people are absolutely outraged that while reading an article that will hopefully help them make pop-ups go away, they’re suddenly faced with…

A pop-up.

From me.

So, let’s talk about pop-ups, why they exist, why some are worse than others, and why some sites (including Ask Leo!)¬†use them.

Read moreWhy Do Websites Use Pop-ups?

Does cleaning cookies force me to re-verify my bank log-in?

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Hi, Leo. I believe that every time I run CCleaner, my bank doesn’t recognize¬†me anymore. I then have to go through a whole rigmarole to get on to my¬†account. It’s been suggested that the cause is that I’ve erased the cookie that¬†my bank site has planted and therefore it doesn’t recognize my PC anymore. How can I identify its cookies so that I can¬†isolate it so that CCleaner will not erase it. If you don’t agree, then what do you think is the problem?

I agree completely.

It’s absolutely the case that banks and other¬†systems make heavy use of cookies to aid you in the quest for security, or to just make it possible for you to¬†go from one page to the next without having to log in for every single page.

So, yes, cleaning out cookies, especially if you’re cleaning out all¬†cookies, does exactly what you’ve described. It will force your bank (and you) to go¬†through those extra steps.

Read moreDoes cleaning cookies force me to re-verify my bank log-in?