Temporary Internet Files - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
A little bit of time invested into learning about internet security can go a long way in preventing mishaps on your computer. Temporary internet files are not something we should be afraid of, but we should certainly be careful in how much we trust them and how we deal with them.
Temporary internet files are image, text, and formatting files that are stored on your hard drive by the websites that you visit. They are placed there by the websites without your having to do anything. The files are stored on your computer the first time you visit the site so that the next time you go to that webpage you only have to load new information or files that have changed since the last time you visited - files that have not changed are loaded from the temporary internet files folder at a much faster speed than over the internet.
This seems like an incredibly appealing option, especially to those of us still working at home on dial-up connections (my teenage brother-in-law insists I'm "old school" because I don't have DSL - I think he may be right). Storing the temporary internet files on the hard drive significantly cuts down the amount of time it takes to completely load and view a website.
There are a few question areas, however, that need to be considered in any discussion about temporary internet files. First, and arguably the most trivial of the concerns, is that you may miss out on all of the updated information the website has to offer. If your browser loads the files from your temporary internet files folder rather than the updated material from the website, you may miss out on an updated football score, or you may get a different image than the one others are viewing. The system is designed so that things like that don't happen, but the possibility is out there.
Second, storing huge numbers of files can bog down your computer, slowing down its ability to do even the simplest of tasks, such as word processing (a deadly one-two combination if you're working with dial-up!). Fortunately, you can control the number or size of the files that are being stored on your hard drive. Typically under the Tools>Options menu of your browser you'll be able to set the amount of your hard drive you're willing to dedicate to temporary internet files. You may want to set this high or low, depending on your browsing habits and need for speed.
Third, the temporary internet files folder may contain files that contain viruses, inappropriate images or text, and files that could leak personal information to websites. This is obviously a huge concern any time you allow someone virtually unregulated access to your hard drive. Images from an inappropriate website you accidentally stumbled across (it has happened to all of us) may be stored on your hard drive. Corrupted files may be placed there by an unfamiliar website you only visited once. Cookies and other files may potentially spawn popups that cover your screen in a matter of seconds.
Before you grab your pitch fork and storm the beastís castle, let me mention a few things you can do to bring a little control to your temporary internet files folder without destroying it completely.
I already mentioned limiting the amount of your hard drive dedicated to holding files from visited websites. This is the best option for those who may be less concerned about corrupted or inappropriate files being stored and more concerned about the ability of their Jurassic-era computer to perform at a decent speed. Some versions of the popular browsers won't allow you to completely eliminate storing files, but you can limit the resources to 1% of your hard drive or a small number of megabytes.
Some opt to regularly clean out their temporary internet files folder - obviously this will eliminate malignant files and free up some space for your computer; but it will also eliminate files you may want. A quick note about the files that begin with "Cookie:" - cleaning out the folder will not actually delete the cookies. The cookie files in the temporary internet files folder are simple files that point the browser to the actual cookie in the "Cookies" folder on your hard drive. If you are interested in truly purging your system of internet files, you'll need to clean out that folder as well.
In my view, the most judicious option is to utilize available software to manage the content of your temporary internet files. Some files you want because they make your life easier. Some files you don't want because it bogs down your computer and makes your grandmother blush. Software is available that scans your computer and finds all the internet files (including cookies). The software makes recommendations as to whether the file in question is good, bad, or ugly - all you have to do is decide to keep or trash it, then click the appropriate button.
Temporary internet files can make our internet browsing time a quick and convenient experience. Unfortunately, they may also pose a risk to the security of our hard drives. With a little hands-on management we can keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our computers happy, safe, and protected.
This article was posted on January 19, 2005
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