In Search of Some Safety on the Internet(s): Firefox Add-Ons
Governments around the world, including our own, are looking for ways to cut off their people’s access to information. These same entities are also seeking to gather far more information about each of us, rules of law or Constitutions be damned. Not to mention the many, many online entities that want to collect, own, buy and sell information about you and me. Have you heard about the teenager whom Target knew was pregnant before even her father did? This is not a good situation.
There are things you can do to make your Internet travels “safer,” though I use quotes on purpose with that word. Some of the best, at least for getting started, are Firefox Add-Ons that can prevent some of the tracking and hacking. These are my favorites.
This long-time protector keeps web sites (and third parties) from running scripts on pages you visit. Obviously, sometimes you need programmed interaction: when you’re filling out a survey, for instance. NoScript gives you a nice icon to click when you want to allow some or all scripts, on some or all pages, temporarily or (don’t be silly) forever. Get this one immediately.
Despite the unusual name, Ghostery is a simple tool. It disables tracking bugs. Ever visited a page with a Facebook icon? Guess what: assuming you’re a Facebook user, that page just got access to your Facebook account information. Without you doing a single thing. Even more insidious are the 1×1 pixel clear GIFs and Flash animations that give third parties the opportunity to track your web travels and store everything of interest. Ghostery shows a purple pane when you first land on a page, listing the disabled bug(gers). You will be surprised at how many entities want to follow you around.
Don’t even let Flash, one of the most hacked platforms on the Internet, run at all. If you want to see a video (for instance, because you’re on YouTube), you can click the familiar VCR-like Play button; otherwise, forget it. Suddenly the Internet seems twice as fast! And it’s safer.
Used by political dissidents in China, Iran, Syria and the USA, FoxyProxy lets your browser “dive” into the encrypted TOR network, so that you seem to be somewhere else (say, Canada). All your traffic is hashed, and even your location is hidden. The underlying TOR protocol is constantly revised, so that people in Iran, for instance, can hide their browsing inside seemingly normal traffic.
Have you used CCleaner for Windows? This add-on integrates with CCleaner, or can do its own housekeeping: cleaning up your history, cache, etc. after browsing. Useful for keeping your wife from finding your favorite porn sites, or otherwise obscuring your web tracks. I haven’t tried this against my forensics tools yet, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it works.
And don’t forget Private Browsing
This doesn’t even require an Add-on; just pull down the Tools menu in Firefox and choose Start Private Browsing. You’ll be covering your tracks at least on your own computer.