It’s great that we now have so many options for web browsers. We are no longer stuck with just having Internet Explorer. Netscape is long gone, but we do have Firefox by Mozilla.org , Google offers Chrome, and Apple has Safari, which you may not realize comes in a PC version as well as the better known Mac version. I tend to use Firefox most of the time. Every now and then I switch over to Chrome. – for no particular reason other than it looks different. The primary reason that I use Firefox is for the add-ons and extensions that you can add to customize your web-browsing experience. And by the way, add-ons are free!
A quick word about add-ons for those who don’t already know. To install add-ons, go to the “Tools” tab on the Firefox browser, and then select “Add-ons.” You can then either browse through the add-ons , or if you know what you want, go to the search box in the upper right corner of the add-ons page and type in the name of the add-on.
You may recall that you’ve been told never NEVER enter your credit card information on a site that does not have an “s” (meaning secure) at the end of “http” in the web address, thus making it “https.” The first of the add-ons I want to tell you about is “HTTPS Everywhere.” HTTPS Everywhere was developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (And in the name of full disclosure, that’s where I work . EFF has been working on digital privacy issues since the early 90′s. The founders had great foresight, recognizing the potential impact that computers could have on our privacy. ) Firefox offers a couple of great add-ons, both having to do with internet privacy. An updated version was released little over a week ago, on February 28. The new version is also available in a beta version for Google’s Chrome browser.
The new version of HTTPS Everywhere by EFF will warn you when there is a security hole. ” What’s a security hole?” you ask. Those of you using Internet Explorer have no doubt encountered the little notices that pop up from time to time saying that you need to update IE with what they call a “security patch.” In very general terms, a security hole makes your computer vulnerable to an attack by a third-party, meaning that they may be able to take over an existing program on your computer, or somehow give an outsider access to your computer and ultimately mess up your data or the way your computer operates. Security holes can exist in any browser, they aren’t exclusive to IE. What you want is to ensure that your browser is always looking for potential weak spots and finding ways to fortify its means of protecting you.
Pretty much everything that HTTPS Everywhere does for you it does behind the scenes. You won’t even know its doing anything, but it is always there, working for you.
Update: My new friend Al (who I became friends with as a result of this blog!) pointed me to a blog in “The Economist” that also has a great write-up about”HTTPS Everywhere. And hopefully now that I’ve explained it to you, the blog in the Economist will answer any questions you may still have about why you should be using HTTPS Everywhere. “Certifiably secure” Economist, March 9, 2012
Collusion is another add-on that I want to tell you about. I have to admit that I just installed it this morning – but it was just released on February 29th, so give me a little break. Collusion provides you with fascinating audio and visual effects of how much of your information is tracked. When you first install Collusion, you’re given the option of having sounds when cookies are set. I recommend clicking the box – at least for the first few sites you visit. You may find that it quickly becomes a bit overwhelming to hear sounds constantly gushing from your computer. In that case, just go back to the add-on and uncheck the box and turn off the sounds.
The other piece of Collusion is the fantastic visual it gives you of how your cookies are being distributed. In order to see this, once you have installed Collusion, you’ll see a small icon on the lower right hand corner of your browser page. It looks like a white dot ringed with an inner ring of red and an outer ring of brown. Click on the ring and it will take you to a graphic visualization of all the sites that have set tracking cookies on your browser.
Lastly – a fun and easy add-on, especially if you are new to Firefox, is called “Personas.” Personas are themes that you can use to personalize the look of your browser. There are a multitude of categories including nature, sports, music, fashion and causes, to name just a few.
If you find you don’t like either of the add-ons (or any others you may have used) just re-visit the add-on page and click on disable on anything you no longer wish to use.