Video: How to set up Firefox to protect your privacy and security

Our latest video tutorial is all about how to configure a browser that many of you already are familiar with and use in a way that makes you safer online.

I am continuously working on how to make the videos as clear and simple as possible. I have, so far, avoided narration as I know many people don’t like to turn on their volume to learn how to do something new. This is also why we provide full write-ups here on the main website!

We’ll go step by step with the video and explain what each step is going to accomplish for you in more detail. Also, each extension will be linked so you don’t have to do so much searching to get everything downloaded.

First of all, we’re dealing with Firefox here. It is created as a free and open-source browser and remains one of the most popular browsers on the internet, fighting with Google Chrome for the top spot. If you don’t have Firefox on your computer yet, go ahead and get it.

The first extension in the video is DuckDuckGo. This is the bare-bones version of their extension, which does little more than change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo. I love DDG as a search engine and recommend it to all Getting Things Tech visitors. DDG does not track your searches, save your search data, or share that information with advertisers or other partners. They also are loaded with different kinds of search shortcodes and offer quick answers to certain types of search queries that easily beat the competition.

I have linked to the non-Javascript version of the extension here, since we are going to install a Javascript blocker later. It is easy enough to just tell NoScripts to allow DuckDuckGo later on, though.

Next up is BetterPrivacy. This extension blocks a special kind of cookie known as an LSO that browsers and other extensions don’t normally protect. LSO cookies come from Flash applications. Since they are associated with Flash, which is installed on your computer, these cookies can monitor everything you do on your computer, independent of the browser itself. BetterPrivacy tells you about these cookies and lets you delete them.

From there, we move on to NoScript Security Suite. By default, it allows zero Javascript, Java, and other scripts to run on webpages you visit. This will make some webpages unusable! That’s okay, though, since you can allow scripts from domains you trust quite easily. Scripts can sneakily snoop on your data while you browse the web and are also often the parts of a webpage that hackers use to attack. With NoScripts, you get to decide whether taking those risks is worth it on a case-by-case basis.

Moving along, we have AdBlock Edge. Why not the familiar AdBlock Plus? Well, we’re not too happy with how AdBlock Plus is conducting business. While they make it possible to configure the settings to protect your privacy, by default AdBlock Plus shows ads and other content from their corporate sponsors. We don’t want to support a group that thinks selling user data through a privacy extension is a morally acceptable default setting.

AdBlock Edge is a “fork” of AdBlock Plus, meaning it is based on the same code. Edge, however, doesn’t allow companies to buy their way out of the default ad blocking. You can always exempt certain websites or advertisers from being blocked, but AdBlock Edge doesn’t assume you want some special pay-to-play whitelist from corporate sponsors.

Disconnect is the next extension in our setup. It is another free and open source extension, meaning you can rest assured that your data isn’t shared and that nobody is making money from your usage of the extension. Disconnect shows you (and blocks) the websites and companies that are trying to track your search history and browsing data. You can click on the Disconnect icon at any time and see which trackers it is blocking. If a website isn’t working correctly, you can disable certain features temporarily, too.

The next and final extension is HTTPS Everywhere, which is hosted on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website. The old standard HTTP protocol for connecting to a website has been exposed to be very insecure. If anyone is “packet sniffing,” which is a fairly easy method of snooping on internet users, your data is completely open when you are connected via HTTP. HTTPS connections (the “S” is literally for secure!) are immune to this kind of snooping. This extension automatically connects you via HTTPS whenever a website supports it, like we do at Getting Things Tech.

Now we move on to some Firefox settings.

First, decide whether you want to store your history. This is less secure than you might think. Keeping your history makes it possible for someone who gets access to your browser to download that information. If you want to keep it around for convenience, periodically delete it.

After that, check the box that says “tell websites that I do not want to be tracked.” This is a messaging system that was implemented to try to control the rampant tracking by advertisers. When Internet Explorer made “do not track” the default, advertisers quit respecting it en masse. At this point, it isn’t being followed very well, but it is worth it if anything just to make a statement.

Going from there, double-check that “known forgeries” and “attack sites” are being blocked. After that, it is imperative that you don’t have Firefox store your passwords. This is an extremely insecure method for saving passwords and makes you an easy target for hackers. Use a password manager like our favorite, LastPass, to manage these things more securely and conveniently. If you insist upon storing your passwords in Firefox, use a master password.

A last thing to check on is whether automatic updates is turned on. Some people find automatic updates to be a little creepy, but I assure you that you want this, especially on Firefox (since they aren’t going to update some malicious tracking software or anything like that, considering Mozilla is a not-for-profit). This is essential for making sure you get immediate security updates when vulnerabilities are found.

Let us know in the comments whether this video helped you make yourself more secure!


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