Netscape Communicator Privacy & Security Settings

This page presents a guided tour of the major privacy and security preferences within Netscape Communicator. You will learn how to:

If you need more information about the key privacy and security issues that we'll cover on this page (the browser cache, the URL history, active content, and cookies), then see THIS page, which provides a short introduction to these several topics.

Browser Versions Covered

The screenshots you'll see are from Netscape Communicator 4.79. With one exception (the History and Location Bar settings), these screenshots are identical to what you'll see in all versions of the Netscape Communicator 4.x series, including:

Netscape Communicator 4.00-4.08
Netscape Communicator 4.50 & 4.51
Netscape Communicator 4.60 & 4.61
Netscape Communicator 4.70-4.80

If you're using the newer Netscape 7.0, there's a separate page devoted to the privacy & security settings you'll find in that version of Netscape HERE.

First Things First: What Version Do You Have?
   
Before we get started, let's figure out what version of Netscape you're running. You should know this information.
   
  To find your version of Netscape, click Help >> About Communicator... on the Netscape menu bar...
   
  Help >> About Communicator...
   
  A web page should open up with version information.
   
  About Netscape Communicator
   
  Right there is big bold letters is your version of Netscape -- Netscape Communicator 4.79, in this case.
   
  When you have the information you need, click the back button to return to the web page you were on.
   
 Configuring Netscape's Privacy & Security Preferences
   
Compared with Internet Explorer, Netscape's privacy and security settings are simpler and easier to manage, though they're more limited and less powerful.
   
1. Open the Netscape Preferences Box
   
  Open the Preferences box from w/in Netscape Navigator (Edit >> Preferences). Netscape lets you access most of its configuration options here.
   
  Edit >> Preferences...
   
  The first thing we'll do is clear the URL History to protect the confidentiality of what we've done on the Net. For more information on the privacy issues involved with the URL History see THIS page. 
   
2.  Clear History & Location Bar
   
  When you open the Preferences dialog box from w/in the Netscape browser (Navigator), you start on the Navigator menu option. We select categories from the tree menu on the left -- Netscape displays the corresponding options on the right.
   
  Preferences: Navigator
   
  From this page we can clear the History, set the History to be kept in number of days, and clear the Location Bar (URL dropdown list).
   
  Note: The "Clear Location Bar" button first appeared in Netscape 4.5. It does not appear in Netscape 4.0-4.08. In Netscape 4.0-4.08 there was no easily accessible way to clear the Location Bar.
     
3. Disable Java, JavaScript, & Cookies 
   
  Next we drop down on the tree menu to the Advanced sub-menu. The Advanced options sub-menu gives us the Java and JavaScript settings. This menu also allows us to configure the handling of Cookies.
   
  Java & JavaScript
   
  We might want to consider disabling Java and JavaScript -- the two forms of "active content" that Netscape can use. (You won't find ActiveX settings here because, unlike Internet Explorer, Netscape can't run ActiveX controls.) For more information on the privacy and security issues involved with "active content," see THIS page.
   
  To disable Java and JavaScript, uncheck the appropriate boxes on the Advanced sub-menu. 
   
   Preferences: Advanced
   
  Note that with Java and JavaScript disabled, some web sites might not work properly. In those cases, you can re-enable Java and JavaScript on a site-by-site basis. Even if you decide to keep JavaScript enabled (it is the most commonly sued form of "active content" on the Net), you ought to consider disabling it for Mail and News, as JavaScript is used within emails and news messages almost exclusively for malicious purposes.
   
  Cookies
   
  Cookies are small "data tags" that allow web sites to recognize us when we return to those web sites. While cookies can be useful -- say, for being recognized at a web site with which we've registered -- they can also be used by advertisers to track our movements and behavior across the Net. To protect our privacy, we need to configure Netscape's cookie settings so that the browser stores only cookies that we find useful. For more information on the privacy issues involved with cookies, see THIS page.
   
  Netscape Communicator gives us several options for dealing with cookies:
  • we can Accept all cookies
  • we can Disable all cookies
  • we can Accept only cookies that get sent back to the originating server

If we disable Cookies, some web sites may not work properly. One solution to this problem is to leave Cookies enabled, and selectively manage and delete cookies by editing Netscape's Cookies.txt file. For instructions on how to do so, see the next section on this page.

   
  A still better choice is to select the "Accept only cookies that get sent back to the originating server" setting, which allows us to filter out third-party cookies that often used by advertisers and marketers (who place banner ads on web sites), while keeping truly useful cookies from the web sites we often visit.
   
  Summing it all up
   
  And here is the same Advanced options sub-menu as in the screenshot just above, but with all the important options disabled.
   
  Preferences: Advanced (boxes unchecked)
   
4.  Clear the Disk Cache
   
  The next thing we'll do is clear the Cache -- again to protect the confidentiality of what we've done on the Net. For more information on the privacy issues involved with the Cache see THIS page. 
   
  Still further down on the main menu is the Advanced / Cache sub-menu, which allows us to clear the Disk Cache and set the Disk Cache size in KB. 
   
  Preferences: Advanced: Cache
   
  We can also clear and tweak the Memory Cache (which is similar to the Disk Cache, but kept in RAM). Note that the Disk Cache location on our hard drive is:
 
         \Program Files\Netscape\Communicator\Users\<username>\Cache
   
  Browser cache files can be viewed and manually deleted from this location, just as they can be viewed and manually deleted in Internet Explorer's \Windows\Temporary Internet Files.
   
 Selectively Deleting & Managing Cookies
   
If we prefer not to disable Cookies from the Netscape Preferences menu (as we discussed above), we can selectively manage and delete cookies by editing Netscape's Cookies.txt file, in which Netscape stores all of our cookies.
   
 1.  Open Windows Explorer  
   
  To access Netscape's Cookies.txt file, we need to open Windows Explorer first.
  
  Start >> Programs >> Accessories >> Windows Explorer
     
2.  Locate & Open Cookies.txt
   
  Once Windows Explorer is open, we can navigate to the Netscape directory. Netscape stores all of its cookies in a single text file usually located here:
     
       \Program Files\Netscape\Communicator\Users\<username>\cookies.txt
   
  Here is Cookies.txt in its standard location as viewed in Windows Explorer. Note that the Netscape Disk Cache directory ( \CACHE ) is here as well.
   
  The cookies.txt file in the Netscape users folder
   
3. Edit Cookies.txt
   
   Once we find Cookies.txt, we can open it by simply double-clicking on the file. It will open in Notepad, a plain text editor. Despite the warning at the top, this plain text file is editable. With Word Wrap off in Notepad, we see one cookie per line. To remove a cookie, delete the corresponding line and then save your changes (File >> Save).
   
  Inside cookies.txt
   
  The strange looking kcookie.netscape.com line is automatically added by Netscape to defend against a JavaScript exploit that allows third-parties to read cookies out of users' Cookies.txt files. It should be preserved.
   
   One neat trick we can play with the Cookies.txt file is to make the file "Read Only" and then enable Cookies on in the Preferences menu. Doing so allows us to accept cookies from any site that might require them, but effectively turn them into "session" cookies. "Session" cookies are temporary cookies that disappear when Netscape is closed and are not saved to disk. In effect, we force "permanent" cookies to become "session" cookies because cookies can't be written to Cookies.txt. Cookies that we want to preserve can still be accessed and used by sites that require them, as long as we allow those cookies to be saved to Cookies.txt before we make the file "Read Only."
   
Note: All of the options presented here are global, meaning that they apply to every web site visited. There is nothing in Netscape Communicator comparable to the Security zones used by Internet Explorer 4, 5, and 6, or the Privacy tab options seen in Internet Explorer 6
   
For example, if you disable JavaScript and then encounter a web site that requires JavaScript to function,  your only option is to re-enable JavaScript. Once you re-enable JavaScript, every web site that you visit will be able to make use of JavaScript.
   
Conclusion
   
I hope you've found this short tour of Netscape Communicator's privacy and security features interesting and helpful. If you need more assistance or still have questions, check the following web pages for links to information about web browser privacy and security:
   
 

 

Advice, Organization, & Compilation 
2002 Eric L. Howes

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