- Updated on the 24th of Feburary 2017 -
Your data is valuable, more than you know it. Cookies or data loaded into your browser that track you across websites are now pretty much ubiquitous. In recent times, flash cookies, browser fingerprinting and other techniques have also become pervasive. To protect ourselves online, here are some privacy and security related browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. I'm focusing on extensions that require little/no attention from the user after the preliminary install, as many extensions will disable many websites functionality. These extensions should increase your security and privacy simply by running them in the background.
1. HTTPS Everywhere
HTTPS is the green padlock in the URL bar you'll see on Facebook, Youtube and most checkouts in online stores. It signifies that your connection to the web server is encrypted, and cannot be read by third parties (i.e. hacker, internet service provider, government surveillance). HTTPS Everywhere forces all webpages loaded to use HTTPS encryption whenever possible. This is extremely important on public wireless networks, where all web traffic (i.e. passwords, emails, instant messages etc) is sent over the network completely unencrypted, allowing anyone with free software to see exactly what your doing. I would describe this extension as common sense, as if encryption is available, there is no reason not to use it! Available for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Firefox on Android & Opera.
Disconnect 'Private Browsing' is an open source, anti-cookie and anti-tracking extension that boasts a database of cookies/trackers. All of these cookies/trackers are categorised for easy blocking of all social media cookies for example, or all advertising cookies. You can unblock any type of tracker on the fly, and if the tracker is necessary for a website to work properly, you trust add entire websites to a white list. Usually though, this is a install and forget type of extension. Available on Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.
3. uBlock Origin
A simple general purpose blocker of third party cookies, scripts etc that runs in the background with little/no setup or attention needed from the user. It's amazing to see the counter of blocked items, whilst sustaining website functionality. Available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera.
Unlike your traditional ad blocker, AdNausium (a clever play on words) not only blocks ads, but clicks them as well. Your pages will load faster, you won't see tens of malevolent download button ads on download websites and you'll save a little on bandwidth too. From a privacy standpoint, advertisers won't be able to profile your interests, because you have clicked on literally everything. Available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
5. Privacy Badger
Privacy Badger blocks any cross website trackers. Once you leave a website and Privacy Badger notices trackers are still logging your movements long after you've left that website, the extension will disallow any connection to the trackers source. Available on Chrome and Firefox.
TrackMeNot is a Chrome and Firefox extension that creates random search queries in the background, that obfuscates your genuine searches amongst it's fake searches. Much like Adnausium's approach to privacy (they are the same developer), search engines and advertisers cannot profile you accurately, as they cannot distinguish which searches are actually legitimate.
Good to Haves
8. Random Agent Spoofer
Random Agent Spoofer (Firefox) and Random (Hide) User-Agent (Chrome) changes the information that identifies your browser to a different, randomly selected browser. This web browser spoofing can be made to change on every website request and at random time intervals. This is particularly effective against browser fingerprinting as discussed earlier.
9. Terms of Service Didn't Read
Terms of Service Didn't Read summarises any alarming items in popular End User License Agreements (EULA). The extension gives every EULA a grade mark between A to F, and then states why. Although very different from the other extensions discussed, it does put into perspective how much privacy we are expected to give up to use certain services such as Google and YouTube. Available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera.
Lastpass is my favourite password manager. They have a great security and transparency record, have great browser extensions and phone apps, and are a great value. See my guide: Passphrases, Password Managers & Multi Factor Authentication for more details. Full disclosure, Lastpass are not a sponsor, and I have absolutely no affiliation with Lastpass. I just like and recommend their product.
11. Privacy Settings
Thanks to Firefox's customisable back frame in the form of about:config, users can alter specific privacy settings that simply cannot tweaked in Chrome based browsers. A list of these about:config configurations can be found here, but Privacy Settings (Firefox only Addon) allows 36 of these settings to be changed on the fly, by selecting from privacy and security presets. I personally like the "Privacy (compatible) and Security" preset. However, if you choose another more secure preset and it disables a website, you can, at the click of a button return to a more compatible preset.
12. Multi-Account Containers
This Firefox addon allows you to categorize your websites into "containers." Cookies are kept within whatever container you specify. Thus, your browsing in one container cannot be seen by cookies from websites in other containers.
- If you are having trouble installing an addon, try disabling antivirus software.
- Don't install Adblock. Having multiple adblockers is a waste of processing power. If you already have an adblocker, uninstall it and stick to Adnausium. This includes U-Block and Privacy Badger. If you are using Chrome, you may wish to use U-Block and Privayc Badger instead, as Google has blocked Adnausium from it's store.
- If the Firefox addon website states you aren't running the latest version of Firefox when you actually are, revert Privacy Settings addon back to default original settings.
It somewhat baffles me why web browsers don't come with many of these extensions by default. In the meantime however, I encourage anyone seeking more privacy and security online to install some of these extensions. Additionally, give Firefox a try. It's open source, meaning their code is open for public security auditing, and has recently had a nice speed enhancement. Additionally, Firefox now protects against browser fingerprinting, a tracking method that allows advertisers to track you based on the uniqueness of your browser (including what addons you are running). Google recently introduced an adblocker on Chrome by default, but it doesn't block any advertising served through Googles Advertising platform Adwords.
Google does not exactly have a great reputation for protecting users privacy. For more, check out my guide, How to Live Without Google.
This guide was a part of my Ultimate Information Security & Privacy Guide. Be sure to check out any related content: