Patrick Marshall answers your personal-technology questions each week.
Q: I have a Dell PC with the latest Windows 10 and I am running only Kaspersky virus protection. I have used Kaspersky for about 10 years, and I have been very happy with the product. Previously I used McAfee and other virus protection, but had more issues. Given all the talk about Kaspersky, would you recommend I remove the program and use just the Windows Defender that comes with Windows 10? Also, do you think it is possible that Kaspersky has built in some programming that makes its complete removal impossible?
A: I do believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” and while the Department of Homeland Security has taken preliminary steps to remove Kaspersky software from government agencies’ computers, there hasn’t been any solid evidence made public of Kaspersky software doing anything nefarious. The product continues to be highly rated by reviewers.
At the same time, there are many anti-virus and anti-malware products on the market that aren’t under suspicion. So if you feel uncomfortable with Kaspersky, you have a lot of options available.
If it sounds like I’m punting, I am. And it’s worth noting that there are no assurances that security products from other companies haven’t been compromised or that hackers haven’t found ways to get around their protections.
The best rule of thumb I can offer is this: Keep really sensitive data off computers that are connected to the internet. Beyond that, make sure you’re running security software that you feel good about.
One other suggestion: Check with your internet service provider to see if it offers reputable security software for free. Both CenturyLink and Comcast do.
Oh, and yes, it’s possible for a program to surreptitiously leave code behind after uninstalling. The only way to be at all confident of removing such code is to reformat the drive and reinstall your applications and data. Even then, some really sophisticated malware — called “rootkits” — can survive drive reformatting. If you have reason to suspect this is the case, you’d either want to chuck the drive or take it to a specialist.
To be honest, after taking the basic precautions, I stop worrying until I see signs of problems with the computer. We are far more likely to encounter malware from clicking on untrusted links in emails and on web pages than from anything else.
Q: When I Google a subject and the related sites come up, I often see a notation at the bottom of a listing saying, “You previously visited this site.” I contacted Microsoft and they said there was nothing they can do, since it is a Google feature and not connected with them. How can I delete these notices? Highlighting them and hitting “delete” has no effect.
— Name withheld on request
A: I haven’t been able to replicate your experience, which tells me that the tracking of your website visits is likely a function of the web browser you’re using. While you don’t mention which browser you are using, all the major ones allow you to erase records of visited sites. You can either retroactively erase data about visited sites or you can proactively prevent the browser from recording this information.
Since you mention contacting Microsoft, I’ll assume you’re using Internet Explorer as your browser. To delete browsing history, click on the gear icon in the upper-right-hand corner and then select internet Options. Under the General tab you’ll see a section labeled “History.” There you can specify how many days you want the browser to keep a record of sites visited. Alternatively, you can check a box that will cause the history to be erased whenever you close Internet Explorer.
Internet Explorer also offers an incognito mode called “InPrivate Browsing” that prevents cookies and temporary internet files from being left on your hard drive. It also deletes browsing history, form data and saved passwords when you close the browser.
To launch an InPrivate Browsing session, just press Shft-Ctrl-P.