Privacy, performance and resource issues with IE

Users will benefit from a better understanding of some subtle IE nuances that affect the privacy of their computer systems.

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Microsoft Internet Explorer is the browser of choice for the majority of home and office users. It is easy to use and is the accepted 'standard' when viewing many popular Web elements. It is important for both administrators and home users to understand some subtle nuances of IE that can/do affect their privacy and the resources of their computer systems.

Administrators and home users must remember to clear the "Temporary Internet Files" on a regular basis. The "delete all offline content" configuration setting is an obvious selection that can be established when IE is installed. However, users of this product should be very aware of not only invisible files but also the index.dat file that is integral to the IE product. If the Temporary Internet Folder is cleared on a regular basis, no entries will appear in the Windows Explorer details pane. Most users would then assume then that all the files have been deleted.

Try this exercise when the folder appears clear -- use the search function within Windows Explorer and enter *.* while the Temporary Internet folder is selected. The results will surprise most people! The extent of system resources that these invisible files and folders use can be seen by right clicking on the folder and selecting properties. The amount of space that these files consume can also be seen here. Even if you have established a configuration setting within IE stating that the temporary files will not take more than X amount of hard drive space, this limit will be surpassed! These files/folders consume space and will greatly reduce the loading speed of user profiles if the Internet settings are selected as part of the profile.

The privacy compromise arises from a hidden system file called 'index.dat'. Microsoft states that this file is used by the browser to speed the access to frequently visited URLs by caching the web addresses. This file can only be viewed using Notepad and cannot be opened at all if too large. The file lists all the URL addresses that have been accessed from this computer. The file can be copied and read by users but cannot be overwritten. Nor can it be cleared with conventional methods. It is not accessible from a command prompt and will grow with no constraints!

The solution is to clear this file with one of several third party utilities currently on the market -- but it will be regenerated as a new instance whenever the computer boots.

The following are my reccomendations for both administrators and home users:

  1. Clear all invisible files on a regular basis ('desktop.ini' and 'index.dat' cannot be deleted) from the Temporary Internet Files folder.
  2. Clear all invisible files on a regular basis from the 'Documents and Settings' directory for each user of a computer.
  3. Download a suitable cleaner and use it on a regular basis to clear the 'index.dat' file.
  4. The size of these invisible files/folders will deplete the user's total against disk quotas and should be taken into account when calculating required space.
  5. These invisible files are part of the 'redirected material' if a Group Policy for folder redirection is employed and should be taken into account when calculating required space.
  6. Make users aware of these Internet Explorer features to reduce resource wastefulness.


This was first published in December 2002

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