When you hear about the number of ransomware attacks, treacherous viruses and malware plaguing the internet along with data breaches on the news all the time, it starts to make you question just how secure and private your internet excursions are. Fret not; this is your complete guide to Firefox privacy and security.
What is Firefox?
Mozilla developed Firefox in 2004. It is considered to be one of the best all-around web browsers on the market today. Programmers love it for its open-source customizability, commitment to consistent updates, extensive add-ons, and useful development tools. Firefox is also packed full of privacy and security options for those discerning web travelers.
Despite its cute logo of a fox curled around a globe, Firefox takes your privacy and security very seriously.
What is Browser Fingerprinting
Browser fingerprinting means that all the elements that combine your internet activities (your device, OS, browser settings, configurations, and add-ons) create a unique signature that identifies you to the bad guys. This signature can be used to track you and all your internet activities, even with a VPN. The irony here is the more apps and extensions you add to protect your privacy, the more unique your fingerprint is. There is no 100% solution to this problem. Some people use the web browser Tor for cruising the dark web, but it is also an option to solve this problem. However, it’s not an ideal solution for most people.
Firefox Privacy Settings
Firefox includes a vast collection of settings for privacy, so let’s explore each one individually.
Telemetry Settings For Firefox Privacy
The first item you will want to disable is the telemetry settings (Mozilla wants to collect data on your usage). To disable this option, go to the Firefox menu at the top-right of your screen (three vertical lines) and then choose Preferences. On the left-hand menu, choose Privacy and Security.
You will need to scroll down a bit to find the “Firefox Data and Collection Use” section. Uncheck all three boxes.
On the Android operating system go to Menu > Settings > Privacy > Data Choices.
Change Your Default Search Engine
With the newest version of Firefox, the default search engine is Google, which, as we all know, is not the best option for privacy. There are dozens of more secure search engines you can use. To change your default search engine:
Go to Menu > Preferences and choose Search from the left sidebar.
The second item down is the Default Search Engine setting.
Use the drop-down to select your choice of search engines. There aren’t many in there, but if you scroll down further, you will see “One-Click Search Engines.” Use the Find more search engines link below that to find one you prefer.
Go here to read Firefox’s guide on modifying your search engine options.
Firefox Tracking Protection
One of the best ways to keep your internet experience private is to turn on tracking protection. You can manage these settings by going to the menu, Preferences > Privacy and Security. At the very top, you will see the section labeled “Enhanced Tracking Protection.” There are three settings, and the default is set to Standard, which does allow some types of websites to track you.
Standard - blocks social media trackers, cross-site trackers, content in private windows, and Cryptominers.
Strict - blocks social media trackers, cross-site trackers, content in private windows and Cryptominers, plus fingerprinters. Firefox includes a warning that using this setting may cause some websites not to work.
Custom - there is also a custom setting where you can go granular and decide precisely what you want to allow, disallow, and when.
There is also one more setting at the bottom of that section where you can choose to let Firefox decide when to enable tracking blockers or have them on all the time.
Cookies are little scripts meant to help load websites quickly or keep track of your login information. However, they can be a privacy invasion. If you want to turn cookies off, go to the menu, Preferences > Privacy & Security, and scroll way down to the middle. You will see “Cookies and Site Data.” You can use the top button to clear any cookies saved on your device. You can use the “Manage Data” button to see all the stuff saved in there. You might be surprised. You can delete them from inside there individually. To add exceptions and allow some sites to save cookies, use the “Manage Permissions” button. There is also a check-off box to delete all cookies when you exit the browser.
The section below cookies is about saving passwords. You can allow or block Firefox from saving your passwords. The more private and secure option is to uncheck the top box where it says, “Ask to save logins and passwords for websites.”
Another potential privacy concern is browser history. You can clear your browser history at any time by going to the menu, Preferences > Privacy & Security. Use the “Clear History” button. You can also set Firefox to save your history, never save it, or a custom setting of your choice.
The final section you should review is the Permissions section under the menu, Preferences > Privacy & Security. In here, you can turn off location tracking, access to your camera and microphone (two serious vulnerabilities in terms of privacy) and adjust your notifications and autoplay settings. You should also be sure the Block pop-up windows setting is checked off. Another critical privacy setting to check off is Warn you when websites try to install add-ons. Now let’s move onto security.
Along with keeping your personal stuff private, another thing to think about is security. You can’t be too careful when avoiding hackers, ransomware, and malware these days. Thankfully, Firefox has you covered.
If you scroll to the very bottom of the Privacy & Security page, you will see a section called “Deceptive Content and Dangerous Software Protection.” Firefox has powerful built-in protection to keep you safe from malware, viruses, and deceptive practices. Make sure you check off all three boxes.
Advanced Settings: Under the Hood
Firefox also has an extensive library of advanced settings, but they are hidden from the general user. To access them, in the URL bar type in about:config. You will be greeted with a serious warning about the ramifications of changing these settings. Click the blue button to proceed. Then at the top click “Show All”. You will see a giant list of options.
If you are using a VPN and want to mask your IP, a service running on Firefox called WebRTC may expose it. The only way to turn this off is through these advanced settings. To turn it off, scroll down to media.peerconnection.enabled and change it to false.
*To make a change to an entry, double click the setting, and if it is a Boolean entry, simply double click it to change it. Otherwise, a box will pop up for you to type in a new entry.
Go to menu, Preferences. On the left sidebar way at the bottom is a puzzle piece next to Extensions & Themes. Click that and then click Plugins. Click the plugin named “OpenH264 Video Codec provided by Cisco Systems, Inc. Use the three-dot menu at the top left to disable it by setting it to “Never Activate.”
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Another hotbed of contention in Firefox is the Digital Rights Management (DRM) add-on. It is used to watch Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming media through your browser. However, because it is closed-source, purists are concerned about its security vulnerabilities. You can shut it down by going to the menu, Preferences > General, and scrolling down and unchecking the box next to “Digital Rights Management (DRM).”
Now in a Firefox window type in about:support in the URL box. Scroll down to the Profile Folder entry and click the “Open Folder” button. Look for gmp-eme-adobe, and gmp-widevinecdm subfolders and delete them both. Close and re-open Firefox. Now you have completely removed any DRM from the browser.
Private Browsing at the Start
If you want to ensure your browser window opens in a private window as the default, go to the advanced settings by entering about:config into the URL box. Now approve the warning and scroll down until you find browser.privatebrowsing.autostart. Set it to true.
Firefox comes equipped with Google’s Safe Browsing plugin built in. It is designed to prevent phishing attacks, but it also means Google can track you and your activity. To turn it off, in the advanced settings area, scroll down to find browser.safebrowsing.phishing.enabled and set it to false. You will also want to find and set the one labeled browser.safebrowsing.malware.enabled to false also.
Additionally Firefox Security Settings
privacy.trackingprotection.fingerprinting.enabled = true
privacy.trackingprotection.cryptomining.enabled = true
privacy.firstparty.isolate = true
privacy.trackingprotection.enabled = true
geo.enabled = false
media.navigator.enabled = false
network.dns.disablePrefetch = true
network.prefetch-next = false
webgl.disabled = true
dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled = false
There are dozens of other settings in there you can adjust to your satisfaction. Just be careful and be warned that changes in here may disrupt your ability to access specific websites and their functionality.
Firefox Security Addons & Plugins
Security experts highly recommend these three add-ons to secure your Firefox browser even further:
Using this guide, you can set your Firefox browser to be incredibly private and secure and feel more confident and comfortable when cruising the web.