- Topics Mentioned
- Operating System(s):
- Windows 7
You may not be aware of it, but Microsoft has implemented a tracking system that logs your every move online over long periods of time while you use Internet Explorer. These data files are called index.dat files. Microsoft has designed them for database storage keeping, so that when you open up websites or type URLs, the system knows what you are doing, and you will be directed to your results quicker. This allows, for instance, the browser to autocomplete URLs for you as you type them–but is this performance gain worth it?
Although the performance gains may justify Microsoft’s use of index.dat files, there are also drawbacks. Security should be the main concern if you are a heavy IE user. The index.dat files are used on versions of Windows prior to Windows 8. You may want to upgrade to Windows 8 and use IE10 if you value privacy because these files will be up and running even if you set Internet Explorer to the highest privacy setting.
According to Squidoo, website URLs, pictures, videos and e-mails you have sent from your IE browser will be saved in the index.dat files. These private aspects of your online life may be retrievable by third parties or people with access to your computer. The files may even contain your private conversations on various instant messaging services. Basically, anything you’ve done from your IE browser may be traceable.
What makes the index.dat files such a pain is that they are well hidden and very difficult to delete. There are multiple ones that are stored on different parts of your hard drive as open files (while Windows is running). Because they are open at all times when you run Windows, you cannot delete them manually by dragging them to the trash can. Windows does not allow deletion of open files. They are also locked files within your system, so you will have to know exactly where to look to find them and have administrator privileges. They live in each user’s profile that accesses your computer and are referenced by Windows quite often.
Milincorporated has listed all of the index.dat files when running Windows 7 or Windows Vista:
C:\Users\\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\index.dat
C:\Users\\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Low\Content.IE5index.dat
Other sources suggest they may be located in variations of the above, like C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\History\History.IE5\index.dat. So you may need to play with the file directories by adding AppData\Local to the directories mentioned above.
In all likelihood, you will not be able to see them from Windows Explorer. However, there is a desktop.ini text file in each directory where the files are located. Desktop.ini directs Windows Explorer to hide the index.dat files. Besides being open files and locked files, this makes it that much harder to delete them manually. In order to do so you will need to know what version of Windows you are running. If you are on Vista or Windows 7, then forget about it and read on to the next section below. If you are running on Windows ME, Windows 95 or Windows 98, then you will need to go into DOS mode. Then delete them by going to the folder directories outlined above.
Because of how they are referenced by Windows Explorer, Windows OS, and other aspects of their makeup, you will need to use specialized software to delete them if you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7. However, some sources suggest that you may still view them by going to Command Prompt in Safe Mode and typing in cd in front of the file location directories outlined above. One directory for instance would be read as cd\Users\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Low\Content.IE5index.dat.
Deleting the Files with Specialized Software
There are not only multiple files of this type on most versions of Windows, but the pathway to them sometimes differs depending on which version of Windows you are running. This is why removing them with specialized software may be a good idea if you value your privacy while using IE.
CCleaner is an application that is great for this task. It will remove the index.dat files with a Windows reboot. It is also compatible with other browsers (although they do not have their own index.dat files and are easier to clean manually) and has a Registry cleaning feature.
Another useful program that can prevent index.dat files from monitoring your online usage is IE Privacy Keeper. It is more of an automatic approach that is set up to delete the files after each browsing session. Like CCleaner, it offers Registry cleaning, but is only compatible with one other browser, which is Firefox. You can even choose what index.dat files and registry keys you want deleted and which ones you want to keep on your system when using IE Privacy Keeper.
Both CCleaner and Privacy Keeper are recommended if you want to get rid of your previous IE history and continue using IE on Windows before Windows 8.
What About Other Browsers?
Deleting your temp internet file cache, cookies and websites visited will not be enough to safeguard against someone who has access to your index.dat files and knows how to get this information. This is why for security purposes it may be wise to use browsers other than IE or use Windows 8 with IE 10 at the least. It is also wise to look into software such as CCleaner and IE Privacy Keeper if you have been using IE for sensitive work purposes.
There are other reasons why you shouldn’t be using outdated versions of IE for Web browsing. One such reason is the lack of HTML5 support. It is only fully supported in IE10 and not at all in IE8 and below. IE9 HTML5 support is very sub-standard as outlined by People of Mozilla. Firefox is a great alternative we recently covered for safer Web browsing, as is Chrome OS and IE10 with Windows 8.
Keep in mind that although other browsers may not have index.dat files associated with their use, if you do not regularly delete your cookies, browsing history and user data, your privacy and security could also be in jeopardy. It is also worth noting that Windows 8 in conjunction with IE 10 still records all of your data, it just doesn’t do it with index.dat files anymore and you can read about deleting this history here. It will be interesting to see if Windows 7 systems running IE 10 will use this system or not once IE10 comes to the older Windows OS.