Mozilla's web browser has always been one of the best tools when it came to privacy, especially when you compare it to Google's Chrome. However, there's always room for improvement, so many developers have decided to create additional plug-ins that enhance the privacy and security of Firefox. Here is a list containing the best of these tools.
The first thing you actually need to worry about while browsing the Internet are ads. Most websites add various banners and advertisements as a way to increase their profits (which is, after all, perfectly understandable). However, some of these ads can be really aggressive and get in your face, hindering your actions. Worse yet, a few of them will take you to dubious websites where you can get infected with all kinds of stuff you really don't want on your computer. The good news is that there are some very easy ways in which you can rid yourself of this problem, by blocking those pesky advertisements and keeping them out of site:
- Flashblock - works pretty much the same way as NoScript, but it only restricts specific Flash scripts. This free tool is particularly useful for blocking those video ads which play at the beginning of your YouTube videos or to stop YouTube from auto-playing. Even though this add-on doesn't really offer an extensive functionality, it can still be pretty useful. To download and install Flashblock click here.
Another popular way for webmasters and companies to make money is tracking their users. Basically, they gather information about who you are, what pages you visit on each website, the programs that you have installed, etc. then sell them to advertisers who use the data to create better targeted ads. Even though every browser has a setting called Do Not Track which expressly tells websites you don't want them to gather and store information about you, most of them will either not allow you to browse them while that option is turned on or flat out ignore it, without even telling you. These add-ons can help you bypass this problem:
- Disconnect - is the most complete solution that I was able to find so far. The free plug-in is especially good in protecting you against sidejacking, a method used by hackers which implies the theft of private data by highjacking the victim's cookies. This effective tool blocks third-party tracking cookies, stops well-known offenders, like Facebook, Google or Twitter from keeping tabs on you and even offers an easy-to-operate toolbar from where you can control every script and element on the page that you are browsing. The add-on provides some secure WiFi optimization functions that I couldn't find anywhere else. Disconnect can be downloaded here.
- Disconnect Search - is a plug-in designed to stop Google from getting their grabby hands on your data. While most (including me) recommend using alternative search engines, the results that you get from them aren't always as good as the one you would get on Google, so this add-on is designed to give you a solution for having your cake and eating too. The tool supports several search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Blekko, etc. and it can even stop your ISP (Internet Service Provider) from seeing your search terms. Disconnect Search can be found here.
- DoNotTrackMe - is one of the most use-friendly add-ons of its kind. The plug-in offers you information about every tracking cookie and script that the website you are currently browsing has loaded and lets you easily disable any of them with the help of its drop-down toolbar. What sets this tool apart is that it doesn't disable anything until you specifically tell it to, so it won't hinder your Internet navigating experience in anyway. Unfortunately, this plug-in doesn't exist by itself anymore and is now part of a bigger one called Blur. DoNotTrackMe can be downloaded and installed from this link.
- Priv3 - is a lightweight plug-in designed to stop Facebook and Twitter from tracking you. Simply put, this add-on stops widgets and plug-ins from loading so they are unable to send data to the social networks to which they belong. Even though it doesn't do anything else, is still a pretty decent tool to have. To install Priv3 visit this link.
Security and Encryption
One of the best ways to enhance your privacy is to make sure that your security is top-notch. Simple things, like knowing which websites you should avoid, or encrypting your data so that even if it gets intercepted it can't be read, could make a huge difference. These add-ons are designed to help you with this kind of tasks:
- HTTPS Everywhere - is a really effective security solution. Because of various reasons, like incompetence, ignorance or malicious intentions, some websites don't have default encryption for the data which they send and receive. This plug-in tries to find secure versions of the sites you visit and ensures that Firefox uses SSL (Secure Socket Layer) connections as much as possible. Even though it may break a few pages and force you to specifically whitelist them (if you want to keep browsing them), this tool is a must have for anyone who makes purchases online or uses the Internet to transmit sensitive information. HTTPS Everywhere can be downloaded from here.
- WOT (Web of Trust) - is a tool that notifies you whenever a website that you visit doesn't have a trustworthy reputation. The plug-in ranks websites based on their reputation (trustworthiness) and informs you about those who are known to spread malware or use suspicious tracking techniques and scripts. There are many tools which offer the same kind of functionality, and even most antivirus applications with web-protection features will do the same thing, but in my experience this plug-in is more accurate than most of other similar tools. To install WOT click here.
- BetterPrivacy - is a kind of anti-tracking tool on steroids. This plug-in is designed to take care of those undeletable Flash tracking cookies, thus being an efficient way to stop Google, YouTube, Ebay and other sites of the kind from their long-term tracking habits. BetterPrivacy can be found here.
- FoxyProx - is a tool that extends Firefox's proxy capabilities. This tool is capable of automatically switching your connection across one or several proxy servers. What's really cool is that you can set your own rules (for when to enable the proxy connections) and even URL patterns (set different proxies to be used on specific websites). FoxyProx can be installed from here. If you think this is too complicated, the add-on also has a light version (FoxyProx Basic) that you can try out.
Of course, the dangers to your privacy don't always come from hackers or corporations. Many times it's your coworkers, friends or flatmates who have no boundaries and must see what's going on your screen. While there is no permanent solution for this problem, there are several add-ons that offer you effective ways to deal with these situations:
- Close'n Forget - is a tool that helps you delete your traces in case you stumble upon a website you weren't supposed to, or if you noticed too late that you forgot to switch to Private Browsing. To use this tool, all you have to do is right click the tab that shouldn't have been there in the first place, then press the Close and erase cookies for the current site button and there will be no more traces left on your end. Close'n Forget can be found here.
- TabRenamizer - is a tool that, as you can guess from its name, helps you change the title of your tabs (manually or automatically). Since they are high up, and use a relatively large font, tab names are pretty easy to read from afar, but this plug-in takes care of the problem. To install TabRenamizer click here.
- Panic - is a really cool tool that can get you out of some really tight spots. For example imagine that you received a job offer from a rival firm and you were using multiple browser tabs to research the company when you suddenly notice that your boss is almost in viewing distance of your screen. Panic helps you not only close all your opened tabs, but also replace them with other ones so it won't be obvious that you have something to hide. All you have to do is to predefine the safe tabs and pres Alt and + to trigger the add-on. To download Panic click here. (Not available on Mac).
- Private Tab - is a simple add-on which lets you trigger the Private Mode for a single tab instead of the entire window. All you need to do is install the plug-in (download it from this link) and press Ctrl + Alt + T. A new tab will be opened in private mode while the rest of them will continue to function as usual.