Configure and Maintain AutoComplete

by Tony Bradley [Published on 16 Feb. 2005 / Last Updated on 16 Feb. 2005]

Microsoft Internet Explorer offers the AutoComplete feature to remember past entries and automatically pre-populate fields as you type to save you some time and effort. You may find it quite convenient, but having AutoComplete remember username or password information can pose a security risk.

Internet Explorer has a built-in feature designed to make your web-browsing experience more convenient and efficient. Unfortunately, the convenience comes at a price when it comes to the security of your computer or the account you may log into.

The AutoComplete feature, which is enabled by default in Internet Explorer, remembers what you enter on various fields on web browser screens and forms. Once an entry has been memorized AutoComplete will automatically pre-populate the field with matching information from past entries as you begin typing.

This feature can help you work faster because you may only have to type one or two letters of an entry for AutoComplete to recognize and populate the field with information from a past session. It can also help you remember usernames and passwords so that you don't have to try and commit them all to memory yourself. That may not be a problem if you are sure you are the only one using the computer. But, if there is any chance that someone could walk up and use your computer while you are away or if you have a portable computer which could be lost or stolen, having this information stored in the system will make it that much easier for others to access your accounts and information.

To configure what information AutoComplete records you can follow these steps:

  1. Open an Internet Explorer browser window
  2. Select Tools
  3. Select Internet Options
  4. Select the Content tab
  5. Click the AutoComplete button

On the AutoComplete Settings window you can select or de-select checkboxes to choose which data AutoComplete will save. The Web Addresses option is relatively secure and poses only a slight privacy risk for those who are concerned about others knowing what web pages they have visited. However, the Forms option will save entries such as addresses, email addresses and possibly even account numbers or social security number information from web forms that you fill out. The User names and passwords on forms option poses a significant security risk in that anyone with access to the computer would be able to log in to any account or site that AutoComplete had saved the credentials for.

It is advisable to turn off AutoComplete completely, or, at the very least, de-select the boxes for Forms and for User names and passwords on forms to minimize the risk that AutoComplete will cache information which will pose a security risk or compromise your identity in any way. To be sure you are starting with a clean slate you should also go ahead and click on the buttons marked Clear Forms and Clear Passwords to ensure any previously cached information is purged.

Tony Bradley is a consultant and writer with a focus on network security, antivirus and incident response. He is the About.com Guide for Internet / Network Security (http://netsecurity.about.com), providing a broad range of information security tips, advice, reviews and information. Tony also contributes frequently to other industry publications. For a complete list of his freelance contributions you can visit Essential Computer Security (http://www.tonybradley.com).

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