By Jay Garmon
The main reason most people switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox is to improve their browser security, but that doesn’t mean Firefox is bullet-proof. We offer up the 10 best add-ons to make everyone’s favorite opensource web browser even more secure.
Those of you who’ve read our Internet Safety Guide or our list of the 10 best general Firefox add-ons may find a few of these add-ons familiar, but you can never address security or privacy too often. Some of these add-ons have overlapping functionality — particularly as applies to cookie and password management — but redundant functionality in this area is a feature, not a bug.
1. Web of Trust (WOT) – You pretty much can’t read a Firefox security article without learning about the Web of Trust (WOT) add-on — and there’s good reason. WOT rates every site on the Internet for its security risk: green equals safe, amber equals worrisome and red means avoid like the plague. Simple, easy, and a must-have security measure. If you prefer a brand name, McAfee’s SiteAdvisor Firefox add-on offers similar functionality.
2. AdBlock Plus – The AdBlock Plus Firefox add-on says what it does, does what. AdBlock prevents most advertisements from loading — especially Flash ads and those layered takeover ads that slow your page loads down — including all the tracking cookies most ads slip into your system. Even if you aren’t paranoid about data-snooping, AdBlock will noticeably speed up your surfing.
3. LastPass – The LastPass Firefox add-on is the granddaddy of password managers. Create one master logon for LastPass itself and it will log you in to every other online service you’ve got an account with. Moreover, LastPass stops storing your passwords locally in the browser — where they can be hacked — and encrypts them into an online account you (and you alone) can access from anywhere. It also has some nice password generation and form auto-completion features, which makes account signups even safer and simpler.
4. BetterPrivacy – The BetterPrivacy Firefox add-on is designed to scrape away the most persistent tracking cookies that websites (and, especially, advertisers) use to profile your online activity. In particular, BetterPrivacy blows away Local Shared Objects (LSOs), the pernicious cookies left behind by Flash applications, videos and websites that most other extensions simply can’t erase.
6. BugMeNot – It seems every site on Earth wants you to create an account to view their content these days — mostly so they can track your surfing (even offsite) and sell your data to advertisers (as in spammers). The easiest way to avoid this constraint is the BugMeNot add-on, which provides anonymous credentials for most major sites, allowing you to login without creating or using a “real” account.
7. SpamAvert.com – Where BugMeNot stops, the SpamAvert Firefox add-on picks up. SpamAvert creates quick, disposable e-mail addresses you can use to enroll at sites you don’t intend to visit again. The fake e-mail accounts allow you to complete registration, but they also take the hit for follow-up spam, keeping your real accounts clear of the clutter.
8. Beef TACO – The Beef Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-out (TACO) blocks almost every type of tracking object from settling into your browser. If it’s designed to report your web activity to dataminers or advertisers — including the big dogs like Google, Facebook and Yahoo — the Beef TACO swats it away. Combine this with BetterPrivacy and you’ll be an ad-free phantom in no time.
9. Torbutton – For those that don’t know, Tor is a proxy surfing service that prevents even your ISP (or employer) from knowing exactly what web sites you’re visiting. The Torbutton Firefox add-on makes using the Tor service dead simple, which is a good thing given how easy it is to turn proxy-configuration a tangle of confusing options. If you want absolutely nobody to know where you’ve been online, the Torbutton is the place to start.
10. hideBad – Sometimes the biggest security or privacy threat is the one that’s right over your shoulder — literally. The hideBad Firefox add-on offers a browsing panic button that instantly closes every open tab in your browser (while saving the data so you can restore the session later) and replaces them with your homepage. It stops snooping eavesdroppers (and dangerously curious bosses) from knowing which web pages you were just surfing, which may be the most important security measure of them all.
If one of these add-ons doesn’t meet a specific security or privacy need, there are literally hundreds more Firefox security add-ons. If you’ve got a favorite, plug it in the comments section. With enough eyes, all bugs — and browser security holes — are shallow.